Big Corn Island

Nicaragua’s Caribbean island couple, Big Corn and Little Corn, have been spared from package tourism so far.

The islands are located about 70 km from Nicaragua’s Atlantic port Bluefields. The easiest way to get here is by a short flight from Managua, which connects the capital with Big Corn twice a day. On old maps, the islands are designated as Islas de los Manglares, while the Spanish-speaking inhabitants, who are in the minority, call them Islas de Maíz Grande or Pequeña.

More than half of the total 7000 islanders live in Brig Bay, which also houses the small airport, some shops with a bank and numerous pubs, the municipal administration and the Karen Tucker Baseball Stadium. The latter becomes the social centre of the island during the weekly game. Like its little sister, Big Corn has all the attributes of a Caribbean dream island: White sandy beaches, turquoise waters, coral reefs, mangroves and extensive palm groves. Mount Pleasant, just 113 m high, is the highest point on the island and offers good panoramic views. An asphalted ring road surrounds Big Corn, even if it does not always run directly along the coast. Theoretically, it is also possible to walk around the island in about two hours, but it is much more pleasant to be chauffeured by taxi, as most taxi drivers have guide qualities and know interesting things about the island and its inhabitants.

Apart from tourism, which is becoming increasingly important, most of the inhabitants live from fishing, even if the lobster population is threatened by overfishing. Until Hurricane Joan devastated the Corn Islands in 1988, copra production was still an important industry. The international drug trade – at least for the permanent inhabitants of the islands – becomes noticeable as a “shadow in paradise”, as an important maritime trade route runs alongside the Corn Islands. Cocaine packages are often flushed ashore that are thrown overboard by drug traffickers in speedboats whenever they risk being discovered.

Historically, the islands were already on the world map in the 17th century as smugglers’ and pirates’ hiding places. Between 1655 and 1894 they were British protectorates as part of the Miskito Coast until Nicaragua claimed ownership of them in 1894. Already in 1914 Big Corn and Little Corn were leased to the USA for 100 years, so that the US laws applied here on Nicaraguan territory, but the USA continued to tolerate the de facto Nicaraguan self-administration until the treaty was prematurely terminated in 1970 and the Corn Islands fell back to Nicaragua. Nevertheless, English, or an English-based Creole, remains the most widely spoken language on the islands. Its population is descended from the descendants of British gold seekers and escaped slaves from other Caribbean islands, while in recent decades members of the indigenous Miskito and Spanish-speaking Nicaraguans have joined from the mainland.