Big Corn Island may just be the paradise you’ve always dreamt of. Crystalline Caribbean waters, pristine beaches, coconut palms stretching toward the azure sky, pangas rocking lazily at their moorings, locals waving from their porches, fresh and cheap seafood on the grill, tourism without overdevelopment, and coral reefs harboring a wide variety of marine life—what more could you ask for?
For many years, the fishing and lobster industries constituted the bulk of Corn Island’s economy. With recent declining trends in the fisheries, however, the island is in the midst of navigating responsibly a shift to a more tourism-based economy. What you will surely notice when you visit is that this is being done with the utmost care and concern for the native culture and environment. You will not find large scale development here and probably never will; the swamps around the island, which are crucial to the fresh water supply, are clearly labelled and steadfastly protected from encroachment; and the municipal government is instituting recycling and environmental education programs in order to foster a sustainable future for this one-of-a-kind island.
The people who call Corn Island home consist of three main ethnic groups. There are the Creole people who identify as native islanders; they are descended from the African slaves who were brought to the island as well as their English masters, and the pirates who once frequented these waters. Many Creole people have surnames like Morgan (as in Captain Morgan), Downs, Smith, etc. which hark back to their turbulent ancestry. They speak Miskito Coast Creole (a complex mix of Spanish and English very similar to that spoken in Jamaica), English, Spanish, and some Miskito. Then there are the mestizo people from the Pacific side of the country, known to the islanders simply as “Spaniards,” who have immigrated to the island. Most of these mainland Nicaraguans speak English in addition to Spanish. Finally there are the Miskito Indian people, originally from the Caribbean coast around Puerto Cabezas, who assimilated the indigenous population of the island, the Kukras. The “Indians” as they are referred to here, for the most part speak Miskito, Creole, English, and Spanish.
Baseball: Baseball is huge in Nicaragua, with teams from around the country competing in a national league. If you’re lucky enough to be here when the home team plays at Karen Tucker Municipal Stadium here on Corn Island, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday night. The baseball fans out there might recognize the name Cheslor Cuthbert—originally from Corn Island, Cheslor now plays for the Kansas City Royals.
Crab Soup Festival: Every year on August 27, the island celebrates the anniversary of their emancipation from slavery in 1841 with a huge festival centering around a dish known as crab soup, the traditional food from slavery times.
Music and Dancing: If night life is what you’re looking for, local options include Bambule, a reggae dance club that’s always busy on Saturday night (with Country night on Sundays—yes, Country, as in Nashville, TN), and Nico’s Bar down the road from Long Bay, where you’ll find loud music, dancing, and cheap beer.
The Soul of the World: Atop Quinn Hill you’ll find an international art installation known locally as the Golden Pyramid. Artist Rafael Trénor is responsible for the project. The concept is that if you were to place a cube inside of the sphere of the Earth’s crust just so, its eight vertices would break the surface on land and not in the water. Corn Island, Cocos Islands, Hawaii, Santiago de Compostela, South Island, Buryat, Tierra del Fuego, and the Kalahari are the distinguished locales that house the project. More information can be found by visiting www.souloftheworld.com
Cuisine: Corn Island’s cuisine is a mix of Nicaraguan and Caribbean influences, made up of dishes like gallo pinto (rice and beans with veggies and coconut milk), fish cooked in banana leaf, and pastries like coconut cake, soda cakes, and tarts. Shawn Downs, just down the road from Dos Tiburones and right across from the Big Fish Cafe, is an excellent cook who can give you a taste of what Corn Island cooking is all about in his open air restaurant on the beach. Or, for the desserts, head to the Island Bakery, also down the road from our shop, before you get to Shawn’s place.
Nacatamales: A Nicaraguan dish consisting of spices, vegetables, corn masa, and either chicken or pork steamed in a banana leaf. You’ll see signs advertising “Hay Nacatamales” all over the island. Pulpería Ruíz in South End (the red store right across from St. James Episcopal Church) makes them every Friday. Grab one for everybody and a loaf of coconut bread to make it a meal.
Patties: The Nicaraguan version of an empanada, these pastries come filled with a mix of either fruit or meat and spices. If you’re at the wharf waiting on the ferry to Little Corn there will usually be someone selling them. Or if you see a man riding his bike around the island yelling “Spicy!”, that’s Cyprus. He sells meat patties. They make for a good snack, but be careful, they’re not lying about the “spicy."