Corn Islands, Nicaragua Snorkeling Guide
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Corn Islands Nicaragua is an unspoiled paradise in the Caribbean. There is some great snorkeling and free diving. You will find a peaceful and remote experience, despite being a short flight from the mainland. There are two islands, Big Corn and Little Corn. Little Corn is usually the destination of travelers. There are no cars or motorized vehicles allowed on the island. It’s a small island you can easily walk around. The small population of the island allows you to become friends with other travelers during your trip. There are only a couple places to hang out, so after a couple days you will find yourself saying “hi” to locals and other travelers. The slow pace of the island and peaceful surroundings truly make this a unique paradise. The snorkeling on Little Corn is mainly by boat access on the north side of the island. There is no shortage of folks in town offering snorkeling tours up there. They all go to the same place. That is the best area, but there are other shore locations identified in this review. Some of those require longer swims to get to the reef off shore. For beginners, there are some easier reef patches on the North Side and great night snorkeling in town at Dolphin Shallows.
Don’t forget about Big Corn Island! For snorkeling there is a large reef area on the north side of the island. You can snorkel up to a kilometer along here. There is a really cool sunken Steamship further off shore that requires boat access. The local dive shop can get you there.
To get to the Corn Islands there is a slow boat from Bluefields, or most people fly to Big Corn from Managua. La Costena is the local airline that will fly you out there. If you are coming from outside Nicaragua, you will have to purchase a separate ticket to go from Managua to the Corn Islands, as major airlines don’t offer a transfer ticket. There are two flights a day to the islands. Depending on your incoming flight, you might have to stay overnight in Managua. La Costena offers a 6 am flight to the islands. There is a Best Western right across the street from the airport and there is also a great hostel with private rooms near the airport, Hotel Monti Cristi. Once you are on Big Corn Island, you will have to take the panga boat to Little Corn. They time the panga to run after the daily La Costena flights, so you can make to Little Corn in the same day.
Corn Islands Snorkeling Map
(Click the box on the map header to open in Google Maps app)
Click to jump to each location:
- Blue House Rocks
- Captain Red
- Caves & Tunnels
- Dolphin Shallows
- Iguana Reef
- Little Corn Reef
- White Holes
- North Side, Left
- North Side, Middle (Fish Fry Bar)
- North Side, Right (Yemaya)
- North End Big Corn Island
- Long Reef
Blue House Rocks
Walk north to Derek’s Place on Little Corn Island. When you are almost there, you will come across a Big Blue House. This is a private house, please leave it alone. When you see that house, head straight for the beach. You will see a small peninsula of rocks. Snorkel along those rocks and around a bit. If you are more advanced, head away from shore out to the barrier reef. It’s about a 10-minute swim to the barrier reef, from the end of the rock peninsula. Along the way you have a nice view of the coral. When you reach the barrier reef, there will be semi-isolated reef towers with open sand plateaus. Some fun intermediate free diving out there.
Night snorkeling might be fun out here, but I never tried it. There’s a lot of continuous reef with lots of little hiding holes that might hold lots of critters. If you follow the rock peninsula around, that might be the best.
Straight off Dolphin Dive on Little Corn Island. This is an advanced snorkel. Dolphin Dive won’t take you out there, but they are friendly people and will give you good directions. You can possibly see the very small buoy from shore. The buoy is a small plastic bottle (their regular buoy’s keep getting stolen). It’s a long swim, but there are good markers to follow out there. The buoy Dolphin Dive maintains is on the north east section of the reef area in the following description. Swim south west of the buoy. Look for the sand area with artificial reef structures. Explore around this area.
Conditions are mostly cloudy, with a lot of sea grass along the way out. But, it’s right in town and fun to free dive. Watch out for boats. Depth is around 20 feet, so intermediate snorkelers might not be able to reach the bottom. This is more for advanced snorkelers because of the long swim.
You might be able to take a boat out here. Try the regular snorkel boat drivers in town. Offer a big tip if they take you out here at the end of the regular trip to the north side. Captain Red snorkel location is right in town and doesn’t cost them any extra gas, if you know where you are going. Ask them when you are on the way back. Make sure to check in with Dolphin Dive before attempting to guarantee there is a buoy out there, and what it looks like. Also watch out for boats, carry a marker.
Caves & Tunnels
Boat Access (you should).
Advanced free divers will enjoy this the most. Stronger waves and poor visibility make this boring to beginners. There is a coral hollow cave and deeper overhangs right after. The cave is on the island side of the reef, then a very shallow crossing to the deeper overhangs. Free divers will have a blast out here. Be safe and don’t get stuck under an overhang. The cave is super fun for free divers.
You should really have a guide show you this (really…do it). You might be able to have a dive boat show you, but they are very hesitant. At the time of this writing, the best people to ask are the French gentlemen at The Lighthouse bungalows and scenic overlook bar. They are the best free divers on the island, they use a boat captain that anchors next to it, Captain Adam. They can free dive the cave with you.
Dolphin Shallows (Day or Night)
The rocks right off shore at Dolphin Dive in town. It’s a fun place to explore as a first snorkel or for beginners. Its best enjoyed at night when more creatures come out to feed, but can be enjoyed in the day. Right in front of Dolphin Dive they have a nice shore area. Snorkel the submerged rock area right next to shore. The snorkeling is not that great, but its easy access right in town.
Night snorkeling is the best way to enjoy this location. There is a surprising amount of life that comes out of the rocks at night. You can easily enjoy this area if only one person in the group has a dive light. It’s shallow, so please try not to touch anything.
Day Snorkeling Video:
Night Snorkeling Video:
Located on the east side of the island. The barrier reef is closer to shore in this area allowing for better access than most of the east side. The swim out to the reef is still around 15 minutes, so you will need to be intermediate or better to enjoy. To find the starting location, walk along the path to the east side of the island. Once you reach the east side you will be next to Iguana Resort. Start on the beach area just south of the path. Snorkel straight out to the barrier reef. There is not much to enjoy on the way out to the reef, but once there you will find coral mounds and sand bottoms.
Little Corn Reef
Access by boat. This is one of the regular stops on the typical snorkel tour available on the island. They actually make two stops out in the large shallow reef area on the north end. They usually make a shallow stop (around 5 feet deep) and a little bit deeper spot around (10+ feet deep). It’s a large area so you don’t usually get dropped in the same exact spot each time. I’ve gone several times out here and each snorkel crew seems to go slightly different places.
In my opinion, the best area out here is marked on the snorkel map. There is an opening in the reef to access the White Holes area. The reef on the north end of that open behind the breakers is fairly healthy. It’s also very shallow so please don’t touch anything.
In between those stops they go through an opening in the reef and make a stop at the white holes area. The going rate for a snorkel tour to the north end is $20. There is no shortage of folks in town offering snorkel tours up to the north end.
Access by boat. Large open sand areas surrounded by black coral in about 20 feet of water. Free divers will have lots of fun out here! Nurse sharks are active at night and sleep on the bottom during the day. They typically lay motionless allowing you to get close to them if you can free dive down. Eagle rays can be also seen cruising around out here, but are less common.
Please don’t touch the sharks or let the snorkel boat crews touch them either. They are sleeping on the bottom and are harmless. Snorkel tours like to show off by grabbing them. All they are doing is scaring the sharks off so the next snorkel boat that comes along won’t see any sharks. Please don’t encourage this behavior. We all want to see sharks, please don’t scare them off.
Every snorkel tour in town will stop out there. They also make 2 stops in the shallower reef area. The going rate for a snorkel tour to the north end is $20. There is no shortage of folks in town offering snorkel tours up to the north end.
North Side Little Corn Island
There are 3 patches of reef on the north end of Little Corn Island that can be reached from shore. They are all slightly different.
North Side, Left
The easiest and most accessible section of reef on the north end, recommended for beginners. To locate it, walk a short distance west of Fish Fry Bar to an open beach area. Look in the water for where waves are breaking a short distance from shore. It’s not that great of a reef, but its easy to access for beginners. You will see fish and coral. The reef patch is small so snorkel all the way around it.
North Side, Middle (Fish Fry Bar)
This reef patch is straight off Fish Fry Bar. You can see the waves breaking a fair distance out. Its a little better section of reef than the patch described to the west of this location. The best areas of this patch of reef are on the north side of it. Find the edge of the reef and snorkel all the way around it. Snorkel gear can be rented next to Fish Fry Bar.
North Side, Right (Yemaya)
The best section of reef that can be reached from shore from the north end. This reef patch is straight off the Yemaya Resort. Locate a white tall buoy a far distance from shore. The best section of reef is right under this buoy. It’s a longer swim and you can enjoy limited reef features on the way out. The water is deeper here and the reef is healthy.
North End Big Corn Island
Expansive reef on the north end of Big Corn Island. I tried my best to segment out the reef, but found it difficult to identify unique locations. There is diversity in the reef of course, but found it difficult to point out and map specific sections. I explored the large area encompassed on the snorkeling map and found it to be the most valid reef to snorkel. To the east side of that area, the reef flattens out and there is not much diversity or coral. To the west of the identified snorkeling area, the reef begins to pull away from shore causing a much longer swim to reach. Straight off Victoria’s Bar is probably the easiest part of the reef to reach. From there you can swim east or west. To swim all the way to Dos Tiburones is a long swim. There are a couple alternative entry and exit points listed on the map. This will allow a one-way snorkel on the reef without having to commit to the long swim.
The reef is fairly healthy and offers coral sections broken up by flat sand bottoms. The depth remains around 15 feet or less.
You can rent snorkel gear and hire a snorkeling guide if you like. Right on the beach and next to Victoria’s Bar on the north end you can find Dorsey. He has a sign out advertising snorkel rentals. He also offers snorkeling guide service on the north end reef. I did “The Long Swim” with him that was snorkeling from Victoria’s to Dos Tiburones.
Long Reef (aka Drift Dive)
Access by boat. Usually combined with a snorkel stop at the Steamship.
This is a favorite section of reef on the north end of Big Corn Island. Dos Tiburones also uses it as a beginner dive training location. This is a long section of reef with a sandy bottom around it. Healthy reef and plenty of marine life to view. Depths are 15 to 20 feet. Nice and easy intermediate snorkeling.
Accessed by boat. Amazing shallow shipwreck right off the north end of Big Corn Island. No more that 15 feet deep, sits the remains of a steamship that wrecked about 50 years ago. The story goes, it was safely anchored off the reef, and overnight it was wrecked on the reef somehow. Many large pieces are intact and scattered over a considerable area. All skill levels of snorkeler will have fun here. This is a great natural shipwreck.
Currently Dos Tiburones offers the only regular snorkeling trips up there. It’s a short boat ride from their dive shop. They also combine this with a stop at another reef section they call Long Reef.
Hey, check this out:
For even more detailed information on these snorkeling sites, download our Corn Islands Snorkeling Map. Full color maps in .pdf version. Extra notes, tips and tricks to maximize your experience. Download for offline use and take with you to the snorkel spot.