Calala island, Nicaragua

Old Jan 11, 2022, 3:04 pm
  #46  
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 616
Originally Posted by lsprice
Anyone else have experience at Calala Island? I am looking for a "big" trip this year to celebrate a milestone birthday and the "ultra inclusive" large staff, small guest numbers sounded really enticing. We're currently booked for 3 nights in November, with award flights booked on American out of Miami. I'm surprised to read above that not long ago, Copa and Avianca were the only airlines flying from the US to MGA. I guess if AA cancels our flights within the 90 day Calala cancellation period, we're potentially screwed.
https://princeoftravel.com/blog/revi...arrival-villa/
https://princeoftravel.com/blog/revi...rt-highlights/
illico is offline  
Old Feb 15, 2022, 3:03 pm
  #47  
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 173
Originally Posted by lsprice
Anyone else have experience at Calala Island? I am looking for a "big" trip this year to celebrate a milestone birthday and the "ultra inclusive" large staff, small guest numbers sounded really enticing. We're currently booked for 3 nights in November, with award flights booked on American out of Miami. I'm surprised to read above that not long ago, Copa and Avianca were the only airlines flying from the US to MGA. I guess if AA cancels our flights within the 90 day Calala cancellation period, we're potentially screwed.
We were there in December. Over the prior 18 months, Avianca, United and American all cancelled various permutations of flights. We finally decided to fly into Liberia, Costa Rica and hire a driver to take us to Granada, Nicaragua, where we stayed for a few nights before heading to Calala. Granada is around 45 minutes from the Managua airport and total of around 4 1/2 hours or so from the Liberia airport. With nonstop flights to Liberia, total travel time was about the same as if we were to stop over somewhere, and we didn't have to deal with the extremely short window for our PCR test. We did fly out of Managua, since it was much easier than flying in (Avianca -> Miami connecting to United on to Newark, single itinerary).

We brought four emed tests across the border. Technically not allowed to bring but if you get them through, they are accepted by Avianca to enter the US.

Couple of points in case you want to go this route. First, we hired Alex Ruiz of Pacific Tours, he's on Whatsapp at +505 8918 1935 or find him on Facebook/Insta. He had a driver meet us in Liberia, a facilitator to meet us ahead of Nicaraguan immigration and ensure everything went smoothly, and a second driver to take us from the border to Granada. Cost was $150 for two people. Second, to get into Costa Rica and then Nicaragua, you will need to fill out the Costa Rican health form to get a QR code, no other requirements if vaccinated. At the CR immigration, you tell them you are transiting and will not be staying the night. They will want to see your PCR test results since they want to ensure you can enter Nicaragua. They'll give you a transit visa and when you exit Costa Rica, they won't charge you the exit fee since you did not stay there. Costa Rican authorities will want to see your PCR test again on exit and will stamp your passport with an exit stamp at that point. Alex's guy met us ahead of Nicaraguan immigration. You show your PCR test to someone who gives you a little stamped paper, take that to Immigration with your PCR test, they'll ask a few questions and charge you $13 (cash) and you're all set.
Skink and Cometstar like this.
md125 is offline  
Old Feb 15, 2022, 9:13 pm
  #48  
 
Join Date: Dec 2015
Programs: Southwest, AA, Starwood, MR
Posts: 43
Originally Posted by md125
We were there in December. Over the prior 18 months, Avianca, United and American all cancelled various permutations of flights. We finally decided to fly into Liberia, Costa Rica and hire a driver to take us to Granada, Nicaragua, where we stayed for a few nights before heading to Calala. Granada is around 45 minutes from the Managua airport and total of around 4 1/2 hours or so from the Liberia airport. With nonstop flights to Liberia, total travel time was about the same as if we were to stop over somewhere, and we didn't have to deal with the extremely short window for our PCR test. We did fly out of Managua, since it was much easier than flying in (Avianca -> Miami connecting to United on to Newark, single itinerary).

We brought four emed tests across the border. Technically not allowed to bring but if you get them through, they are accepted by Avianca to enter the US.

Couple of points in case you want to go this route. First, we hired Alex Ruiz of Pacific Tours, he's on Whatsapp at +505 8918 1935 or find him on Facebook/Insta. He had a driver meet us in Liberia, a facilitator to meet us ahead of Nicaraguan immigration and ensure everything went smoothly, and a second driver to take us from the border to Granada. Cost was $150 for two people. Second, to get into Costa Rica and then Nicaragua, you will need to fill out the Costa Rican health form to get a QR code, no other requirements if vaccinated. At the CR immigration, you tell them you are transiting and will not be staying the night. They will want to see your PCR test results since they want to ensure you can enter Nicaragua. They'll give you a transit visa and when you exit Costa Rica, they won't charge you the exit fee since you did not stay there. Costa Rican authorities will want to see your PCR test again on exit and will stamp your passport with an exit stamp at that point. Alex's guy met us ahead of Nicaraguan immigration. You show your PCR test to someone who gives you a little stamped paper, take that to Immigration with your PCR test, they'll ask a few questions and charge you $13 (cash) and you're all set.
Thanks so much for the info, md125! To be clear, the reason for the flight into Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua was just for more reliable flights, right? Honestly, this trip is looking less and less likely for us. I just checked and saw AA in the last ~1 month has cancelled Managua flights in April and May. Especially with a 90 day cancellation window at Calala, I'm probably going to look at something in Mexico or domestically.
lsprice is offline  
Old Feb 23, 2022, 3:59 pm
  #49  
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 173
Originally Posted by lsprice
To be clear, the reason for the flight into Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua was just for more reliable flights, right?
Both for more reliable flights and because you get extra time for the COVID test. Nicaragua requires that airlines submit test results 36 hours ahead of departure giving you a very short window to get tested and get results. If you take the land crossing, you have more time as the airline is not involved. The first time your test results are checked is at Costa Rica immigration. While CR does not have a testing requirement at all, if you tell immigration you are transiting to Nicaragua, they give you a transit visa (and you don't have to pay an exit tax) but they do check that you meet Nicaraguan requirements at that time.
md125 is offline  
Old Apr 6, 2022, 9:03 pm
  #50  
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 59
points availability

Has anyone managed to find availability on points recently? I've been striking out in my searches so far.
dukewake is offline  
Old Apr 6, 2022, 10:10 pm
  #51  
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Programs: WOH Globalist
Posts: 232
Originally Posted by dukewake
Has anyone managed to find availability on points recently? I've been striking out in my searches so far.
have to look 13 month out when availability first opens up
Cometstar is offline  
Old Apr 9, 2022, 10:06 pm
  #52  
 
Join Date: May 2015
Programs: United MileagePlus
Posts: 159
Originally Posted by dukewake
Has anyone managed to find availability on points recently? I've been striking out in my searches so far.
I was able to find many availablity in June but none are available right now. If someone would like to cancel their June reservation, please message me and thank you so much!
stmadfish is offline  
Old Apr 25, 2022, 9:12 pm
  #53  
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: DCA
Programs: AA EXP 1MM, WOH Globalist
Posts: 1,163
My wife and I are arriving on Calala Island tomorrow. Let me know if anyone has any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.
59Impala likes this.
njvandy is offline  
Old Apr 25, 2022, 10:02 pm
  #54  
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Programs: WOH Globalist
Posts: 232
Originally Posted by njvandy
My wife and I are arriving on Calala Island tomorrow. Let me know if anyone has any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.
have a good time! I’m curious about the water conditions for snorkeling, boating, other water sports and also underwater life for snorkeling if that’s something you will do!
Cometstar is offline  
Old Apr 26, 2022, 9:17 am
  #55  
formerly a193991
Hyatt 5+ BadgeHilton Contributor Badge
 
Join Date: Dec 2014
Location: Zulu Romeo Hotel
Programs: Hyatt LT Globalist; LX SEN (*A Gold), AA LTG, SBB-CFF-FFS First Class GA
Posts: 4,667
Thanks, would be very interested in a review as well. Currently looking at a Jan/Feb stay next year.
59Impala is offline  
Old May 1, 2022, 9:50 pm
  #56  
 
Join Date: May 2015
Programs: United MileagePlus
Posts: 159
Originally Posted by njvandy
My wife and I are arriving on Calala Island tomorrow. Let me know if anyone has any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.
Thank you so much. Could you please share some considerations about the flight options? It seems no US airline flying to MGA, is that correct?
stmadfish is offline  
Old May 7, 2022, 10:13 am
  #57  
 
Join Date: Oct 2014
Posts: 39
What's the minimum stay required for award bookings here?
cmustudent is offline  
Old May 7, 2022, 10:19 am
  #58  
 
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 407
Originally Posted by cmustudent
What's the minimum stay required for award bookings here?
Three nights
parrotheadmjb is offline  
Old May 29, 2022, 9:02 pm
  #59  
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Programs: WOH Globalist
Posts: 232
Originally Posted by njvandy
My wife and I are arriving on Calala Island tomorrow. Let me know if anyone has any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.
How was your stay?
Cometstar is offline  
Old Jul 14, 2022, 3:46 pm
  #60  
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: DCA
Programs: AA EXP 1MM, WOH Globalist
Posts: 1,163
My wife and I completed a 5-night stay in late April. The TL;DR version is as follows: we had a lovely time during the day, a less than stellar experience at night, and separate medical issues for both of us as soon as we left.

I should start off by noting that our expectations were not properly set for this trip. This was our third beach vacation in the past year. The previous two were at the St Regis Vommuli in the Maldives (burning off the last of my Marriott points) and the Ritz Carlton Cancun (5 free night certs from the credit card). My wife pays no attention to trip planning and likes to be surprised wherever we end up. After a phenomenal experience in the Maldives and a relaxing stay in Mexico, she has developed high standards!

Getting there
Getting to Calala Island is not difficult, it just takes an annoyingly long time. At present, the only airline consistently flying from the US to Nicaragua is Avianca and the flights are timed almost perfectly to prevent same day transfers on La Costeña, the domestic airline.

We spent a night at the Hyatt Place Managua before and after Calala and had a really nice time. The hotel staff is extremely friendly, and the breakfast buffet was far and away the best I have ever seen at a HP. It is a great value as a category 1 property.

The domestic La Costeña flight was fine, exactly as described in the various trip reports I had read online. The boat ride, which most reviewers had made out to be some sort of treacherous voyage, was actually quite enjoyable. We stopped for lunch at a hotel on the water about 2/3 the way into the journey to break it up. This likely helped avoid the seasickness some people complained about in the reviews. My wife and I (early 30s) and another couple (early 60s) all had a fun time even though we got stuck in a few rainstorms. The crew told us the weather is always like this and our journey was no more or less bumpy than usual.

When you arrive on the island, the entire staff is waiting to greet you on the dock with a guitar and coconut drinks. Everybody lines up and waves as your boat gets closer, which is a nice touch, if a little cheesy.

Scene/Service
The island itself is absolutely gorgeous. It is incredibly impressive to see what they have built and the work that goes in to maintain a high level of service in such a remote location. There is no shortage of Instagram-worthy spots on the small island, if you are into that sort of thing. Your only care in the world during the day is avoiding the swarms of no-see-ums, flies and other bugs. The island staff literally spray multiple times per day from a device that looks like a backpack fog machine, but they are still everywhere. This is especially annoying during mealtimes as it takes quite a bit of effort to keep them away from your plate.

The local staff who work on the island are friendly and tremendously service oriented. They seem to have figured out how to strike that perfect balance of being present and attentive while still affording you privacy and tranquility. There is basically no request (within reason) that they will not be able to accommodate. You are strongly, strongly discouraged from tipping during your stay. There is an opportunity for a pooled gratuity at the end, which is fine.

The resident GMs are a South African couple named Carla and Leon. They both work hard and go out of their way to create a memorable experience for guests, though the management style was a bit unappealing to us. We saw Carla verbally dress down the staff on more than one occasion. We became pretty friendly with most of the front-of-house staff and found it very off-putting to hear her speak to them like misbehaving children for the slightest infraction (or no infraction at all).

There is Wi-Fi on the island and the speeds were more than adequate. We did not try to stream Netflix or anything like that but had no problems making VOIP calls on WhatsApp. Other guests appeared to be Facetiming with friends back home. There is zero cell service of any kind, as you would expect. The island also provides free laundry services, within reason. They don't advertise this, as they do not want people to expect to be able to dump a whole suitcase of dirty clothes, but they are happy to wash a few items upon request.

F&B
We are generally not big fans of all-inclusive properties. I have never stayed at an all-inclusive resort where the food was up to the same standard as a high-end restaurant. That remains the case after Calala. The reviews I read prior to the trip referred to extravagant dinners with opulent tasting menus while breakfast and lunch left something to be desired. This was not our experience.

The breakfast and lunch menus were large and diverse, and the food ranged from mediocre to above average. The lobster skewers with watermelon became a favorite lunch option along with the margarita pizza and the jerk chicken. I should note that it usually took 45 minutes or so to get your food after ordering from the menu. This is perfectly understandable considering the small number of guests and wide variety of dishes on offer. After the first day or so we just learned to order well in advance of our desired mealtimes.

We had one memorable dinner on our second night, which featured 3 courses and a pork tenderloin entree. Our first night was a buffet that we both found unappealing, and the other nights were usually either steak or fish. The beef, like most things, is sourced locally. It was gray in color and tasted gamey. It was not my cup of tea.

Bottom shelf and mid-tier alcohol is complementary and available at all times. There are 2 local beers available, both American-style lagers on the lighter side. The complementary wines were unremarkable but certainly adequate. There is a heavy emphasis on rum-based drinks, as per the locale. Most drinks are poured with an extremely light touch, which is probably for the best considering you are sitting out in the hot sun all day. This is not a place for spring breakers, nor should it be. My tolerance is higher than most, so I learned to ask for doubles and the bartenders were happy to accommodate.

The GMs insisted that the water (provided in reusable glass bottles) is purified and safe to drink. More on this later...

Rooms
This is the part of the review where I need to keep reminding myself that we were on a remote island and maybe it's not reasonable to expect luxury. But at cash rates north of $3,000, I expected much more than Calala delivered.

First off, the rooms need air conditioning. It's well over 100 degrees in the middle of the day and never gets below 80 even at night. All the reviews seemed to say this was no big deal - but it was a huge deal to us. Even while running both fans at the highest setting and opening all the doors and windows to the incoming breeze we had trouble sleeping. We woke up in pools of our own sweat each morning. Thankfully they change the sheets every day even without us asking.

Secondly, we need to talk about the roaches, critters, and mice. I suppose this is unavoidable on a remote island and the staff do the best they can, providing nets and a can of Raid! in the closet. But the little buggers still freaked out my wife on more than a few occasions. When we returned to the room after dinner there was usually at least one cockroach (or perhaps another insect that looked similar) stuck to the outer netting around the bedframe. One time we foolishly poured out the remnants of a fruity drink in the outdoor shower drain and awoke the next morning to find the shower floor covered in slugs. I could have sworn I saw a rat running across the floor, though the GMs told us they are "island field mice" or something like that. Again, perhaps our expectations were not properly set ahead of this trip. We were not looking for a one-with-nature, outdoorsy type vacation and that is what you get at Calala.

On a positive note, the mattress was comfortable, and the shower had great water pressure with an ample supply of hot water. The rooms are fairly small and there is no sitting area, not that you would want to spend much time in there aside from sleeping.

Activities

As you would expect for such an exclusive property, there is no scheduled programming or anything that revolves around a set schedule other than dinner. You are generally left to your own devices to enjoy the island at your own leisure, which is great. There are a handful of island activities that can be arranged whenever you'd like by contacting the GMs on WhatsApp. I highly recommend asking them to take you out snorkeling. We found some fantastic spots, including an old shipwreck about a 20-minute boat ride away. The fishing/cooking "class" I would skip, as you don't do anything other than watch the staff. The island-hopping tour was also a bit boring, as there is only one other island you can actually visit at the moment. I had read a trip report about a cigar-making class but apparently this is only offered if you reserve it well in advance, as they must bring in equipment from the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. My wife and I each got a massage/treatment almost every day, though availability was sometimes hard to come by and we had to be flexible on timing. There is one therapist on the island so if you happen to be there during a time when all 8 guests want massages, there isn't enough time in the day. Massages are the only activity that requires an extra charge, though the rates were extremely reasonable.

Departure
We left the island at 4:30am on our last day, which was the latest possible departure to make the only La Costeña flight from Bluefields back to Managua. The entire island staff woke up and assembled on the dock to wave us off, which we felt very bad about. The return journey was uneventful. We did not make a stop on the way back to Bluefields and ate a packed breakfast once we arrived at the airfield. The domestic flight was delayed so we waited about 2 hours in the tiny terminal, eventually departing around 8:30 or 9am. After a stop at Corn Island, we made it to Managua after 10am.

Managua/Granada
The resort no longer provides free transportation to/from the airport to local hotels, instead offering to "help you arrange a licensed taxi". They do have a representative on the mainland named Nestor, who is the official airport greeter. I requested to be put in touch with him a few weeks before our trip and hired him privately to show us around Managua when we first arrived in the country and then again to take us to Granada after we returned from the island. Nestor is a fantastic tour guide and we very much enjoyed spending time with him. Visiting Granada and the Masaya volcano was one of the highlights of our entire trip. We spent that last night back at the Hyatt Place and hired Nestor to take us to the airport again the next morning to catch our Avianca flight to Miami.

Aftermath
The worst part of our vacation was the week we got home. My wife had gotten tons of bug bites while on the island and was constantly complaining about itchiness, though there wasn't anything visible at first. By the end of our stay, we were noticing red markings all over her body. In the days after we returned to the US, she had developed scabs everywhere, including on her face. They went away without any medical treatment but obviously this was not a fun experience.

I avoided the bug bites for the most part by heavily applying the island-provided bug spray multiple times per day. I did, however, come down with a serious stomach bug. I generally have a pretty strong constitution. We travel all over the world and I don't hesitate to drink the water. I cannot ever remember getting sick on vacation like this. The day before we left the island, I started to experience some cramping and diarrhea. I asked the GMs for Imodium, which they gladly provided. Unfortunately, these symptoms gradually worsened and 10 days later I was still experiencing severe diarrhea. I had no appetite, couldn't concentrate, and was generally experiencing all the signs of dehydration. I ended up needing an IV and 2 bags of fluids but no antibiotics thankfully.

Around this time, we got an email from one of the other couples who had stayed on the island at the same time. They both had serious stomach issues and one of them was even briefly hospitalized. Of the 8 guests on the island at the same time, my wife was the only one who did not get sick. I sent an email to management to let them know about this. They basically shrugged it off. I did not ask for any compensation and none was offered.

Value
The best part about Calala Island is undoubtedly the value. It's a gorgeous, semi-private island with all-inclusive food, beverages, and activities for 40k Hyatt points per night. We became pretty close with the other guests who stayed on the island at the same time as us and also got to meet the next group coming in after us. From our conversations with other guests and staff it is quite clear that almost 100% of the Americans use Hyatt points and almost 100% of the Brits "win" their week-long stays in charity auctions. I cannot possibly understand how this is a profitable operation.

Overall, we had a memorable stay and experience. We will not be going back, though I don't regret the trip either. Happy to answer any questions.
njvandy is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service -

This site is owned, operated, and maintained by MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. Copyright © 2024 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Designated trademarks are the property of their respective owners.