Travel, Weekend Unexplored
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Weekend Unexplored: Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Big Corn Island, situated off the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua on the Caribbean Sea, has historically been influenced more by the English than the Spanish.  The locals are descendants from Miskito Indians, European pirates, British settlers, and freed slaves.  Over the years, Nicaraguans from the mainland have moved to the island as well.  My friends and I spent a couple of days there in March, hoping to explore the local beaches and dive sites.  Listening to people speak Creole upon arrival was interesting; the language slides so easily in and out of English and Spanish with blends of words and phrases.  Of course, everyone on the island understands both English and Spanish perfectly.  Most have earned their income from lobster fishing, but now many are turning to tourism to bring new job opportunities.

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Map of Big Island, provided by Paraiso hotel

Approximately six square miles, the island has a paved road that runs along its entire perimeter.  For only 20 cordobas, or $0.70, we explored the full length of Big Corn Island by taxi cooperatives, sharing the fare with other passengers going the same direction.  No seat was left empty in these vehicles.  At one point, we even had one happy boy sitting in the trunk of our car!  (I remember his “Ouch” spurred giggles from his family sitting in the backseat when we slowly went over speed bumps.)  

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Staying in one of the cabana rooms of El Paraiso, we took advantage of their daily yoga classes each morning, snorkeled around the nearby shipwrecks of Brig Bay, and sampled local dishes, like rondon (a seafood stew made with coconut), at the hotel restaurant, The Buccaneer.  The Dutch owners of the hotel live right on the property and interact frequently with guests and locals, arranging tours and answering questions.

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Rondon, prepared by the chef of The Buccaneer

We completed two dives on the North end of the island, touring with and renting gear from the Dos Tiburones Dive Shop.  We explored local reefs in an area called la Reina de Los Buzos (Queen of the Divers), named after the statue of the Virgin Mary found at the bottom of the dive site.  We paid $65 for 2 dives, splitting them up with lunch.  Each dive spanned about two hours, including time on the boat getting to and from the local dive site.  At La Reina de Los Buzos, we saw corals, eagle rays, schools of colorful fish, lobster, and a nurse shark.         

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Aside from snorkeling and diving, we spent most of our time at two beaches with opposing characteristics.  Long Beach, on the southeast side of the island, is windy, breathtaking, and isolated, with waves that rumble and crash on the sand.  On the other side, Picnic Center Beach, protected from wind on the southwest of the island, has soft sand and clear, calm turquoise water that is great for swimming.  Many hotels and restaurants are situated on this side of the island, including the Arenas hotel, where we had delicious red snapper carpaccio for $8.  With lobster fishing on the island, one can order two lobster tails at a local restaurant, like Maris Place, for only $12.

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Carpaccio from Arenas hotel

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Lobster tails from Mari’s Comedor

What I enjoyed most on Big Corn Island was actually the walk from Dos Tiburones to Island Bakery and Sweets after a good swim.  The anticipation of deliciously baked lemon tarts, pati (spicy beef turnovers), coconut bread, and polvorones (ginger cookies) as we walked that stretch of road with its diversity of mangrove swamps on our left and golden beaches on our right made me really thankful and happy to be exactly where I was.  Best of all, I had dear friends to share this memory with too.  

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For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page.

Author: Jenifer Lam

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