The Corn Islands
The Corn Islands are one of the hottest Caribbean diving destinations you’ve never heard of, but that won’t last for long. Visiting this pair of picturesque paradises about 43 miles off Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast is like stepping back in time and diving the Caribbean 30 years ago: untouched (and unbroken) reefs thick with staghorn and elkhorn corals and teeming with grouper, lobster and sharks. Throw in dive packages that run mere dollars a day — all without another dive boat in sight — and you’ve got a window of opportunity with a sell-by date.
Little Corn is the smaller, less developed of the two, an island outpost with no roads or motorized transport that hosts a small but friendly dive community. Eagle rays, nurse sharks, even hammerheads regularly cruise in; and the shallow depths, paired with consistently calm conditions, mean Little Corn’s top spots are accessible to divers of all levels.
The area’s best dive, Blowing Rock, is about 16 miles from Little Corn. Adam Clarke of Dolphin Dive Center explains that this volcanic rock pinnacle reaches from the surface down to about 80 feet and attracts horse-eye jacks, barracuda and the occasional mahimahi. Another popular dive, White Holes, is much closer to shore and features shallow, 30-foot-deep sand patches surrounded by increasingly rare staghorn and elkhorn corals. At the Tunnels (aka Shark Hole), a network of swim-throughs meanders beneath the shallow reef, while Caribbean reef sharks patrol the perimeter. — Travis Marshall
Need to Know
Getting There: Daily flights connect Atlanta, Miami and Houston to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, and from there, twice-daily flights connect to Big Corn Island at 6:20 a.m. and 2 p.m. From Big Corn, catch a panga for the 30-minute boat ride to Little Corn Island.
When to Go: Year-round.
Dive Conditions: The Corn Islands consistently boast calm seas, good visibility and light currents. As with much of the Caribbean, summer water temperatures in the low to mid-80s can dip to the high 70s during the winter months.
Operator/Accommodations: Locally owned Dolphin Dive (www.dolphindivelittlecorn.com) and Dive Little Corn (www.divelittlecorn.com) offer guided dives and training on Little Corn Island. Dolphin Dive’s on-site accommodations are at the adjoining Hotel Los Delfines, and Dive Little Corn’s are at Casa Iguana. Nautilus Dive (www.divebigcorn.com) offers diving on both Big and Little Corn.
Price Tag: Dive packages at Dolphin Dive and Los Delfines start at $370 for two people and $220 for single divers, which includes three nights’ accommodation and five dives each. Dive packages at Dive Little Corn and Casa Iguana start at $450 per person, double occupancy, and include five nights in a deluxe casita and 10 dives. Nearby hotel rooms and beach houses are also available at prices ranging from $10 to $80 per night.
Inside Tip: Some on-island businesses accept credit cards, but expect to pay an extra 5 percent when using one. Also, there are no banks or ATMs on Little Corn Island, so it’s a good idea to come prepared with enough cash (small bills), in either local cordobas or U.S. dollars, to cover the whole trip.