MISQUITO COAST, CORN ISLANDS AND BOCA DEL TORO.
Schyy, our little secret gems on the eastern Caribbean coast in Central America
We’we travelled through Central America and experienced all of the countries and most regions of this little slice of earth.
One of the most interesting regions is the islands off Nicaragua and Panama. Nicaragua's eastern edge forms the long Miskito Coast that borders the Caribbean Sea all the way from Honduras down to the Corn Islands. It is the less traveled part of Nicaragua and one of the remotest parts of Central America. Even today, the nature and people remain relatively unchanged because of its remoteness. Its muddy roads, thick rain forest, many rivers, and lack of infrastructure make Mosquito Coast-travel very difficult. Basically, it’s one big swamp. This part of Nicaragua is mostly inhabited by Miskito Indians, descendants of the Caribs, who were driven away from the Pacific coast by the ancient Nahuas of Pipiles Indians, eventually reaching the Misikito coast where they settled down.
In Panama, the Bocas del Toro archipelago offers splendid island hopping and diving. In the archipelago’s boundaries, there are several communities of the Ngöbe-Buglé indians. These communities are very poor, depending almost exclusively on and survival agriculture and fishing.
Location: Miskito Coast and Corn Islands in Nicaragua and Bocas del Toro archipleago in Panama, during 5 weeks
First, we spent a couple of weeks on the Corn Islands - diving, hiking around both islands, and enjoying the scenery. Also, we traveled a few hundred kilometers along the Miskito Coast from Bluefields and north. During this stretch, we stayed in Laguna Perlas and in primitive local shelters on a number of keys off the Miskito Coast. It was quite expensive to arrange and very primitive but all worth it.
The Corn Islands, or Isla del Maíz, are located in an isolated corner of the Caribbean, 70-85 km off the coast of Bluefields at the southern end of the Miskito Coast. Both islands retain all the charm associated with the Caribbean: Turquoise waters, deserted white-sand beaches, rocky coves fringed with coconut palms, magical sunsets, coral reefs, friendly people, Garífuna cuisine, and an unhurried, peaceful pace of life. Some Miskito Indians still reside on the Corn Islands to this day, although most of the population is either black Garifuna or a mixture of black and Miskito Indian. The former, Garifuna’s, are a mixture of African, Carib and Arawak and they have a distinctive culture, making a living from fishing, primarily lobster and shrimp.
Next, we did island hopping across Isla Bastimentos, Isla Popa, Isla Solarte, Isla Cristóbal and the Islas Zapatillias in Panama. It was by sheer luck that we stumbled upon this little archipelago off the coast of Panama. We were traveling to Panama and wanted to spend some time diving and visiting Indians, but the choice of where to go was not obvious or anyhow easy. Panama actually has many offshore island groups on the Caribbean and Atlantic sides, both in East and in West. Due to its proximity to mainland Panama and good transport possibilities (at least compared to some of the other islands), we chose to spend our one week in the Archipélago Bocoas del Toro in the north-western corner of the country, visiting almost all the larger islands in the island group.
What a positive surprise. We found here a truly tropical paradise with bounty islands, good diving, rainforests beaches, indigenous Indian villages, local fishers throwing their nets, and backdrop mountain scenery. On each of the islands, we saw in the backdrop the Talamanca mountain range rising from the ocean, sharply penetrating the waters a few kilometers away at mainland. What a place to laze around and absorb the local atmosphere. Very seductive, primitive and unforgettable. The typical homes are build using only wood, over wood stilts, with floors made with the bark of the jira tree, and the roofs made with the leaves of the guagara, a palm that grows in the swamps.
For more island hopping adventures in Central America, check our pages on the Mesoamerican Reef of Belize. Additionally, in LATAM we criss-crossed all countries, and climbing the wild Volcanos of Guatemala. Oh, and the ABC Islands off Venezuela is also quite nearby.
Selected pics from our island hopping adventure:
Nicaragua's eastern edge forms the long Miskito Coast that borders the Caribbean Sea all the way from Honduras down to the Corn Islands. It is the less traveled part of Nicaragua and one of the remotest parts of Central America.
After a very hard-hitting overland travel from Managua to Bluefields via the Rio Escondito, and then a long boat tour of some 80km north of Bluefields through the mangrove systems we arrive at tiny Laguna Perlas in the murky lagoon on the Miskito Coast. Here, 18 small indigenous communities make a living off fish, shrimp and lobster.
We spent a few days just walking around the tiny settlement and enjoying the local atmosphere. It was easy to walk to nearby beaches and visit fishing villages. The lagoon has a good collection of ramshackle houses and bars.
Probably the best swimming beach in the area 45 minutes walking north of Laguna de Perlas. H
We spent a few days arranging a 5-day panga boat trip into the Peal Keys as well as Kuanwatla village and Prinzapolka village further north on the Miskito Coast. We had to charter a private panga (120 USD per day) and a guide.Here, our guide is navigating one of the many swamps on the way north.
One of the tiny villages where Miskito and Mayangna Indians are raised on slender wooden stilts. They live in a world of no roads as the entire Miskito Coast is a broad alluvial flood plain, washed down from the central highlands by four major river systems. In this case, the Rio Prinzapolca.
Along the coast are several tropical and remote keys with white sand, clear water and packed reefs. Many of them are communally owned by the Miskito Indians. It is "our" private pange in the picture.
The conditions was very primitive as we had to sleep on the beach and live off freshly cought fish for the entire tour. Well, there are so few places left on this planet offering such a good experience so we felt privileged.
Baboon Cay on the Miskito Coast
Yet another cay where we spent two days. There was absolutely nothing to do but to snorkel, go fishing or help with the cooking three times a day. What a treat!
The last day and on the final key we stayed on it was raining a lot. But we felt lucky as it had not been raining a lot. More than 90% of Nicaragua's rainfall ends up on the Miskito Coast.
Sandy Bay Cay in the Miskito Coast
After nearly two weeks further north on the Miskito Coast we returned to Bluefileds. Here we spend a few days enjoying the local cuisine: lobster, lobster and more lobster from hole-in-the-window restaurants.
As it was a bit frustrating to find out when the ferryboat for the Corn Islands was leaving, we took a short flight instead. The Corn Islands are 70 km offshore.
The journey across from Big Corn Island took 45 by small boat. We arrived in Pelican Beach where a number of primitive hotels and restaurants are placed. Big Corn Island (Isla del Maíz) is the largest with nearly 6000 inhabitants, whereas its diminutive sister Little Corn Island (Isla Pequeña del Maíz) merely has 500 residents.
In the entire region hawksbill turtles nest on the beaches, peaking in August when we was there. They are traditionally hunted by the locals for their tasty meat although they are endangered.
Little Corn Island is very low-key with an unhurried, peaceful pace. ere are no vehicles in the island but only a sandy path leading to the northern and eastern parts of the island. I went around town to talk to the locals and watch how they produce lobster traps. Lobsters are in season from June to February, so people where pretty busy when I was there in August.
As we had to find a place for the night, we picked the path leading north from the village and started walking. After approximately 45 minutes we reached a little paradise-like stretch of beach with 3 bungalows: Casa Sunrise. Apparently, we wore the only visitors and the owner was very happy to have accomodate us. For 10 US$ a night we a bed, fan and the water-edge very nearby.
The Corn Islands retain all the charm associated with the Caribbean: Turquoise waters, deserted white-sand beaches scattered in between rocky coves and fringed with coconut palms, Garífuna cuisine, magical sunsets, and offshore coral reefs. Little Corn Island
Little Corn Island
Little Corn Island is far smaller than the big island, but it still takes 4-5 hours to walk around the islet as it’s surrounded by rocky coves in between the many deserted white-sand beaches. We followed the beaches/coves around the entire island instead of the path in the jungle. We had to do simple rock climbing along the way in the southern part of Little Corn Island.
Big Corn Island is only 6 sq km and you can easily walk around it in 4-5 hours – the walk is roughly 15 km. One day we spent the morning walking around the island following the shore, and in the afternoon we did the trip on a rented motorbike, sticking to the paved road. Our route on foot: North End, Anastasia Point, Sally Peaches, Silver Point, South End, Long Bay, Southwest Bay, Waula Point, Brig Bay and Mosquito Swamp Point.
In town are many small local comedores (eateries) and food-stalls offering cheap food, usually fish or chicken. Yummy!
Around the island are pretty wooden houses, a few churches and good beaches, although the really magical beaches are located in Little Corn Island. I brought my snorkel gear with me (mask, fins and snorkel). The corals at North End and Sally Peaches are really in good shape and the waters offer abundant fish. One places, I saw four lazy nurse-sharks and moments after some reef-sharks.
One or two local families usually share a one/two-room cabin, made of left-over sheer metal.
Both islands had excellent diving with many sites fairly close to shore. We have to return some day during January as there are manuy hammer-head sharks in this period.