Under Water in Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

You have to really want to get to Little Corn Island, off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

It can’t be called easy to get to, by any stretch of the imagination. Starting from Leon, we took a mini-bus to capital city Managua, from where we flew to Big Corn Island via La Costeña airlines.

Beached Miss Priscilla boatYes, there is a Big Corn and Little Corn island. The Little Corn locals refer to Big Corn as the “big island,” although it’s only 10 square kilometers. Little Corn is tiny – a mere three square kilometers of wild foliage, palm trees and sand, all fringed by a fantastic coral reef. You can walk the entire island is an hour. To arrive, you take a boat from Big Corn after flying it. The boats are normally pangas that fly across the 15 kilometers of open sea that separate the two islands in about 40 minutes.

Unfortunately, the late afternoon that Keith and I arrived, something had happened to the normal panga transport. We aren’t sure what, but instead we (and a handful of other passengers) got stuck aboard a small ferry that made very slow time. The expected 40 minutes passed, then an hour, then 90 minutes. I was sure there was no island out there; we would reach the Bermuda Triangle and disappear forever.

Finally, an hour and forty-five minutes after leaving Big Corn, we arrived at Little Corn Island. We were staying on the even more remote, quiet northern end of the island, at the organic Farm Peace & Love. From the ferry dock we still had to make a 45-minute trek overland, in the dark, through paths that were often ankle-deep in mud and overgrown with vines and plants. I have to admit, I was not having fun.

Fortunately, after our inauspicious beginnings, it was all worth it the next morning when we awoke to this:

The beaches were fairly deserted; all day there might be just a handful of people passing by or in sight along the northern coastline. We went snorkeling, we read on the beach, we lazed in the hammock on the porch of our secluded cabin, we drank rum.

And I finally learned how to scuba dive.

Keith, an experienced diver, has talked to me about learning and diving with him for some time now. Diving has been on my list of things to do for many years; I looked into getting certified back in Austin, and just never made it happen. Here, finally, on Little Corn Island I decided to do it the easy way; I took a Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) course and was diving the same day.

Little dive shack by the sea on little corn islandDeborah, a master dive instructor from Western England, had arrived on Little Corn seven weeks earlier and became the dive instructor for the newly opened Little Dive Shack by the Sea, located at Derek’s Place next door to Farm Peace & Love. Deborah’s first career was as a nurse in England. She got the diving bug 12 years ago, after her mother gave her an open-water certification course as a Christmas present.

“I was hooked,” Deborah says. “I loved nursing. I was passionate about it, but I’m passionate about diving as well.” Like many others, like myself in fact, she reinvented herself into her new life.

Within three years Deborah had received her master diving certification and has been teaching, and traveling the world diving, ever since. At 10 a.m. on my second morning on Little Corn, I ambled over to Derek’s for my lesson. I had a co-student, 11-year-old Henry from Bellingham, Washington. We spent a couple of hours with Deborah, learning the basics of diving, the equipment, what we would be doing, safety measures, and the four skills we would need to demonstrate in the water before descending for the dive. (Getting water out of your mask and skills to do with losing your regulator/air hose and reinserting it or using someone else’s.)

Shelley's first scuba dive
Getting ready to go in for the first dive!

The DSD course does not certify you, but for me it was great because it enabled me a quick, easy and inexpensive way to get in the water and try it out. While I was sure that I would enjoy diving and it would be really fun, until I did it I didn’t really know if it was something that a one or two-time experience would be enough, or something I would want to keep doing regularly. With Deborah’s DSD course, I did the two hour orientation in the morning and that afternoon, was getting in the boat with Henry, Deborah and other divers to go out and actually dive.

In the Caribbean Sea. Off Little Corn Island in Central America.


What was really great to me as well, was that other certified divers accompanied us – including Keith. So even though I was just learning, we could go out and dive together. Keith and a few other divers went on their way while I got into the water, went a few feet under with Deborah, and did my skills test.

Open water scuba diving
In the water (forefront) with Deborah

I have to admit I was nervous, and it was very, very weird being under the water at first. Breathing underwater is not natural to human physiology, of course, and the instinct is to fight it or hold your breath. I didn’t really want to take that air hose regulator out of my mouth either; the only thing that gave me courage was the sight of the sunlight and water’s surface just a few feet above me. I wouldn’t be stuck underwater if I panicked, a few kicks and I am at the surface.

But all went smoothly, and once I was under for a few minutes, getting used to breathing through the regulator and the way it felt, how to move yourself underneath and with the equipment, I began to relax and enjoy the experience. After Henry performed his skills test, the three of us went exploring. Deborah checked in with both of us constantly, flashing the “OK” sign and looking for it in return, to make sure we were fine.

Henry, a typical kid, seemed to have as much fun turning somersaults under the water as he did actually looking at the coral reef and the fish. Unfortunately this caused him to gulp a lot of air, and after what seemed like a short time, Deborah was indicating that Henry’s air was running low and we needed to return to the surface. Once back in the boat, I was astonished to learn that we had still been down for 37 minutes. It felt like about 15.

Keith and Shelley enjoying a beer
Keith and I celebrate my first dive with a cerveza!

The next afternoon, Keith and I went back out on another dive, to another location, with Deborah and Henry and Justin, another diver working at the Little Dive Shack by the Sea. This dive felt more comfortable from the beginning, and we could go straight down without having to mess with the skills test. All five of us dove together, and we saw a graceful, large eagle ray flying through the water, as well as several nurse sharks.

Pretty cool.

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