The Quick and Easy Way…
At which point I should insert a disclaimer as La Costena airlines can be subject to delays, and on occasions your bag may arrive the day after you do!
But… on the whole they make every effort to stick to schedule, and since becoming part of the TACA/AVIANCA Group, have become more reliable, to the extent that they have been known to fly extra planes all the way from Managua to Big Corn to pick up passengers in the case of technical difficulties on the original plane.
La Costena now have a website where you can make bookings in advance (note that you need to book 2 days or more in advance if booking on-line) – click on logo to navigate to their website
Flights leave Managua at 6.20am, 11.30am and 2pm, returning at 8am, 1pm and 4.30pm (note that as of Christmas 2014 that there still only 2 pangas each day and a middle panga has not yet been added for the new middle flight that started in December 2014).
Return flights cost from $164, singles cost $106 each way from Managua or $60 each way for either of the legs from Managua to Bluefields or Bluefields to Big Corn. La Costena have recently introduced variable pricing so check their website for prices.
From the airport you can catch a taxi to the dock for the boat to Little Corn for $1 per person, 5 minute ride.
BOATS FROM LITTLE CORN TO BIG CORN
The regular open pangas leave at 6.30am and 1.30pm. There is also a less reliable boat that runs at 4pm (or sometime after) that takes an hour or so to get to Big Corn, except Saturdays when you can get on one of the returning cargo boats that return to Big Corn sometime around 5pm-7pm.
Boats from Big Corn leave at 10am and 4.30pm, but will generally wait if the plane is delayed a little.
All trips cost $6 or 165 Cordobas each way.
La Costena airlines state that you need to check in an hour and a half before your flight time, but in reality they are not consistent in applying this rule, which unfortunately means some days they do, some days they don’t, it just depends what mood they are in. This is really frustrating for people want to leave here who don’t know whether to go over to Big Corn the day before or not. Generally speaking for the afternoon flight, the boat will get you there in plenty of time and you will be there an hour and a half before the flight time so no problem. For morning flights though it can be risky, so our advice is to go to Big Corn the night before at busy times or if the weather is looking a little rough….
And for those of you who have read or heard horror stories about the panga ride over here, here is a great clip showing what the crossing is usually like……. Thanks to Brendan Lewis, Flaco and Lewis for this……
The Cheaper Way…..
So the other way gets mixed reviews, depending on the weather usually!
From Managua you can get a bus to the river port of Rama, located on the Rio Escondido which is as far as you can get by road from the capital! Buses leave from the Mercado Ivan Montenegro (Costa Atlantica terminal), express buses leave at 9pm and arrive into Rama around 3am, costing $8 each way.
From Bluefields the Rio Escondido passenger ferry has a scheduled boat every Wednesday at 9am to Big Corn, taking about 6 hours and costing $12 each way.
Note – there are also supply ships that leave Rama on Thursday mornings that may also take passengers, but you need to speak to the boat captains to check on space and journey duration as they usually stop in Bluefields on the way, sometimes for a few hours.
Boats return from Big Corn Island to Bluefields/Rama on Thursday mornings at 9am, and on Saturday and Sunday nights at around 11pm.
We highly recommend both of these companies for safe, clean, reliable and well priced transfers to/from Managua airport to destinations south such as Granada, San Juan del Sur and even the Costa Rica border at Penas Blancas. Their scheduled trips work out cheaper than hailing a taxi on the streets of Managua in most cases, even for one person, although their private trips are only really viable for groups. Bookings can be made online or by phone.
GETTING TO NICARAGUA
Officially you need to be able to show an exit ticket from Nicaragua in order to board an international flight destined for the country (the same is true for some other Central American countries also). This rule seems to be randomly applied and if you’re backpacking then you probably don’t have one. Note that Spirit Airlines enforce this strictly and make you buy a return ticket in order to board you, even if you don’t plan to use it! If this happens buy a refundable one and hopefully you’ll get it back, although that in itself is a process! If you search online there is a company in Costa Rica that can buy exit bus tickets on your behalf and email you the details, even at short notice, but they charge a premium for this service.
Best bet is to fake an itinerary in advance of travel just in case you need to use it. Note that the main border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica at Penas Blancas also seems strict on enforcing this rule for entry into Costa Rica, although you can buy a bus ticket at the border that satifies this requirement.