Review: Calala Island Nicaragua

Room Type
Junior Suite
Date
November 2021
Rating

I recently had the pleasure of staying at Calala Island, a private island resort located off the coast of Nicaragua. It turned out to be one of the most special travel experiences I’ve ever had. 

In This Post

Calala Island – Background

Calala Island operates as an “ultra-all-inclusive” luxury resort, offering a total of only four beachfront villas, each with an occupancy of two guests.

This means that a maximum of eight guests can stay on the island on any given night, which creates an unbelievably exclusive experience for the lucky few who are able to snag a booking on the island.

Calala Island Nicaragua
Calala Island Nicaragua

As part of the ultra-all-inclusive rate, all food and beverages (including most alcoholic beverages) are included in the stay, along with all activities while on the island and round-trip transfers from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. 

As you can imagine, a stay at Calala Island doesn’t come cheap. The paid nightly rate starts at US$2,350 per night in the low season and reaches as high as US$3,650 per night in the high season. Given the logistics of travelling to and from the island, the resort imposes a three-night minimum stay.

However, Calala Island is also member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which has a marketing partnership in place with Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. World of Hyatt members can therefore redeem 40,000 Hyatt points per night for a highly aspirational stay at Calala Island.

Calala Island – Booking

Calala Island’s four beachfront suites are composed of one Master Suite and three Junior Suites. Two of the Junior Suites are made available for World of Hyatt members to book on points on any given night. 

As you can imagine, World of Hyatt award availability is hotly contested at this property, and it’s very much recommended to book well in advance. 

I used 120,000 Hyatt points to book my three-night stay at Calala Island about one and a half months prior to the stay. I’m fairly certain I had gotten lucky and stumbled into a three-night pocket of availability after someone else had cancelled.

Calala Island Nicaragua
Calala Island Nicaragua

Note that Calala Island has a fairly strict 90-day cancellation policy, and you’ll be charged the cost of the first night’s stay if you need to cancel within that 90-day window. 

Immediately after booking, you’ll receive a welcome email from Mandy, the resort’s reservations manager, who will correspond with you via email to arrange all the details prior to your arrival. Mandy confirmed with me the PCR testing requirements for entering Nicaragua, as well as any dietary preferences and special requests that we had for our stay. 

Mandy is also able to facilitate any date changes independently of your Hyatt reservation. Indeed, I had initially booked for November 6–9, but Mandy was able to change our dates to November 7–10 independently, given that the resort did indeed have World of Hyatt points availability on the night of the 9th. 

Overall, I found the booking and pre-arrival experience to be seamless, if a little shrouded in mystery. Correspondence is only done via email, and the phone number in Mandy’s email signature went to voicemail every time I tried to call. 

Calala Island – Location

Calala Island is a small 11-acre island that forms part of the Pearl Cays, sitting 4 km off the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea.

The island is only accessible via boat or helicopter, the latter of which can only be chartered out of Managua at an enormous expense.

Instead, you’ll most likely be taking advantage of the resort’s complimentary round-trip transfers, which includes a flight from Managua to the city of Bluefields, a taxi ride through Bluefields, and then a 90-minute boat ride to the island.

If you’re a guest at Calala Island, simply book your international flights into and out of Managua – the resort will take care of all the rest.

Calala Island – Getting There

Across more than 300 kilometres and three separate modes of transportation, the journey from Managua to Calala Island takes about four hours from start to finish.

Travel Times

The times of day at which you can make the journey are determined by the flight schedules of La Costeña Airlines, Nicaragua’s domestic airline. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, La Costeña currently only offers one daily service between Managua and Bluefields (and vice versa) in the mornings. 

Consequently, the outbound and return journeys to Calala Island are also only offered once per day – in our case, leaving Managua at 5:30am and arriving at Calala at around 9:30am on the day of departure, with the return journey following a similar schedule.

During pre-COVID times, La Costeña also offered a second daily service on the Managua–Bluefields route closer to midday, meaning that Calala Island guests could choose from two times for both their departure and return journeys.

I’d certainly loved to have stayed on the island for longer during our last day and taken advantage of the midday flight, so I’d recommend planning your visit to Calala Island once La Costeña hopefully restores full services in the near future.

Anyway, given our early-morning departure from Managua, I planned our inbound flight from San Salvador to arrive at 10:30pm. We’d then stay at the Best Western Las Mercedes Airport, which is right across the road from Managua’s Augusto C. Sandino International Airport.

Best Western Las Mercedes Airport – Shuttle
Best Western Las Mercedes Airport – Shuttle

Calala Island’s Managua-based staff representative, Nestor, was on hand to greet us upon exiting the airport in the evening. He let us know to reconvene at the domestic terminal at 5:30am in the morning, and escorted us across the street to the Best Western.

(If we had booked a hotel in the city of Managua, Nestor would arrange a licensed taxi to bring us to the hotel. However, we felt it was simplest to stay at the Best Western across the street, since we only wanted to get a few hours of sleep anyway.)

Flight to Bluefields

At 5:15am the next morning, we checked out of the Best Western and went to meet Nestor at the airport’s domestic terminal. Rather hilariously, the hotel staff offered to drive us in the airport shuttle, even though it was immediately back across the street.

Managua’s domestic terminal is a small and dimly illuminated space, serving locals and tourists alike who are looking to get to other parts of the country – especially the more remote communities on the Atlantic coast which aren’t as well-connected by road.

Domestic terminal, Augusto C. Sandino International Airport
Domestic terminal, Augusto C. Sandino International Airport
Domestic terminal, Augusto C. Sandino International Airport
Domestic terminal, Augusto C. Sandino International Airport

Calala Island guests enjoy a VIP priority queue, and the La Costeña staff member inspected our documents and waved us through – no need for boarding passes or anything like that.

It’s worth noting that our bags were taken from us at this point, and we never had to worry about them from this point onwards, until we arrived at our villa on Calala Island.

Calala Island VIP priority queue
Calala Island VIP priority queue

There’s a small convenience store and cafe here in the waiting area. Jessy and I snacked on an express breakfast that the Best Western had prepared for us, running on very little sleep but fuelled by the excitement of the journey ahead.

Domestic terminal waiting area
Domestic terminal waiting area

After waiting for about an hour, the airport staff indicated that the plane was ready for boarding. The Calala-bound passengers (ourselves and another couple from the US) were given priority to walk across the tarmac and board the plane.

La Costeña Airlines Cessna
Boarding the flight to Bluefields

La Costeña’s domestic operations in Nicaragua are a little more flexible than what you’d typically expect from an airline. The daily flight to Bluefields is actually designed to serve an additional community, Corn Islands, as well.

Each day, depending on the number of passengers booked on each route, the flight can operate any of the following routes:

  • Managua–Bluefields–Corn Islands–Managua
  • Managua–Corn Islands–Bluefields–Managua
  • Managua–Bluefields–Corn Islands–Bluefields–Managua

Furthermore, the actual aircraft tends to vary every day as well. On the outbound journey to Bluefields, we were in a 12-seater Cessna 208B Grand Caravan…

La Costeña Airlines Cessna 208B
La Costeña Airlines Cessna 208B

…whereas we took a larger ATR-42 on the return journey, boarding at Bluefields to join many other tourists who were coming back from the Corn Islands.

La Costeña Airlines ATR-42
La Costeña Airlines ATR-42

Jessy and I sat in Row 1 of the Cessna on the way out, getting a front-row view of the pilots in front of us, as well as the passing landscape to our sides. I was very much reminded of our seaplane journey en route to another incredible island resort experience in the Maldives last year

La Costeña Airlines Cessna 208B – Row 1
La Costeña Airlines Cessna 208B – Row 1

The flight to Bluefields takes around one hour, and affords some spectacular views of Nicaragua’s claim to fame as “the land of lakes and volcanoes”, including Lake Nicaragua, the Mombacho Volcano, and even Ometepe Island far off into the distance.

We had planned a few days to explore Nicaragua after our Calala Island adventure, and I was already looking forward to that part of the trip.

Views en route to Bluefields
Views en route to Bluefields

For now, though, we were headed to the country’s less-travelled Caribbean coast. After dozing off for the second half of the one-hour flight, I watched with avid interest as our pilots made a smooth landing at Bluefields Airport. 

Bluefields Airport to Puerto El Bluff

Bluefields is the capital of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Compared to the more developed Pacific side of the country, Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast is much more lush and tropical, and its inhabitants mostly Creole of African descent rather than the predominant mestizo (i.e., mix of Spanish and indigenous ancestry). 

Calala Island team member, Shorvin, greeted us at Bluefields Airport, his shirt soaking wet from the boat ride that brought him over here – a harbinger of things to come.

Shorvin let us know to use the bathroom here if we needed to, as we wouldn’t have many opportunities to do so on the journey ahead.

Bluefields Airport
Bluefields Airport

Shorvin also put us in touch with the Calala Island general manager, Claudia, over the phone, who let us know a little bit about what to expect from the boat ride ahead.

Now, even though I had known what we were getting into upon booking this stay, I had purposefully told Jessy to avoid researching Calala Island at all and keep things as much of a surprise as possible. In hindsight, I’m glad that Claudia gave Jessy a heads-up about what to expect, as I don’t think Jessy would’ve been a very happy boat passenger otherwise. 😉

Once we wrapped up our phone call with Claudia, Shorvin ushered us into a local taxi, bound for Puerto El Bluff, the local pier.

Taxi to Puerto El Bluff
Taxi to Puerto El Bluff

It felt as though we were in a bit of a hurry, which may have had to do with the predicted weather patterns on the open ocean that day – although I certainly didn’t mind getting to the island as quickly as possible!

As our taxi zipped through the narrow and fairly dilapidated streets of Bluefields, it was clear that this part of Nicaragua was very much lagging behind in terms of development.

Bluefields, Nicaragua
Bluefields, Nicaragua

The scene at Puerto El Bluff was similarly chaotic. Shorvin guided us expertly through the crowd and to our Calala-bound motorboat. 

Puerto El Bluff, Bluefields
Puerto El Bluff, Bluefields
Boat for Calala Island
Boat for Calala Island

Boat Transfer to Calala Island

When staying at Calala Island, getting there is half the fun – at least if you’re a thrill-seeker like me. The 90-minute speedboat journey from Bluefields is very much unlike anything else you’ll encounter in other parts of the world. 

First up, the boat makes its way through the surrounding lagoon…

Calala Island – Boat transfer at Puerto El Bluff
Calala Island – Boat transfer through Bluefields lagoon
Calala Island – Boat transfer through Bluefields lagoon

…before navigating through the lush mangroves along the coastline – which serve as key waterways that connect several small communities by boat in this part of the country – for about an hour. 

Calala Island – Boat transfer through the mangroves
Calala Island – Boat transfer through the mangroves
Calala Island – Boat transfer through the mangroves
Calala Island – Boat transfer through the mangroves

The open-air boat travels at top speed, cutting through the mirror-like surface of the water. It’s quite the unusual experience, as you watch the water fly by on both sides with a strong gust of wind blowing in your face the whole time. 

Eventually, the boat makes its way to Pearl Lagoon, the closest major community to Calala Island. From here, it’s about another 15-minute ride to Calala, but it’s an opportunity to step off and use the restroom if you need to.

Calala Island – Boat transfer via Pearl Lagoon
Calala Island – Boat transfer via Pearl Lagoon

Immediately after Pearl Lagoon, we pulled up at a Nicaraguan Navy checkpoint, which was no more than a single dock on the shoreline with a few young officers stationed there. The lead officer spoke to Shorvin for a bit, glanced at the passengers, and waved us through into Nicaragua’s territorial waters without detecting anything suspicious.

Calala Island – Boat transfer via Nicaraguan Navy checkpoint
Calala Island – Boat transfer via Nicaraguan Navy checkpoint

From there, it was time for the real adventure: the last 4 km stretch of open ocean to reach Calala Island.

We happened to arrive on an exceptionally stormy day, so we were in for an extremely bumpy ride!

Calala Island – Boat transfer via Atlantic Ocean
Calala Island – Boat transfer through the Atlantic Ocean

Our boat captain expertly navigated through the windswept waves. We’d fly through the air, crash into the ocean with a loud bang, get splashed all over by the water, before doing it all again and again as we inched our way towards the promised land in the distance. 

I must admit, even as someone who was relishing this part of the journey, I was ready for it to end by the time we pulled into the lagoon. Next to me, Jessy had her hood over her head the whole time, her eyes slammed shut in fear. 

Arriving into Calala Island is not for the faint-hearted. You’ve really got to earn the wonderful private island experience that lies ahead! 

Calala Island – Check-in

As the boat pulled into the main jetty, we were greeted by a couple of songsters, along with our hosts and the resort’s general managers, Claudia and Leon. 

As Shorvin and the rest of the staff members brought our luggage over to our villa, Claudia and Leon brought us over to the island’s main pavilion to complete our welcome formalities (in addition to offering us some towels to dry off from the ocean!)

Calala Island – Main pavilion
Calala Island – Main pavilion

We sat down with some delicious coconut chips to snack on, along with welcome drinks of our choosing. Since it was a bit early to get started with cocktails, we asked for some coffee and coconuts to sip on as Claudia walked us through everything we needed to know during our three-night stay.

Calala Island – Welcome treats
Calala Island – Welcome treats

After letting us know how the meals and activities would work, warning us about bug bites, and reminding us to keep our eyes peeled for unique wildlife (including the endangered hawksbill turtle and the island’s two resident sloths), Claudia and Leon brought us over to our Junior Suite to settle in.

Calala Island – Junior Suite

Calala Island’s four beachfront villas (or “cabanas”, as they like to call them) are named Awas, Kakabila, Lafe, and Orinoco, respectively. We were assigned Suite 2: Kakabila.

Calala Island – Pathway to Suite 2
Calala Island – Pathway to Suite 2

The four villas are spaced out evenly along the southwestern corner of the island. Each villa has a front door facing the ocean and a back door facing inland, and guests are asked not to walk across the front of other villas so as to ensure privacy for everyone.

Calala Island – Junior Suite
Calala Island – Junior Suite

The Junior Suites are marketed with a square footage of 47 square metres, so they aren’t necessarily the largest rooms compared to other resorts out there. They’re constructed with glass walls and thatched roofs, combining the rustic vibes of island life with plenty of modern touches throughout.

Calala Island – Junior Suite
Calala Island – Junior Suite

Let’s begin with a tour through the interior of the Junior Suite. The suite consists of a bedroom and a bathroom, connected to each other in an open-air style.

Calala Island – Junior Suite bedroom
Calala Island – Junior Suite bedroom
Calala Island – Junior Suite king bed
Calala Island – Junior Suite king bed

The king-sized bed is covered with a net, although it’s not to keep mosquitoes out. Calala Island (thankfully) doesn’t have mosquitoes, although it does have sandflies or “no-see-ums”, which do bite, but are too small to be kept out by the net. Instead, the net serves to protect you from any bits and pieces from the thatched roof that might fall down from time to time.

Calala Island – Junior Suite king bed with net drawn
Calala Island – Junior Suite king bed with net drawn

The bed is definitely on the harder side, which I didn’t find to be a problem, but it might not be the most comfortable if you prefer softer sleeping surfaces. On the plus side, the ocean views from the comfort of our bed were simply unbeatable.

Calala Island – Junior Suite king bed
Calala Island – Junior Suite king bed

Around the back of the king bed, you’ll find some storage cabinets to keep your belongings. Then, a small bench sits to the side of the bedroom, serving as a divider to the bathroom area.

Calala Island – Junior Suite bench
Calala Island – Junior Suite bench

The bathroom consists of a counter with double sinks. This is also where you’ll find the complimentary bug spray and anti-itching creams, in case the no-see-ums take a particular liking to you (as they did with me).

Calala Island – Junior Suite bathroom
Calala Island – Junior Suite bathroom
Calala Island – Junior Suite double sinks
Calala Island – Junior Suite double sinks

The toilet is housed in a separate chamber. One of my complaints about the room was that the toilet didn’t flush very well. Indeed, it would often take two or three tries to properly flush the toilet – especially after some of the gargantuan meals that they feed you here at Calala Island. 😉

Calala Island – Junior Suite toilet
Calala Island – Junior Suite toilet

A major highlight of the Junior Suite is the outdoor shower, which is just so much fun! It’s fully enclosed with straw thatching, but exposed to the outdoors, and the water simply flows down into the sand below.

Calala Island – Junior Suite shower
Calala Island – Junior Suite shower

What’s more, the water is piping-hot with superb water pressure, so it makes for an all-round excellent shower experience – one that I enjoyed so much, I ended up taking about three showers per day in-between spending time on the beach, dipping in the ocean, and going for meals and drinks. 

Heading out onto the front deck, then, let’s take a look at the outdoor facilities that complete the Junior Suite.

There’s an outdoor table with two chairs, which was the perfect place to sip on some Nicaraguan dark roast in the mornings or a cocktail in the afternoons.

Calala Island – Junior Suite outdoor patio
Calala Island – Junior Suite outdoor patio

Stepping down onto the sand, there’s two recliners for soaking in the sunshine, and then what we found to be the single-best place to relax on the property: a casita with a giant, sturdy hammock that can comfortably fit two. 

Calala Island – Junior Suite recliners
Calala Island – Junior Suite recliners

Whether it was curling up with a good book, watching the sunset, or simply sneaking in afternoon nap, our hammock was our happy place.

Calala Island – Junior Suite hammock
Calala Island – Junior Suite hammock

Lastly, our Junior Suite in particular also had direct access to a small stretch of beach in front of us. The other villas mostly have a rocky seawall in front of them, so I had specifically requested Kakabila with its direct beach access.

It was awesome to be able to frolic in the ocean merely steps away from our front porch, before retreating to the hammock with a drink in hand. 

Calala Island – Junior Suite beach access
Calala Island – Junior Suite beach access

Calala Island – Resort Layout

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.

While the boat ride from Bluefields was something that I personally relished as an adrenaline junkie, you’ll probably feel less enthusiastic about it if you prefer a more serene start to your island getaway. 

As for the living quarters, the villas at Calala Island make for a very cozy beachfront home during your time on the island – but I dare say that they aren’t necessarily the highlight of the resort. Indeed, you’ll likely find larger, fancier villas with more spruced-up interiors at other resorts around the world. 

Instead, it’s very much the sheer exclusivity of the four villas on the island, combined with the magical curated experience across the food and drink, activities, and wonderful service, that sets apart Calala Island as one of my all-time-best travel experiences and a truly extraordinary use of your hotel rewards points.

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. 

8 Comments
  1. Lloyd

    Excited to read this experience. Immediately start researching this resort to make good use of my hyatt pts

  2. Andrew

    Thank you for the quick response and great article. We arrive this weekend, fingers crossed !

    1. Ricky YVR

      Have a wonderful time, and say hi to Claudia, Leon, and all the staff for me!

  3. Andrew

    Hello
    Great information for our upcoming stay. The rooms seem fairly close to each other , were there any issues with that? How was your stay at the BW? We currently have reservations at the Hyatt downtown but are considering a switch. How did tipping work on the island? So were all the activities cancelled because of COVID?
    Thanks
    Andrew

    1. Ricky YVR

      No issues: everyone is asked to use the walkways at the back of their villas, so you never get in each other’s way and will hardly notice each other on the island.

      The Best Western was fine for an overnight stay – we were there no more than six hours. I wouldn’t bother going downtown unless you planned to explore Managua, not that there’s too much to do.

      Tipping is done at the end with the GMs, who split your tip amongst the staff.

      On our stay, some activities were affected due to the weather, but we still managed to go island-hopping. Some activities like the “deserted beach picnic” are affected due to COVID (none of the islands are deserted as Nicaragua has placed caretakers on all of them), but most other activities are fine.

  4. Mae

    Ricky, how long is the very rough part of the boat transfer? I’ve endured such boat rides 20 years ago but I’m not sure that I could stomach 45 minutes of this any longer. 15-20 minutes? Maybe. So the length of the hard core part is the deal breaker for me. Thanks!
    Ps: it looks amazing!

    1. Ricky YVR

      The rough part was about 10 minutes max. Most of the journey is fairly smooth, though still quite a novel experience given the high speed and the strong wind in your face.

  5. Adele

    Ricky, you’re a doll, love your site and the very personal voice you have. Please check the dictionary when you use fun words. I’m pretty sure “purveyors of seafood” does not mean what you think it means.

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