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 here at DIY Travel HQ travelled to the Corn Islands without flying & probably would do it again since it is still half the cost.

Plus we had plenty of time to catch up on our travel reads!

However you really need to think twice as it is not only inconvenient, but very rough on your mind & body too.

You may want to consider flying to the Corn Islands with La Costena airlines.

* Either way don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before any trip to Nicaragua. We’ve been using World Nomads for over 10 years – it’s the best-value provider we’ve found & we’ve also never had any issues on the few occasions we’ve had to make a claim.

Ometepe to the Corn Islands Without Flying

We travelled from Managua to the Corn Islands without flying but it is also possible to get there from Ometepe (if the lake water is deep enough):

  • Overnight Monday ferry from Altagracia (Ometepe) to San Carlos
  • 8:00 am bus to El Rama
  • Boat from El Rama to Bluefields
  • Ferry from Bluefields to Big Corn Island (+ Little Corn Island)

Even if the overnight Monday 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.

Ometepe Ferry From Moyogalpa to San Jorge

Your best bet from Ometepe is to take the ferry back to San Jorge

Managua to the Corn Islands Without Flying

The most popular route to reach the Corn Islands without flying is:

  • Bus from Managua to El Rama
  • Boat from El Rama to Bluefields
  • Ferry from Bluefields to Big Corn Island (+ Little Corn Island)

The most important thing to consider is the ferry from Bluefields to Big Corn Island only departs Wednesday at 9:00 am and returns Thursday at 9:00 am.

This means you are spending a week on the Corn Islands or finding a cargo ship back that can be unpredictable.

Rio Escondido Ferry Bluefields to Big Corn Island

If you aren’t flying to the Corn Islands, make sure you take the Rio Escondido Ferry then.

#1. Managua to El Rama

There are two terminals in Managua that service El Rama:

  • Costa Atlantica Terminal near Mercado Ivan Montenegro – buses to El Rama leave at 6:00 am & 9:00 pm. C$160, 6 hours
  • Mercado Mayoreo – chicken buses to El Rama for C$140
Managua to El Rama Costa Atlantica Bus Terminal

Waiting to see if they were adding a 4th bus from Managua to El Rama after not running Christmas Eve & Day.

We recommend departing from the Costa Atlantica Terminal option as their refurbished, individual seat express chicken buses buses are more reliable & comfortable.

When you purchase your ticket, you can buy the panga (boat ride) ticket from El Rama to Bluefields at the same time.

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.

Managua to El Rama Buses

Arrive early if you want to guarantee a seat, but they did add more buses while we were there.

#2. El Rama to Bluefields

The only way to get to Bluefields from El Rama is by panga (speed canoe).

The cost is C$250 plus a C$5 port fee.

If you didn’t buy your panga ticket in advance in Managua, you can buy it at the El Rama bus terminal. If you did buy it, you’ll still need to join the queue to get a number for the panga.

The earlier you get in line, the faster you get a departing boat.

El Rama to Bluefields Panga Departure Line

Get off the bus & get in line if you want one of the first pangas departing El Rama.

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 3:00 am & waiting until sunrise (~6:00 am) to depart.

The boat takes approximately 2 hours & you can sit/sleep at the bus terminal.

El Rama to Bluefields Pangas

Be prepared to wait from 3 am to 6 am for the El Rama to Bluefield pangas (boats).

#3. Bluefields to the Corn Islands

Technically, there are four ways to get from Bluefields to the Corn Islands:

  • Rio Escondido ferry – leaves Wednesday morning at 9:00 am & returns Thursday at 9:00 am
  • Ferry from El Bluff – C$50 panga ride from Bluefield to El Bluff
  • Captain D – beds on a cargo ship from El Rama (unreliable)
  • Cargo ship – negotiating a ride
Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry & Captain D Cargo Boat

Reliability is crucial when planning a trip to the Corn Islands, & the best option is Rio Escondido.

Rio Escondido Ferry: Bluefields to the Corn Islands

Assuming you want a semi-reliable option, the Rio Escondido ferry remains your best bet to get to the Corn Islands without flying.

There were conflicting stories about departure the day before, but it did in fact leave the next morning on Wednesday.

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 C$255 & takes 6.5 rough hours.

Simply hand over your passport & money to purchase your ticket and processing.

The boat did not leave until 10:00 am so anyone doing the bus-boat combination Tuesday night should still be able to buy a ticket.

Always be aware of pickpockets. Do keep your passport in something like the RFID blocking passport holder or RFID blocking travel document organizer.

We also recommend wearing a money belt with RFID blocking & traveling with an anti-theft daypack.

Buying Tickets for Ferry from Bluefields to Big Corn Island

Hurry up & wait to get your ferry ticket from Bluefields to Big Corn Island

Getting a Seat on the Rio Escondido ferry

You have very few comfortable options for seating on the Rio Escondido ferry:

  • Air-conditioned seats inside the ferry 
  • Few seats (outside but under cover) near the luggage at the back on the ferry
  • Seats along the sides of the ferry
  • Top deck of the ferry

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.

It is something to keep in mind if you are looking to travel to the Corn Islands without flying.

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry

Make sure you get the best seat possible with over 6 hours on the open water.

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…

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry with Passengers Inside Cabin

Claim your seat & don’t budge for anyone. Move unattended luggage if you have to.

  • Save your seat in advance

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 that tickets can be checked.

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.

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Rio Escondido Ferry

If you want to guarantee a seat, stand by the entrance to the Rio Escondido Ferry around departure time.

  • Take over the life vest seating

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.

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Ferry Life Jackets & Interior Seats

Make sure you have a life jacket, & grab a seat once they are cleared!

  • Sit with the luggage

When you first board, you are instructed to put your big bag at the back of the boat.

We recently upgraded to anti-theft backpacks for added security while backpacking.

Another option is moving luggage off the seats in the rear & claiming them for your own.

The area is covered so you will be out of the sun.

Bluefields to Big Corn Island Rio Escondido Ferry Luggage & Seats

If you can’t grab a seat inside, try the luggage area in the back.

Rio Escondido Ferry Experience: What to Expect

It was awful! I mean really awful! It is a very painful 6.5 hours & not a pleasant experience with rough seas even with anti-nausea sea-bands.

Getting to the Corn Islands without flying is not for the faint-hearted!

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 10:00 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.

Big Corn Island to Little Corn Island Cargo Boat with Passengers

The cargo boat from Big Corn to Little Corn is slower but safer…even if you need to sit on the deck.

Little Corn Island to Big Corn Island Ferry

You may have gotten to the Corn Islands without flying but now you also need to get back! Many people choose to fly back rather than endure the return journey.

Nevertheless the trip 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.

Big Corn Island to Bluefield Ferry Ticket Office at Restaurante Fisher Cave

Make sure you head to the Fisher’s Cave for return tickets.

Managua to the Corn Islands: 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.

We recommend Booking.com as a trustworthy source of accommodation in Nicaragua. Make a booking with our link for 10% off your stay.

Here are our picks along the way if you are looking to get to the Corn Islands without flying:

  • 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 C$360 / $12 & includes high speed Wi-Fi, Netflix on a big screen, breakfast, & a pool!

Breakfast included at Casa 37 Hostal

Free breakfast overlooking the pool – what a way to start the day!

  • 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 C$200 / $6.65 for your own room with private bathroom, TV & Wi-Fi.

El Rama Nicaragua Budget Hotel Room

For C$200 you could even get a room for just a few hours while waiting for the pangas to start running.

  • 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 C$300 / $10 & they include Wi-Fi, coffee, drinking water, & a pool. Add another C$100 for a private bathroom. There are plenty of rooms so it should never be fully booked.

Hostal Dona Vero Bluefields Nicaragua

There’s no reason to look anywhere other than Hostal Dona Vero when staying in Bluefields.

  • 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 C$450 / $15 a night & is perfect for longer stays too.

You can walk or take a shared taxi to anywhere on the island for C$20 per person.

Hotel Morgan Common Area Lounge Seating

Enjoy the grass, hammock, and lawn chairs at Hotel Morgan.

  • Little Corn Island

After such a long journey to get to the Corn Islands without flying, you deserve to treat yourself!

On 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.

Carlitos Place Little Corn Island

Carlito’s Place is the Little Corn Island experience that you dreamed of.

 Know Before You Go

Best Way to Get to the Corn Islands without flying:

  • Managua to El Rama – 9:00 pm bus either Monday or Tuesday (C$160, 6 hours)
  • El Rama to Bluefields – Panga (boat) at 6:00 am either Tuesday or Wednesday (C$250 + C$5 , 2 hours)
  • Bluefields to Big Corn Island – Ferry at 9:00 am Wednesday (C$255, 6.5 hours)
  • Big Corn Island to Little Corn Island – Pangas at 10:00 am or 4:30 pm (C$140 + C$5 or a bad exchange rate of $6, 1 hour)

One Way Total Costs:

C$1,140 / $38 for Transportation & Accommodation

VS

C$2770 / $92 + C$145 / $4.80 (when booked as a return flight)

For the 1st option, this includes:

  • Transportation from Managua to Little Corn Island – C$815
  • Accommodation in Bluefields & Big Corn Island if needed (C$300 + C$350 = C$650 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.***

Have you been to the Corn Islands? How did you get there? Let us know if our information on getting to the Corn Islands without flying is up to date! 

December 2016