Recharge, reset and unwind on Nicaragua’s islands
Palm trees, turquoise seas and lazy hammock days – welcome to Nicaragua’s coast. This is the place to leave dry land behind and unearth a string of island pearls. Where eagle rays swim beneath jetties and sunsets don’t need a filter. Here, pristine private islands are home to Nicaragua’s ultra-luxury hideaway hotels – such as the four-suite Calala Island that redefines the castaway experience for modern times. And surfers and scuba-divers alike can uncover seas alive with colour. Dive a little deeper into Nicaragua – there’s so much to discover.
WHEN TO VISIT
The island climate is hot all year round, but the best time to visit the islands is generally in the dry season – September to May.
As you step into the secluded calm of the NiCaribbean, it’s clear why this stretch of ocean is so highly prized. Thatch-roofed cabanas speckle the rainforest, which turns into soft sand and lapping waves. This is no place for the tech and buzz of the city – these islands are set in quiet, natural beauty.
Calala is the epitome of island life. Sip a morning mimosa in your hammock and stretch out on deserted beaches. Wiggle your toes in the warm, crystal sea and watch the wildlife dart about your feet. With breath-taking sea life and tropical temperatures, snorkels and masks (as well as sunglasses and floppy hats) are a must-have for Calala. Because just away from the shoreline, you’re likely to meet sea turtles, otters, lobsters and dolphins.
If you don’t spot them from the shore, take a boat trip around Pearl Keys to see dolphins playing in the wild. And be sure to look up too – these islets are known for their diverse birdlife. The Pearl Keys Wildlife Refuge is a haven for critically endangered wildlife, including the Hawksbill Sea Turtle and manatees – and is made up of mangroves, rivers, ocean and shores.
Fishing is a mainstay for locals on the Nicaraguan islands. Local fishermen can advise on the best, approved places for pole-and-line fishing, and you can take deep-sea fishing trips from Calala. Or for the true desert island experience, try your hand at spear fishing.
THE CORN ISLANDS
Just away from Calala by boat, you’ll find the Corn Islands, or ‘Las Islas del Maíz’. Divided into ‘Big Corn’ and ‘Little Corn’, they’re remote, rugged, and utterly romantic. Remember to pop sandals and hiking boots in your luggage for exploring the broader island, before coming back for a luxurious spa treatment at the hotel.
Perhaps surprisingly, Big Corn is the less touristy of the two isles. With a larger population, and more inland areas to explore, it gives you a feel for local life in the NiCaribbean. The food is simple and flavoursome, reflecting the understated island ethos. Enjoy the freshest seafood, along with pasta and potatoes – and be sure to try the island’s fluffy pan de coco, or coconut bread. Then work it all off by scaling Mount Pleasant to reach the island’s watchtower – a natural lookout where early inhabitants could watch the seas for signs of buccaneering activity.
With under 1000 residents, Little Corn is somewhat more isolated – there are no roads on the island, and it’s a good idea to bring cash as ATMs are virtually non-existent. But the result is an untouched island with spectacular clear seas, teeming with exotic and rare wildlife. The food on Little Corn is a little more diverse due to the more eclectic mix of visitors, and the island-grown fare is a particular treat for vegetarians.
Whilst it’s tempting to while away your days sunbathing on shining sands, the oceans are where the action is. Scuba diving, kayaking, paddle-boarding and snorkelling are all high on the activity agenda. Bring sturdy shoes if you’re keen to hike inland, and the hilltop views will not disappoint. A camera is also highly advised so you can take a picture-perfect piece of these magnificent islands home with you.