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The bus from Managua to El Rama is the way to start the adventure to the Corn Islands by land and sea. If you’re on vacation and short on time, highly recommend you take a flight. If you’ve got the time and believe that life is the trip, this is an interesting one. Cutting straight to the chase, the bus will cost you C$ 150 and takes roughly 6 hours. Assuming you’ll be coming from Leon, Granada, Esteli or eslewhere so it makes sense to take the overnight… We left Managua for El Rama at 9PM.
Buses run to Rama from the Rigoberto Cabezas bus station and quite regularly. El Rama is not the nicest town and is the scene to lots of international freight coming in and out of Nicaragua via Bluefields. You’re only going to Rama to get to Bluefields and wouldn’t recommend spending a night there if you don’t have to. The mission in El Rama is to catch a cargo ship or panga speed boat out of there. It’s the last city you can get to by bus in Nicaragua, it’s all boat after that.
You can take a cargo ship from El Rama straight to the Corn Islands for C$250 but timing it is the hard part. Most end up taking a speed panga for C$200 to get to Bluefields before catching another ferry for C$200. The Panga is a 2 hour ride and similar to the Mekong Delta fast boat in Laos, the cargo ship is a 6 hour ride or so to get to Bluefields. If you take the overnight bus you’ll arrive in Rama at the lovely time of 3:30am. The bus driver will probably let you stay on the bus until day light, he did for us. Some girls sat outside for hours, they looked as though their souls had been shattered by morning.
In Managua you can buy a ticket that gets you the bus and THEN the panga. If you aren’t sure about cargo ships and they are common but not that common, recommend booking in advance. The first panga which leaves a 6am is almost always full. If you buy your ticket in Rama, you’ll probably be on the 9AM. When you arrive in Rama, you’ll be glad you already have your panga ticket so you can leave at 6AM.
If you wish to take a passenger ferry from Bluefields or El Bluff (short panga from Bluefields) you’ll want to be on the early panga out of Rama. If not you may get lucky as we did. We took the 9am panga to Bluefields after having a terribly uninspired breakfast in Rama. When we arrived all the passenger ferries had left Bluefields for the day but staying in Bluefields was not something on our “things to do list”.
Bluefields is NOT a place you want to vacation. It’s a very rough Caribbean port and you can just feel that “things happen here” upon arriving. If your spidey sense doesn’t go off in Bluefields, you simply don’t have one. Since the ferries were taken and some ladies I was with needed an ATM machine, we hung out in Bluefields for a few hours, it was enough. Definitely be on high alert with your possessions, especially in and near the ports.
Not far from where you arrive, you can take another panga to El Bluff for C$33 and it takes 20 minutes. From there you have a better chance of getting on a cargo ship. Your best bet is to ask someone at the port, try a military officer. If you’re stuck in El Bluff overnight recommend you try Hotel Sandra. If someone at the port offers to “find you a cargo ship”, I recommend you let them it’s what we did and made things simple. This gent got us on the next one.
Don’t be in a big rush to get to the Rigoberto bus station in Managua. It’s quite seedy and not a pleasant hang out. That said, do recommend getting there before dark. If you’re taking a public bus in Managua, watch your stuff and do it before dark. Crime increases drastically on those buses after dark and they become criminally overcrowded… Your best bet is a cab, seriously.
Stay tuned for the next segment in this mini series “Getting to Corn Island by Land and Sea”
It’s a beautiful day on Little Corn, off to sniff out some lobster or just go for a swim.