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.
TRAVEL TIP – Recently the airlines fees for online bookings seem to have gone up and fares can seem far more expensive than the standard prices listed above. To get around this and to get the cheapest prices you can call La Costena’s office in Managua airport on (505) 2298 5360 (option 2) to get the standard fares without online fees.
Whilst you can also buy tickets in person at the airport we do not recommend this option as it will depend on availability and you may have to wait until the next day for a seat even in low season when they will use smaller planes with reduced capacity, and you may have to wait up to a week in high season to get a seat.
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.
WHEN TO LEAVE?
La Costena will ask you to check in an hour and a half before the flight time, but in reality that’s not necessary and you can generally catch the morning boat at 6.30am for the morning flight (also the mid-day flight) and the afternoon boat for the afternoon flight.
HOWEVER – During busy times (December to May) and also when winds are above 16-18 knots, we suggest that you leave earlier to make sure you catch your flight. The boat has limited capacity and may need to make multiple trips so if you’re not on the first boat there is a risk of missing your flight and any connections you may have in Managua. We suggest that at these times that if you are on the morning flight at 8am that you leave the afternoon before, and if you are on the lunchtime or afternoon flights then you leave that morning. At quieter times this is not necessary, you can ask for advice locally when you are here on what best suits your travel plans.
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 scheduled boat to Big Corn, taking about 6 hours and costing $12 each way. The boat leaves once a week on Wednesday morning 9am from Bluefields, returning from Big Corn at 9am on Thursday.
SEPTEMBER 2017 UPDATE – The Rio Escondido is now running twice a week, also leaving Bluefields at 8/9am on Saturday mornings and returning from Big Corn at 8/9am on Sunday mornings.
Cargo ships may take passengers on Thursday or Friday from the mainland, but departure ports and times are not fixed and spaces may not be available.
They do take passengers back from Big Corn to Bluefields/Rama though on Sundays, check locally for times as they vary.
There are a number of shuttle operators that offer 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.
Please be aware that Little Corn is a small remote island and as such boat transport to and from the island will be dependent on weather conditions. There is no strict rule as to when boats will be allowed to run and when they will not but if winds are over 25mph then there is a chance of cancellations. The decision is made by the Navy (Capitania) based in Big Corn and unfortunately those decisions are not always communicated in advance, even to the panga drivers themselves! We recommend that you check forecasts before and during your visit here, and we recommend you have adequate travel insurance to cover you for travel delays.