Laguna de Apoyo to R. HuembesLaguna de Apoyo to R. Huembes R. Huembes to I. MontenegroR. Huembes to I. Montenegro Montenegro to Costa AtlanticaMontenegro to Costa Atlantica Granada to Costa AtlanticaGranada to Costa Atlantica Costa Atlantica to El RamaCosta Atlantica to El Rama El Rama to BluefieldsEl Rama to Bluefields Bluefields to Big CornBluefields to Big Corn Big Corn to Little CornBig Corn to Little Corn Breakdown of CostBreakdown of Cost
The Corn Islands Adventurous Route:
Unless you plan to travel by air, searching how to travel to The Corn Islands from mainland Nicaragua can be an extremely tedious task. With no concrete information, lack of timetable or any informative website and little transport options. It’s no wonder many opt in to head straight to Managua airport to take a direct flight to Big Corn Island. We, on the other hand, are too stubborn for that.
With little transport options to begin with, when writing this blog (April 2017), we heard that the notorious yet popular Captain D cargo had sunk. This of course left us relying on the not-so-luxurious “passenger ferry” called the Rio Escondido. For those who have no time restraints, take this course of travel. It will always be that ‘we-can-laugh-about-it-later-moment’, the real adventure story and a reason to gloat – humbly.
The first thing we will say is that no matter what way you get there, you need to go to The Corn Islands. Spend at least a week on Little Corn. If flying, book an open-ended ticket (again, if not limited with time). So many people we met and even friends of ours had to cancel and rebook flights, as one week is simply not enough sometimes. Look at this as a holiday from a holiday, time to reenergise. It’s an isolated, postcard, Paradise Island, which costs little to live with lots to gain. GO to the Corn Islands!
Whatever location you depart from, you will need to make sure you are in Bluefields on a Tuesday to guarantee a seat, well ‘floor space’ on the passenger ferry. To ensure you get there on time, we recommend you take the overnight bus from Managua to El Rama on a Monday night. This also means that whether you are leaving from León, Managua, Granada or Laguna de Apoyo; you will need to be at either the Costa Atlantica Bus Terminal in Managua or the Mayoreo Bus Terminal in Managua.
Here’s how we did it:
From Laguna de Apoyo to Roberto Huembes Bus Terminal:
Instead of us waiting for Monday to come in Granada, we jumped on a local chicken bus to Laguna de Apoyo, another little paradise. We spent the night there to kill time while enjoying some new, beautiful surroundings. You should most definitely spend at least a night here. A daytrip doesn’t do it justice.
From Laguna de Apoyo, head to the ‘Granada to Masaya /Managua’ main road, known as ‘la carretera’. Cross the road to the sheltered bus stop that faces the Laguna de Apoyo turnoff. You won’t miss it.
Hail any bus that passes and, unless specifically displayed Managua R. Rhuembes on the front of the bus, ask for ‘Roberto Huembes’ bus terminal. Stay on the bus until its final stop.
- Bus: 21 cordobas per person.
- Time: 45 minutes
From Roberto Huembes to Ivan Montenegro Market:
From Huembes terminal you need to get to either the Costa Atlantica Terminal or the Mayoreo Bus Terminal to catch the overnight bus to El Rama. Our aim was the Costa Atlantica Terminal.
With your back to the R. Huembes terminal, head straight up through the market or ask a local vendor to point you in the direction for “las routas hacia Ivan Montenegro”. In our case, the taxi drivers parked at the terminal helped us, which was pretty sound!
It takes less than 5 minutes to walk from the R. Humebes market to the main road. When you arrive at the road, take a left and walk straight down the main road, don’t cross it. After a 5 minute walk, you will many busses stop at the side of the road. Go here.
These busses are a different kind of public bus, one that you need to swipe on with a travel card (like a Leap or an Oyster card). So before you attempt to board, approach the men and women who are at the stop holding cards and cash. The bus costs 2 cordobas per person, you will need to pay an extra 3 cordobas for use of their swipe card.
Ask those with the swipe card for any bus that stops at the Ivan Montenegoro Market. We took the 163 bus. Having an offline map here is handy as you can take note of the route yourself. Otherwise, politely ask the driver to nudge you when you have to get off. If so, sit close to the driver and keep an eye out for his signal.
- Bus: 5 cordobas per person
- Time: 15 minutes
Ivan Montenegro Market to Costa Atlantica Bus Terminal:
The good news is that there are no more busses, for now. From where the bus leaves you at the Ivan Montengero market, go right and head towards the main road. You will pass stalls etc. so again, if in doubt, just ask!
When you reach the main road, swing a left and walk up straight until you reach the set of traffic lights, at the large junction. Cross the road at these traffic lights, and walk straight for about 5mins.
Again, passing stalls and street-grills, take the first only right turn you see and head straight down this road. You will see railings and what looks like a gate on your left, but no major bus activity. The Costa Atlantica Terminal won’t jump out at you and there are no visible signs so if in doubt ask a local.
The Mayoreo Bus Terminal is next to the Costa Atlantica terminal, and unlike the CA terminal, there regular busses running throughout the day to El Rama. We would recommend the overnight busses to cut down accommodation costs.
From Granada to Costa Atlantica Bus Terminal:
The Granada bus terminal is located at the top left hand corner of the central park (near Gorditos comedor, on the street to the left. You will see some busses parked along the street. Ask if there is a direct bus to Roberto Huembes in Managua. As per the above, we didn’t need this option, but if you can avoid going from Granada to UCA bus terminal in Managua. Do.
From UCA, your only option is to get a taxi to the Costa Atlantica bus terminal which is located beside the Ivan Montenegro Mercado. It is about a 20-30 minute drive. Taking a taxi in Managua also means getting ripped off or having a hassled haggle.
If you have to leave from UCA in Managua, do not take a cab already waiting here as they will overcharge you. Instead start walking and hail from the street. Don’t get into a taxi that doesn’t display a large white (sort of hard to read) registration/taxi number along the side and back of the car. Keep an eye out for the official taxis where all drivers wear a red Tshirt. Be sure to confirm the price before getting in and don’t ask how much!! Merely tell him where you want to go and propose a cost. Refuse any more than 100-150 cordobas (for entire ride!)
To avoid the taxi nuisance and instead follow our option above, you could take the Granada to UCA bus and get off at Masaya or the Laguna de Apoyo entrance. From the main road, hail a bus going to R.Huembes OK, so it’s another bus but and will extend the journey a little but in the long run it is cheaper.
- Bus: 40 – 50 cordobas per person
- Taxi: 100 – 150 cordobas (in total)
Costa Atlantica to El Rama:
We left Laguna de Apoyo at 11am and arrived to Costa Atlantica by 2.30pm.
We booked the overnight 7hour express bus directly to El Rama which is quite comfortable. Here, book both your bus and boat (panga) ticket at once – it’s just easier. If you want to guarantee a seat on the 9pm bus, arrive as early as you can. Yes we had to wait 6 hours but we were so happy we did as tickets sell out fast and we saw so many people be turned away from around 5pm. To avoid the long wait, you could call the number below and reserve in advance. We only discovered this while at the terminal.
If the above bus is sold out, there is another bus terminal called Mayoreo with frequent busses running to El Rama. These busses are that little bit slower and you cannot book the boat along with your bus ticket.
Either way, sit back and enjoy the ride. There will be a stop half way (around midnight) where you can use the bathroom and eat should you need to. This is an affordable local restaurant with free Wi-Fi and toilets. There are also options to eat at the grills set up opposite the restaurant. You will spend about 20mins here before arriving to El Rama for 3.00am.
- Bus: 160 cordobas per person
- Boat/Panga: 250 cordobas per person
El Rama to Bluefields:
When you arrive all sleepy-eyed and slightly groggy in El Rama, if you have yet to buy your panga ticket be sure to do this straight away. If you did buy a panga ticket in Managua, pop into the small hotel where they will assign and stamp your ticket with a number. Across the road, you will see a small office and a guard. This is a waiting room where you will most likely spend the next 3 hours on the floor. This is the most comfortable option you will find as you wait for the first panga to set sail. Oh, they have coffee for 10 cordobas, bathrooms for 5 cordobas and plug sockets.
The first panga leaving for Bluefields is around 6am. You will notice people move towards the river, follow suit. Listen for your boat number (displayed on ticket) and climb on. This is probably the part where we should mention the two most important words…. Black. Bags.
Your main bag will be placed under or on the front of the panga, and will most likely be covered. If you have a carryon, and most importantly a carry on with electronics, be sure to get some black bags in advanced of this trip! You WILL get wet on the panga, as will your belongings. To make you feel a little better, I had all our electronics and my laptop in my carryon bag, three black bags saved these from water damage. Yes, that is an overly paranoid three black bags.
Overall, the panga takes 2.5 hours to Bluefields. It’s a stunning journey through a canyon of wilderness and a calm enough river. If you pass through a rain cloud, the captain will hand over a plastic sheet that covers the entire panga. All passengers will need to hold this over them. It’s a nice ice-breaker. Oh the life of luxury eh?!
You’ll arrive into Bluefields at roughly 8 – 8.30am.
- Panga: 250 cordobas per person (try pre-buy this with your bus ticket to save hassle!)
- Toilet: 5 cordobas
Bluefields to Big Corn Island:
You should arrive to Bluefields on a Tuesday. This is important as the Rio Escondido passenger ferry to Big Corn Island leaves Bluefields once a week at 9am on Wednesdays. So this is your guarantee to Big Corn.
You should expect to stay a night in Bluefields. There are plenty of hostels and cheap accommodation options available. No need to pre-book. There is also an ATM, market and supermarket here. Stock up on cash (there is only one ATM on Big Corn and no ATM on Little Corn), as well as any food supplies. Remember, you are going to an island that relies on imports from the mainland so prices for the simplest of things are a little higher on The Corn Islands. Do yourself a favour and stock up on as much as you need in Bluefields.
Our original plan was to arrive to Bluefields, stock up and then head to the port to see if there were any cargo or freighter ships leaving for the Corn Islands that day. You could get lucky. A captain might let you pay a small price and give you a bunk on the boat. Cargo ships take that little bit longer than the passenger ferry but it will save you spending a night accommodation and you will still arrive at the destination on Wednesday. If there are no ships leaving Bluefields, ask locals, or port officials and see if there are any due to leave from El Bluff. El Bluff is a 15 minute ride at 30 cordobas per person.
Worse case, you find yourself a cheap place to lay the head, and get to bed early as you will need to queue for Rio Escondido tickets from around 7.30am. Be sure not to stay at any accommodation next to the port as majority of these are brothels hence why they are so cheap. We were recommended Hostal Dona Vero.
As mentioned earlier, this time lady luck had popped by so we were unable to follow through on our original plan. Instead, as we pulled into Bluefields a local by the name of Spicer asked if we were going to Big Corn and told us that there was a Rio Escondido passenger ferry leaving in 30 minutes. Thanks to Semana Santa (high peak season), they were running a ferry every two days. Thank you religion, thank you lady luck!
Unfortunately, it meant we had only time to run to the nearest ATM and withdraw as much cash we saw fit before we had to jump straight on the Rio Escondido. We had no supplies, no food or water and since we were one of the last people on, our seat was a small patch of floor space on the front of deck. To find the ATM, head straight from the dock until you reach the busy market road and take a left. It’s up on the right hand side and is 5 minute walk
The Rio Escondido costs 255 cordobas per person. It takes around 6 hours to reach Big Corn Island and it is not the most pleasant journey. Unless you get a seat in the air conditioned room or down the back of the boat under the covered area, the only option is out on deck. That means blistering heat, followed by some rain clouds, waves, and maybe even an odd sea storm. We had it all in those 6 hours. We suffered from wind burn, slight dehydration, shivers from the torrential rain and sea storms to blistering heat. Remember how we had no water? Yeah, fun! It was an emotional whirlwind but an incredible adventure.
Now, what were those two magic words mentioned earlier? Altogether now, Black Bags!! Your main bag will be tucked down the back or under the boat, all safe and dry. Your carryon will get wet. Black bags people! At one stage I pulled out a roll and I might as well have had gold. Other passengers quickly begged to use any leftover bags and I gave half the roll away to help others protect their belongings. And we all made rain ponchos.
Before taking the Rio Escondido, we did read and hear of horrific stories. There will be some people puking, you will feel the full effect of mother nature and you might suffer from slight cabin fever or worst case have the worst ‘numb ass’ feeling every experienced by man. Overall, it was not a bad trip. We saw young children and elderly folk handle it with pride. So don’t be deterred and scared into taking a flight. This was so much more fun, and worst case, you can take a flight back.
- Rio Escondido: 255 cordobas
- Other ferry/cargo ships: 150-250 cordobas
Big Corn to Little Corn:
You should arrive to Big Corn by 3.30pm. There will be time to catch the last panga leaving at 4pm to Little Corn. Once it isn’t full of course. In our case, it wasn’t but we felt a little too defeated and had enough of boats for one day. Bearing in mind we didn’t get time to freshen up in Bluefields, hadn’t eaten or even had a gulp of water in over 10 hours. This will not be the case for you, we promise! So go grab that last panga and get your ass to Little Corn as soon as possible.
So we opted in for a night on Big Corn staying in Hotel G&G for $15 per night for private room and bathroom. We enjoyed a shower, overindulged in food, stocked up on those supplies and had a good night’s sleep.
- Panga: 145 cordobas per person, one way.
Breakdown of Costs:
All in all, the entire trip from Laguna de Apoyo to The Corn islands cost us 836 cordoboas each (€26 each). So you can see why this is the most appealing for those on a budget. It costs less for two people to travel this way than to buy one, one way ticket.
Compare it to flight costs which start from $164pp for return flights from Managua to The Corn Islands. One way flights from Managua to Big Corn Island start at $100. La Costena Airlines also run flights at $60 each way from Managua to Bluefields and Bluefields to Big Corn. We have heard that if you call La Costena (+(505) 2298-5360) you will secure a cheaper prices than online but have yet to meet anyone who has been successful with this option.
If you had to ask me, I’d say attempt the land and sea option for the trip to Big Corn. IT will make that paradise island more beautiful and the coconuts more sweet. If you hated it, take a flight home. Or join us in our stubborness to following through on the spend-less, save-more adventure.