Getting to the Corn Islands without flying is very time consuming & unpredictable. We provide you with the details you need to make it happen for roughly half the cost of flying! Find out if you have what it takes.
Disclaimer – We took this trip & probably would do it again since it is still half the cost, but you really need to think twice about not flying when getting to the Corn Islands. It is not only inconvenient, but very rough on your mind & body too.
Getting to the Corn Islands Routes
The most popular route to reach the Corn Islands without flying is by bus from Managua to El Rama, and then boats from El Rama to Bluefields, & then Bluefields to Big Corn Island. The most important thing to consider is the ferry from Bluefields to Big Corn Island only departs Wednesday @ 9 am, and returns Thursday at 9 am. This means you are spending a week on the Corn Islands, or finding a cargo ship back that can be unpredictable.
The other option on Ometepe, if the lake’s water level is deep enough & it is running, is an overnight Monday ferry from Altagracia to San Carlos, followed by an 8 am bus to El Rama & the same as above. Even if the ferry is running, keep in mind there is only one bus a day. Therefore, if the boat is late you miss the once a week ferry from Bluefields to the Corn Islands.
Managua to El Rama
There are two terminals in Managua that service El Rama. You can go to Mercado Mayoreo, which has chicken buses for 140 cordoba. However, we recommend the more reliable & comfortable Costa Atlantica Terminal near Mercado Ivan Montenegro that leave at 6 am & 9 pm & takes 6 hours.
The refurbished, individual seat express chicken buses cost 160 cordobas, & you can buy the panga (boat ride) from El Rama to Bluefields in advance. We aren’t sure if this is regular, but they added more buses if there was enough interest early on for a total of 4 when we left.
El Rama to Bluefields
The only way to get to Bluefields from El Rama is by panga (speed canoe). The cost is 250 cordobas plus a 5 cordoba port fee. Regardless which bus you take to get to El Rama, you will need to either buy or get a panga (boat) number at the Costa Atlantica affiliated terminal. The earlier you get in line, the faster you get a departing boat.
This is crucial if you are trying to do a continuous stretch from Tuesday night & trying to catch the Wednesday morning ferry to the Corn Islands. Otherwise, it just means you have to wait longer after arriving at 3 am & waiting until sunrise (~6 am) to depart. The boat takes approximately 2 hours, & you can sit/sleep at the bus terminal.
Bluefields to the Corn Islands
Technically, there are four ways to get from Bluefields to the Corn Islands, but there is clearly a best option. The most convenient is the Rio Escondido ferry that leaves Wednesday morning at 9 am, & returns Thursday at 9 am. The other options are another ferry that leaves from El Bluff (additional 50 cordoba panga ride to get there), Captain D whom is unreliable but offers beds on a cargo ship from El Rama, and negotiating a ride on a cargo ship.
Assuming you want a semi-reliable option, the Rio Escondido ferry remains your best bet. There were conflicting stories about departure the day before, but it did in fact leave the next morning. They do not sell tickets in advance, so it is best to begin lining up at the office near the port entrance at 7 am. The line progresses verrrrrrry slowly with each local buying multiple tickets. The cost is 255 cordoba & takes 6.5 rough hours. Simply hand over your passport & money to purchase your ticket and processing. The boat did not leave until 10 am so anyone doing the bus-boat combination Tuesday night should still be able to buy a ticket.
Getting a Seat on the Rio Escondido ferry.
You have very few comfortable options for seating on the Rio Escondido ferry. Your best option by far is the air conditioned interior, followed by the few seats near luggage, on the side of the boat, and then the 2nd level. The seas were very rough the day we went & you really want to be inside even if you are sitting on the ground. Many people got drenched just as we were entering the open ocean. Others were severely sunburned on the return.
Tips for Getting a Seat
First priority inside the air conditioned compartment goes to parents with young children. Assuming you don’t have little ones, here is Rio Escondido’s boarding procedures so you can choose your own strategy.
The locals tend to arrive early & place something without value on each seat they want saved. You can try this method & hope they honor the system, or maximize your chances by gaming their procedures. Around the departure time, almost everyone is escorted off the boat so they can check your ticket. The first on at that point is sure to receive the seats they already saved. Simply wait by the boat’s side entrance around the departure time for the best placement. Sheena also was allowed to stay on the Rio Escondido both times by just providing the ticket when the conductor went around after evacuating most people.
When boarding make sure to grab a life vest as you never know with these boats. If you are slightly late getting on the boat or your saved seat is taken, see if the spot previously occupying the life vests is now open. Your next best option may be sitting on the ground in the front.
When you first board, you are instructed to put your big bag at the back of the boat. Another option is moving luggage off the seats in the rear & claiming them for your own.
Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry Experience
It was awful! I mean really awful! It is a very painful 6.5 hours & not a pleasant experience with rough seas. Probably half the boat was puking, including me. Sheena just happens to be tougher in this regard. Either way, the smell combined with the sounds is not fun. The boat is not that comfortable to begin with, but it was made even worse with people sprawled out on seats & the floor trying to get comfortable. They give you bags to puke into, but anything on the ground is covered with slime by the time you arrive at Big Corn Island!
Big Corn Island to Little Corn Island Ferry
For most people, the final destination on the Corn Islands is Little Corn Island. Pangas run at 10 am & 4:30 pm, returning at 6:30 am and 1:30 pm from Little Corn Island. During rough weather they are not permitted to run & the only option is the once a day cargo boat. It was scheduled to leave at 4:30 pm, but left at 5 pm, and took 1.5 hours.
The return journey from Little Corn Island to Managua can be done in a day. You take the 6:30 am panga from Little Corn Island to Big Corn Island. Instead of waiting at the dock, head to Fisher’s Cave to purchase your ferry ticket(s) to Bluefields. From there, you might be able to catch a panga to El Rama depending on reaching the minimum amount of passengers. Assuming you catch the panga, the last bus from El Rama to Managua is at 6:30 pm.
Managua to Little Corn Accomodation
Although with luck you can make it from Managua to Little Corn & vice versa in one long session, odds are that you will have to or want to stop & stay somewhere overnight. Here are our picks along the way!
Where to Stay in Managua
If you are looking to bunk down in Managua before or after your transit to the Corn Islands, there is no better place than Casa 37. A dorm costs $12 & includes high speed Wi-Fi, Netflix on a big screen, breakfast, & a pool!
Where to Stay in El Rama
Although you can typically catch the first panga to Bluefields, or last bus to Managua, you may decide to stay in El Rama to break up the trip. The comfortable hotel at the Costa Atlantica affiliated terminal charges just 200 cordoba for your own room with private bathroom, TV, & Wi-Fi.
Where to Stay in Bluefields
If you don’t want to risk missing the once a week Wednesday ferry to the Corn Islands, then consider arriving a day early. We left Managua Monday night & then stayed at Hostal Dona Vero. Rooms with shared baths cost 300 cordobas, & they include Wi-Fi, coffee, drinking water, & a pool. Add another 100 cordobas for a private bathroom. There are plenty of rooms so it should never be fully booked.
Where to Stay on Big Corn Island
Depending on when you arrive, you may be forced to stay on Big Corn Island for a night before heading to Little Corn Island or back to the mainland. Hotel Morgan is a nice option starting at $15 a night & is perfect for longer stays too. You can walk or take a taxi for 20 cordobas per person.
Where to Stay on Little Corn Island
After such a long journey to Little Corn Island you may be tempted to stay in the village section of the island. However, we feel like the beach bungalows on the other side of the island offer the remote paradise that inspired your trip in the first place. Our pick among the bunch is Carlito’s Place with a range of cabin configurations to match your budget.
Know Before You Go
Best Way to Get to the Corn Islands:
- Managua to El Rama 9 pm bus either Monday or Tuesday (160 cordoba, 6 hours)
- El Rama to Bluefields Panga (boat) at 6 am either Tuesday or Wednesday (250 + 5 cordobas, 2 hours)
- Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry at 9 am Wednesday (255 cordobas, 6.5 hours)
- Big Corn Island to Little Corn Island Pangas at 10 am or 4:30 pm (140 +5 cordobas or a bad exchange rate of $6, 1 hour)
One Way Total Costs: 1,140 cordobas for Transportation & Accommodation vs $92 + 145 cordobas when booked as a return flight
- Transportation from Managua to Little Corn Island – 815 cordobas
- Accommodation in Bluefields & Big Corn Island if needed (300 + 350 = 650 cordobas as a couple)
***The Final Word – All-in, going by land & sea is about half the cost of flying, but takes at least a day each way with a once a week scheduled ferry to/from Big Corn Island. If you are short on time or have more than a shoestring budget we recommend taking the flight from Managua to Big Corn Island.***
Which option are you leaning towards?