Islas del Maiz – Nicaragua

Islas-del-Maíz-NicaraguaLying 70 km (45 mi) off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, east of Bluefields Island, Big Corn and Little Corn Islands are temples to tropical tranquility. Tourism is still in its infancy, and though there are lots of hotels and houses where rooms are for rent, local charm and generosity of spirit are a terrific substitute for electricity and other amenities associated with fluffy white towels.

The only certainty is that if things temporarily don’t work, you won’t care, because you’ll be swimming or diving or walking or lying in a hammock or drinking at one of the bars (music optional, and seldom of noxious boom-box magnitude).

You might even take a book and read it while waiting for the green flash of sunset – the litmus test of tropical island perfection.

Both islands have reefs on their doorstep, and Big Corn’s Sally Peaches (a beach, not a mistype) is absolutely stunning. You step off a long curve of glittering white sand, take a few strokes, and enter first of a series of crazy-castle coral formations all of which are accessible to snorkellers.

You might need scuba qualification for the furthest formations, like Blowing Rock where it feels like swimming through a model of Manhattan, but in the company of spotted eagle rays, green turtles and angelfish instead of a Hill Street squad car.

Around Little Corn there are spectacular underwater caves, patrolled by barracuda, nurse sharks and scuttling lobsters among the darting rainbow shoals which no degree of familiarity could take for granted. There are several ship wrecks, including a bona fide Spanish Galleon – and if you haven’t already done it, there’s no better place to get PADI certification so you can get the most out of the adventure. Or indeed a better place to regroup and recharge your natural soul.

Population: 8,000 (2007)

When to go: Any time except mid-May to mid-September, when almost daily rain creates an awful lot of mud. If you come during Semana Santa (Holy Week) at Easter, book in advance because Nicaragua heads for the beaches. Or come for the Fiesta del Cangrejo (Crab Festival) at the end of August

How to get there: By air from Managua to Big Corn; by bus from Managua to El Rama on the Escondido River, then ferry to Big Corn. Little Com can only be reached by boat from Big Corn.

Highlights: The local Sunday baseball match. Lying in your hammock between two palm trees within finger-raising distance of a bar.

Letting yourself enjoy doing nothing much – without guilt.

You should know: Places like the Corn islands are very, very rare. So rare, that a sculptural project called ‘The Soul of the World’ has designated the Corn islands as one of only eight places in the world where the vertices of a giant imaginary cube emerge. Which, if you’re stuck, is something to contemplate in your hammock.

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