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Review: Calala Island Nicaragua, Part 2: Resort Highlights

Length of Stay
3 nights
Room Type
Junior Suite
Date
November 2021
Rating

In Part 1 of the Calala Island review, we covered the experience of arriving to Calala via plane, taxi, and speedboat, as well as the Junior Suite villa that we stayed in for three nights.

In this installment, let’s take a look at all aspects of the day-to-day experience on the island, which is what truly makes Calala Island such a special place.

In This Post

Calala Island – Map

While Calala Island is small and intimate at only 11 acres in size, it fully maximizes its area for guests’ enjoyment. Below you’ll find a map of the resort:

Calala Island – Map
Calala Island – Map

As you can see, the southwestern corner plays host to the four guest villas. The spa is located at the opposite northeastern corner. 

Meanwhile, the northern and southern coasts of the island are home to the centres of daily life on the island: the infinity pool with a swim-up bar on the northern side and the main pavilion and bar on the southern side.

Calala Island – Main pavilion
Calala Island – Main pavilion

Lastly, the manager’s “command centre” and the staff’s quarters are found in the middle of the island, maintaining a low-key presence as they work to put on an amazing experience for the guests.

Calala Island – Staff living quarters
Calala Island – Staff living quarters

A series of winding paths connect each part of the island to one another. The western part of the island is covered in a lush canopy of palm trees, whereas the eastern half is more swampy and inaccessible, and there are a few boardwalks instead of regular paths in this area. 

Calala Island – Paths through the island
Calala Island – Paths through the island

Such is the sheer exclusivity of an island with only four villas that you’ll hardly notice the other guests throughout the day, unless it’s time to gather for meals or drinks. 

Calala Island – Dining

Let’s talk about those food and beverage offerings, all of which are complimentary in your ultra-all-inclusive Calala Island stay. That includes three meals a day, plus unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at any time of day.

Dining on Calala Island is exceedingly flexible and customizable.

While there are certain times of day and locations that breakfast, lunch, and dinner are usually served, the staff is happy to tailor the dining experience to your exact liking, including offering private dining at your villa if you so request. 

Breakfast

The breakfast experience begins with coffee or tea delivered to your villa in the morning, allowing you to enjoy those first morning sips with a magnificent ocean view before heading to breakfast. 

(Note that there’s no coffee or tea setup in the villa itself, as the resort prefers to operate with a central kitchen for all things food and drink. Also, 7am is the earliest that your coffee or tea can be delivered, since that’s when the staff get to work in the mornings, which we found a bit inconvenient when we wanted to wake up at 5:30am to catch the sunrise.)

As hopeless coffee addicts, we were delighted that there was an entire menu of Nicaraguan coffee beans to choose from:

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We were asked for our coffee orders the night prior, which would then be delivered at the specified time in a French press, along with a few biscuits. We particularly enjoyed the San Sebastian and de la Cruz dark roasts, and those first cups of coffee on our patio did indeed make for an excellent start to each day.

Calala Island – Morning coffee service
Calala Island – Morning coffee service

Breakfast is generally served at the main pavilion from 7am to 11am. Typically, I’d get a bit of work done in the mornings after our first coffees, and then we’d stroll over to breakfast at around 9am.

The seating arrangements for all meals on Calala Island are also switched up every day, depending on the number of guests on the island and the weather that day. On a particularly nice morning, the staff might arrange the breakfast tables to be outdoors right by the water, so that you can enjoy your meal barefoot on the beach.

Calala Island – Breakfast on the beach
Calala Island – Breakfast on the beach

The breakfast menu reads as follows. As with all meals on the island, if you’re craving something that’s off-menu, just let the staff know and they’ll do their best to make it for you too.

I enjoyed the gallo pinto – traditional Nicaraguan rice and beans, with eggs and cheese on the side – and the Eggs Benedict over the course of our two breakfast sittings (as we’d be leaving at the early hour of 5:15am on the third day). 

Calala Island – Gallo pinto
Calala Island – Gallo pinto
Calala Island – Eggs Benedict
Calala Island – Eggs Benedict

Meanwhile, Jessy kept to smaller portions of muesli and fruit, as she was still feeling full from dinner on the previous nights.

Calala Island – Muesli
Calala Island – Muesli
Calala Island – Fruit plate
Calala Island – Fruit plate

One quirk about Calala Island is that coconuts will regularly fall from the palm trees on a regular basis. In fact, we were warned to keep clear of the coconut trees as much as possible to avoid an unwanted concussion.

On one of the mornings, a coconut fell right by our villa as we were sipping our coffee, so we brought it to breakfast and asked if the staff could prepare it for us as a snack – and they were happy to oblige. 

Calala Island – Fresh coconut
Calala Island – Fresh coconut

Lunch

Lunch is generally served between 12pm and 3pm, though again, you can really take it whenever you’d like. Simply show up at the lunch spot and the staff will show you to a seat, hand you the menus, and offer you a drink.

Normally, the staff likes to serve lunch near the infinity pool on the northern side of the island, either underneath a little surf shack or closer to the beach during sunny weather.

Calala Island – Surf shack
Calala Island – Surf shack

However, it was the changing of the seasons when we had visited in November, with persistent wind on the northern coast. Therefore, we continued to take lunch in or around the main pavilion, the same place where we had breakfast and dinner.

The lunch menu reads as follows.

 

As longtime readers will know, Jessy and I are passionate purveyors of seafood. With all the ingredients fresh from the ocean, we couldn’t really go wrong here – so we sampled everything from the snapper ceviche to the snapper croquettes to the snapper fillet, from the lobster skewers to the lobster burger.

I was particularly fond of the ceviche, which was light and refreshing, and went along perfectly with a piercing yellow chilli sauce on the side. We ended up ordering this quite a few times alongside our various main courses.

I was also quite surprised that the island had an onsite pizza oven, which the staff used to prepare made-to-order pizzas, among other fire-roasted items!

Calala Island – Pizza oven
Calala Island – Pizza oven

I ordered a pizza for one of our lunch sittings, more out of curiosity than anything, and it turned out pretty well.

Calala Island – Chorizo pizza
Calala Island – Chorizo pizza

We also opted for a garden salad one day, hoping to balance out our daily gargantuan meals with a healthier item. 

Calala Island – Garden salad
Calala Island – Garden salad

As part of the lunch service on the second day, one of the chefs prepared some NiCaribbean jerk chicken for us in live-action.

Calala Island – Cooking lesson
Calala Island – Cooking lesson

The six of us on the island – ourselves and two other couples – gathered at the show kitchen and chatted over drinks before eventually digging into a few delicious helpings of jerk chicken (and any other lunch items we wanted to order).

Calala Island – Jerk chicken
Calala Island – Jerk chicken

Dinner

While breakfast and lunch were always delicious, it’s the dinner service where Calala Island’s incredible culinary team and service staff truly shine. The first two meals of the day are meant to be taken casually at your leisure, but dinner is always dressed up as a more fulsome experience for the guests.

Calala Island – Main pavilion for dinner
Calala Island – Main pavilion for dinner

Typically, guests are invited to gather at the main bar anytime from 5:30pm onwards for a few rounds of drinks to start the night. The bar has enough seating for 10 guests, allowing Claudia and Leon – who typically keep to themselves during the day – to mingle and get to know the maximum of eight guests over evening drinks.

As part of the pre-dinner drinks, the staff always tries to prepare some kind of special surprise for the guests on each night.

Calala Island – Rum tasting
Calala Island – Rum tasting

On the first night, we indulged in a round of rum tasting, trying out several of Nicaragua’s renowned Flor de Caña rums. The coconut-flavoured Ultra Coco was certainly a crowd-pleaser with its smoothness, though I eventually took a liking to the seven-year and 12-year aged varieties.

On the second night, it was time for a decidedly different kind of activity: a crab race!

Each couple picked a crab, and the first crab to make it out of the “arena” in the sand would win their guests a special prize. No doubt about it – our crab won the race at a canter and bestowed upon Jessy a complimentary spa treatment the following day.

The curated dinner experience carries on into the meals themselves. The Calala Island team rotates the dinner menu on a daily basis, so that every guest can try something different every night regardless of how many nights they’re staying. 

For our three-night stay, we’d get to try:

  • A traditional NiCaribbean buffet on the first night
  • Calala Island’s signature seven-course tasting menu on the second night
  • A surf-and-turf on the third night
Calala Island – NiCaribbean buffet
Calala Island – NiCaribbean buffet

The NiCaribbean buffet consisted of a scrumptious Creole seafood stew, lobster tails and crab legs, generous portions of snapper, beef barbacoa, chicken tacos, and gallo pinto. Dessert was a Nicaraguan buñuelo with house-made ice cream.

Calala Island – NiCaribbean buffet
Calala Island – NiCaribbean buffet
Calala Island – Buñuelo with ice cream
Calala Island – Buñuelo with ice cream

The second night’s tasting menu read as follows:

Calala Island – Tasting menu
Calala Island – Tasting menu

The highlight for me was the pork ribs with yuca, which were decadently marinated and presented in an ornate elevated dish. The beef fillet medallions were also very flavourful, though I was struggling to get it all down towards the end of the meal!

Our favourite meal out of all three, however, would have to be the surf and turf on the final night.

An “island sushi” platter got the meal off to a decent. As you might imagine, though, this was the one part of the overall dining experience that perhaps didn’t quite reach the highest heights compared to the sushi we get back home in Toronto or Vancouver. 

Calala Island – Island sushi platter
Calala Island – Island sushi platter

Our worries vanished, though, when the surf and turf arrived. The T-bone steak, intended for sharing, grilled to absolute perfection and slathered in a glistening layer of zesty chimichurri, while the lobster tails were similarly coated with garlicky goodness. 

Calala Island – T-bone steak
Calala Island – T-bone steak
Calala Island – Lobster tails
Calala Island – Lobster tails

Moreover, I had mentioned to the staff that Jessy prefers “surf” much more than “turf”, and so they also cooked up a bowl of king crabs cooked in an Asian-inspired black bean sauce, just for us!

Calala Island – Surf and turf
Calala Island – Surf and turf

Jessy was over the moon as she fiddled her way through the crab legs, just as much as I took great pleasure in having an entire T-bone steak to dig into. 

It was truly a meal to remember. When I think about the best meals I’ve had at nice hotels and resorts around the world, this surf and turf at Calala Island very much ranks up there – and the fact that it was entirely included in the stay, drinks and all, simply adds to the gloss.

While the surf and turf was the indisputable highlight, all three meals were of an incredible fine-dining quality, on par with most high-end restaurants that you’d find “on land”.

Indeed, thinking back to the dinners we had, the fact that this all took place on a private island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is genuinely incredible!

Calala Island – Bar

Not only are three meals per day included at Calala Island, but so too are unlimited drinks at the bar – or indeed anywhere, since the staff is happy to serve you drinks no matter which corner of the island you find yourself.

There are two bars on the island: the pool bar on the northern side, and the main bar on the southern side. I do wish we could’ve made more use of the swim-up bar in the pool, although the windy weather on that side of the island made it hard to spend any quality time there.

Calala Island – Main bar
Calala Island – Main bar

The bar menu reads as follows.

Note that there’s an additional list of premium spirits that you can opt to pay for, although we were totally happy with ordering from the regular drinks menu to our hearts’ content.

Jessy and I aimed to sample as much of the drink list as possible over the course of our three days, from a “Piña Calala” in the afternoon, to an Old Fashioned after dinner, to the “surprise me” drinks that the staff were all too happy to whip up. On the second day, we even got things started early with espresso martinis right after breakfast!

Non-alcoholic drinks flowed just as freely, from your regular soft drinks, to fresh-cut young coconuts by the beach, to cappuccinos on the hammock.

Calala Island – Pools & Beach

The infinity pool at Calala Island ordinarily makes for a picturesque place to hang out, especially as it never really gets busy and you’re quite likely to have the whole place to yourself. 

Calala Island – Infinity pool
Calala Island – Infinity pool

Like I mentioned, though, this side of the island was battered by strong winds during our time here, so unfortunately we didn’t get to properly lie down and relax by the pool. We went for a few quick dips, but soon decided that we’d rather hang out by the more serene beaches on the southern side.

Calala Island – Infinity pool
Calala Island – Infinity pool
Calala Island – Infinity pool
Calala Island – Infinity pool

Speaking of beaches, it’s worth noting that the beaches on Calala are dotted around the coastline, rather than surrounding the entire island evenly. The waters of the ocean can get fairly unpredictable around here, so much of the island is surrounded by a rocky seawall, with small stretches of beach that lead into calmer, shallower waters. 

Calala Island – Beach
Calala Island – Beach

Also, these small beaches aren’t the pristine white-sand kind. Instead, they’re fairly rocky and laden with sea life, reflecting the raw ocean that engulfs the island all around. I’d recommend bringing a sturdy pair of sandals so that you can confidently wade in the water without prickling your feet. 

Calala Island – Beach
Calala Island – Beach

As a result of the strong winds, we primarily frolicked in the water on the southern side, where there’s a set of swings in the water that makes for a nice photo opportunity. We also took a few dips in the small beach immediately in front of our villa, too.

Calala Island – Swing set
Calala Island – Swing set
Calala Island – Swing set
Calala Island – Swing set

The staff also put up a few hammocks along the shoreline so that guests could relax by the water throughout the day, given that most of the beach chairs were situated on the windy side. 

Calala Island – Beach
Calala Island – Beach

Calala Island – Activities

Calala Island offers guests a wide range of activities to fill their days on the island, all of which are complimentary. The full list of activities is as follows:

Many of the activities are weather-dependent. Due to the somewhat stormy and unpredictable weather when we stayed in early November, some of the activities that we would’ve loved to embark on, like snorkelling or ocean fishing, were unfortunately not possible as the ocean water was overly milky.

Still, I was determined to go on at least one activity out on the water, so I asked the staff if we could at least go for a quick round of island-hopping on the third day, even though it was still exceptionally stormy. We waited for a brief respite in the storm, and then readied the boat to check out some the neighbouring islands.

Calala Island – Island-hopping
Calala Island – Island-hopping

Having relished the adrenaline-fulled boat journey en route to the island, I took great delight in getting to take the boat out for another trip. Meanwhile, Jessy was decidedly less enthusiastic about another bumpy boat ride, but she was still a good sport in accompanying me.

With the storm continuing to surround us, it was only safe enough to make landfall on one of the nearby islands: Crawl Cay, home to another proposed resort that was abandoned in the middle of construction. It’s quite surreal to see the handful of resort buildings sitting in a state of disrepair.

Crawl Cay
Crawl Cay
Crawl Cay abandoned building
Crawl Cay abandoned building

These days, a local Nicaraguan caretaker lives on Crawl Cay along with his family, and sometimes there are wildlife researchers (studying the endangered hawksbill turtle, which breeds on Calala and the nearby islands) who camp out here as well. It’s just as lonely a place as it is mysterious.

Crawl Cay abandoned building
Crawl Cay abandoned building

From Crawl Cay, we took the boat to swing by a few other islands, without landing. There was another abandoned resort on nearby Pink Pearl Island – which is somehow still open to VRBO bookings to this day!

Pink Pearl Island
Pink Pearl Island

In addition to the weather playing a role, some of the other activities were also affected by the ongoing pandemic.

For example, the island for the “deserted island picnic” was no longer deserted for the time being, as the Pearl Lagoon community had sent caretakers to each of their islands to keep watch and protect against piracy during these economically challenging times.

Overall, I must say I was a bit sad that we didn’t get to partake in the full range of activities here at Calala Island, although I was still grateful to the staff for giving us a quick island-hopping adventure on an exceptionally stormy last day.

Lastly, I should note that the wifi on the island was quite impressive, considering the remoteness of the place.

It wasn’t super fast, and some parts of the island had a spottier connection than others, but it was more than sufficient considering that you’re in the middle of the ocean and would probably want to “disconnect” as much as possible anyway. 

Calala Island – Spa

Calala Island’s spa is perched on its northeastern corner, accessible via paths and boardwalks from either the northern or southern coasts. There’s not much else happening on this eastern half of the island, which makes the spa something of a sanctuary of its own.

Calala Island – Spa hut
Calala Island – Spa hut

Unlike virtually everything else on the island, spa treatments are not complimentary, and are bookable at an additional expense.

The spa menu reads as as follows:

Every morning, the island’s masseuse, Karen, greets the guests at breakfast and asks if they’d like to book a spa treatment that day.

Jessy opted for a Rejuvenating Facial massage on the second day, which cost US$115 – not unreasonable compared to what other comparable resorts around the world might charge for a 60-minute treatment. 

Then, since we won the crab race, we got to pick another spa treatment for free!

I’m not much of a spa guy, so Jessy went in for another round – this time the Calala signature massage, which she found to be a perfectly revitalizing rainy-day activity, and a great way to soothe her nerves after island-hopping in the storm. 😉

Calala Island – Service

Finally, I must reserve the highest praise of all for the incredible service that we encountered during our time on Calala Island, which truly elevated our stay into all-time-favourite territory.

The Calala Island team is 25+ strong, consisting of general managers Claudia and Leon, front-of-house hosts Shorvin, Ruben, and Mick, and a full squad of chefs, housekeeping staff, groundsmen, songsters, and behind-the-scenes staff members. 

Upon your arrival, you’re set up with a WhatsApp chat group with Claudia and Leon, as well as a separate WhatsApp line to the front-of-house team.

The former group chat can be used to ask questions, communicate any special requests, or simply plan out your day with the general managers, whereas the second chat line is used for simple requests like getting something delivered to your villa or ordering a drink to wherever you are on the island. 

Calala Island – Main jetty
Calala Island – Main jetty

You’re free to interact with the staff as much or as little as you’d like. Whatever you desire throughout the day, they’ll be on hand to deliver; otherwise, you’ll barely see them as they go about their work.

Take the daily housekeeping for example: housekeeping is carried out twice per day, once in the mornings and once in the evenings. The front-of-house hosts will discreetly let the housekeepers know when you’ve arrived for breakfast or dinner, so that they may refresh your room without you ever noticing them! 

(Housekeeping at Calala also includes simple laundry: if your clothes have been soaked or soiled from the day’s activities, simply leave them in a pile and they’ll be returned the following day after a quick wash.)

Calala Island – Main pavilion by night
Calala Island – Main pavilion by night

Now, Jessy and I made the effort to chat with everyone quite a bit throughout our stay. Indeed, I thought that our interactions with the staff and fellow guests added a very welcome layer of friendship and bonding to our experience at Calala.

It was clear that both the general managers, who’ve plied their trade on island resorts for an entire career, and the local staff, who mostly hail from the nearby Caribbean Nicaragua communities, took a great deal of pride in their work and would always go the extra mile to give their guests the best possible time here.

They nailed the foundational service principles, from greeting us with a smile every morning to ensuring our drink glasses were never empty for more than a few seconds during mealtime.

Calala Island – Cigar gift
Calala Island – Cigar gift

But the staff also went above and beyond in so many ways, from organizing the unique activities every night, to leaving little gifts of cigars and chocolates in our villa, to the little things, like taking note of our love for the yellow chilli sauce and serving it with every meal.

By the time we had to say goodbye, Calala Island felt like a family to us, one that we couldn’t wait to revisit sometime in the future. That’s an emotion that I hadn’t encountered at any other luxury resort thus far.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a getaway with a unique mix of daring adventure, exquisite gastronomy, cultural exploration, and rustic island charm – all at a spectacular value using World of Hyatt points – then Calala Island is your dreamland.

Our three nights here passed by far too quickly, and Jessy and I both agreed that we’d absolutely return in the future, most likely with some of our family members in tow in order to share this incredible value with our loved ones.

If I had to compare this place against other favourite high-value luxury resorts, then what Calala Island lacks in the “glamour factor” and the ultra-luxurious living quarters compared to more popular destinations like Dubai or the Maldives, it fully makes up for with the unmatched exclusivity of only four villas and the unparalleled generosity of all your meals, drinks, activities, and round-trip transfers included in the ultra-all-inclusive rate.

I’d also note that the timing of our visit in early November was less than ideal: March tends to be the best month to catch both the sunniest days and the hatching of the hawksbill turtles. In addition, waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic may be a good idea so that you can experience the full range of activities and catch a later departure flight on your last day.

For us, that’s all the more reason to look forward to the next time that we’re back among friends on Calala, as we cherish the memories from a transformative maiden stay in this little slice of the Caribbean Sea.