The Atlantic coast of Nicaragua is a land unto itself. Nicaragua’s vast semi-autonomous Caribbean regions are influenced more by the English than the Spanish, and more by indigenous and African ancestry than by mestizos. (Though the “Spanish,” as western Nicaraguans are known, are quickly moving in and catching up.)

Long Beach on Big Corn Island. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Long Beach on Big Corn Island. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

The vast majority of Nicaragua’s 450 kilometers of Atlantic coastline are unexplored, undeveloped, and unapproachable, and the culture on the sunrise side of Nicaragua is distinctly Caribbean. The sentiment is so strong, the name Autonomous Region of the South Atlantic (RAAS) was recently changed to Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast (RACCS), and the north is now officially the RACCN. However, you’ll still hear “RAAS” used in everyday conversation.

Bluefields is a quintessential Caribbean port town, with enough fresh seafood to wear you out, an oppressive afternoon sun, and a no-hurry attitude.The Atlantic coast is languid and lazy, but it’s got an edge, too, in the form of bitter poverty and a history of drug-related danger. It also has sultry mangrove estuaries, white, sandy beaches, and a relaxed lifestyle. The warm, humid breezes smelling of coconut palms and vegetation are a nice break from the dry, dusty highlands. Bluefields is a quintessential Caribbean port town, with enough fresh seafood to wear you out, an oppressive afternoon sun, and a no-hurry attitude. Corn Island and Little Corn Island are another scene altogether with soft sand beaches and rustling palm fronds, plus an isolated feeling that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Planning Your Time

Big Corn Island is worth a night or two unless you really crave remoteness, in which case you should beeline to Little Corn, the more rustic of the pair, where 2-4 days will provide ample opportunity to dive and explore the reefs. With 2-3 more days, head back to Bluefields (plan on a whole day of travel if you go by boat), and catch a boat to Pearl Lagoon the next morning. Book a trip to the Pearl Cays for the next day, and then spend the afternoon checking out Awas, or poking around town. If you have a couple more days, relocate to Orinoco or Wawachang.

Sunset on Awas near Pearl Lagoon. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Sunset on Awas near Pearl Lagoon. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.


If you’re traveling overland from Managua, schedule one day for the trip and another to recover in Bluefields. If you have a day to kill waiting for a ride to the islands, spend the day swimming in El Bluff.

The Atlantic coast receives 3,000-6,000 millimeters of rain annually (with the higher levels falling in southern RACCS), making it among the wettest places on the planet. The rainy season is punctuated by hurricanes in September and October and can extend well into December, sometimes longer. The end of December is marked by cool, “Christmas” winds. Most visitors come during the period between late January and April when it’s generally dry and sunny. The biggest crowds arrive for Christmas, Semana Santa (the Holy Week before Easter), and during various regional fiestas, when making reservations is a good idea.

Safety

International drug trafficking continues to impact the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, including Bluefields and the Corn Islands, which have in the past seen incidents of both petty crime and more serious assault against tourists. In recent years, Bluefields has seen a decline in drug-related crime, due in large part to the capture of some well-known local narcos. Still, it’s not a bad idea to stick to the beaten path in these parts.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.