It’s almost time for the ferry to push off, heading into the open seas for Little Corn Island. I’m standing on the dock watching the police officers with their AK-47’s, sky blue uniforms and black berets stroll along the pier, inspecting boats as they come in to dock.
Corn Island, Nicaragua being only a short distance from Colombia’s San Andreas Island, results in it being a passing point for drug runners. Narcotics traffickers pack their ships and speedboats with their cocaine cargo, en route to its prime customer, the United States.
As it can sometimes happen, these boats get intercepted by diligent coast guards and marine police, which can lead to the cocaine packages being dumped overboard. In recent years, these drug bundles have been washing ashore on the beaches of Corn Island, where they are seen as a godsend to the locals. For them, selling its contents can profit more money than they’ve ever seen.
A fisherman steers his rusty boat in to the dock, and I hop on my ferry boat, which is carrying about twenty local passengers and tourists. Having been eyeing the goings-on in the harbor, I have missed the early boarding and am now stuck with a seat to the front, where it is sure to be a bumpy ride. Nevertheless, I park myself on the wooden bench, and prepare to be jolted at every passing wave.
At least the driver is enjoying the ride; taking swigs from a bottle of the national Flor de Caña rum as he navigates through the waters.
Little Corn Island is three kilometers (two miles) in size, and located thirty kilometers (19 miles) from the main island. It contains no cars or roads, but is criss-crossed with footpaths that wind through the land; through trees of mango, almond and coconut.
I was ill-prepared for my journey through the tropical forests. Sweating like a pig and swatting at mosquitoes while I toted the un-savvy traveler’s carry-on bag on, I was relieved to finally stumble upon the Ensueños oasis.
A half hour trek from the dock to the less developed side of the island leads to the architecturally natural and creatively designed cabanas and casitas of Ensueños (in dreams).
Walking through the mud trails of the jungle and ending up on a remote beach with these quaint, resourceful cabins was like arriving at the Swiss Family Robinson’s tree house. The little huts are artistic yet sturdy, and have been built from local materials. Where the sand ends, a mossy knoll begins, with three cabanas that appear to grow out of the grass like mushrooms.
Upon arriving, I found that I was the only one there, save for the lizards that skirted along the rocks by the shore. A house to the back of the property had a knocker leading to the entrance, which was conceived of a large fish’s (or shark’s) teeth and jaws attached to a rusty metal gong.
Banging the fish jaws against the gong produced no human life either, so I returned to the beach to scrape off the clay that had accumulated on the bottom of my flip flops and that had been weighing me down with every step.
After picking at the bottom of my shoes with a washed-up stick and muddying the clear turquoise waters as I rinsed them, a red hippy-pants-wearing man walked around the rocky point to where I was standing on the beach.
Ramón, originally from Spain and the owner of Ensueños, led me to the casita where I would pass the next few glorious days, disconnected from the world.
A Room with a View
My casita was fully equipped with everything one could need to be comfortably encased in the jungle. While there was no electricity, every detail had been attended to: candles were placed throughout the cabin, there was a fully equipped kitchen with gas stove, sink, pots and pans, a flowing mosquito net covering the bed, a bookshelf stacked with paperbacks, playing cards, and Raid, which came in especially handy when a huge banana spider crawled across my bed in the night (I wasn’t about to perform a catch and release).
Shutters around the cabin opened to trees of coconut, banana, avocado, and shrubs of pineapple. Most impressive was the outdoor bathroom, where you could shower and do your other necessities while being protected under the big branches of the palm trees.
A Savory Experience
A private beach with white sand, clear ocean water and beautifully earthy cabins aren’t Ensueño’s only draw. Perhaps the best part is the food that is equally natural and artistic. The meals are created by a French cook, a lithe and eccentric man who spends hours in the kitchen whipping up culinary delights.
During my stay, I had a dinner consisting of fresh corn chips with guacamole, coconut infused rice and shrimp with mango chutney sauce, and a breakfast of fresh eggs (chickens also run around the property) with homemade bread and pineapple jam. The restaurant is in an enclave which resembles a hobbit’s house, but is filled with the warm light of candles and touches of art.
Chilling Out Caribbean Style
Snorkeling in the coral reef offered a new perspective to the ocean I had been admiring from my hammock. Throughout the water, vast species of fish swam about the rocks and coral; most impressive were the royal blue and yellow angel fish that darted away from me as I passed.
Here civilization is easily forgotten, “island time” prevails, letting hours slip into days. After three days I had to escape the peaceful isolation of Ensueños and venture back to reality.
The journey took me back through the trails of the tropical forest, on to the ocean ferry and into the tiny plane complete with crates of crowing roosters. Landing in the concrete jungle of Managua, I was left only with the visions of the real jungle and dreams of Ensueños.
Ensueños only accepts reservations for stays of one week or longer, but most likely any time of year there will be lodging available. Email to check if there should be space free during your trip.
Be aware that response to emails may take a few days, as they are often away from internet connection. Cash only is accepted (U.S. dollars and Cordobas), and there are no bank machines on the island.
Prices for the stay range from $20 a night for the smallest cabanas to $50 a night for the large casita. Breakfasts are $4 and dinner $10. They also offer a selection of French and Spanish wines.
When to Go:
The best time to go is between January and April when it is usually the driest. Avoid going during Nicaraguan national vacations, as prices are more expensive, and accommodations fill up quickly.
Semana Santa (Easter week), and Christmas are the most popular times. Rainy season can extend from May to December, but the rain usually only lasts a couple hours, and it can still be quite sunny. Avoid visiting in September and October, when there is a higher instance of hurricanes.
Things to Do:
In addition to lounging on the beach or exploring the island, there are a couple dive centers that offer dive and snorkel trips as well as fishing charters and kayak rentals. Dive certifications are also available. Check out www.divelittlecorn.com/island.shtml
Flight and Ferry schedules:
Costeña has two flights daily to Corn Island from the Managua International Airport. Departures are at 6:30am and 2:00 pm, arriving at 8:00a.m. and 3:30p.m. Ferry times leaving Big Corn Island are at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and leaving Little Corn Island at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.
For more information check out www.bigcornisland.com; this has information on both islands.
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