Calala island, Nicaragua

Old Jul 14, 2022, 4:23 pm
  #61  
 
Join Date: Mar 2021
Posts: 163
Originally Posted by njvandy
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.
Appreciate the thorough write up. I’ve got a 5 night stay in May 2023 that I have been increasingly considered canceling. The journey of getting there and the lack of air conditioning were my biggest concerns and the mice would definitely freak my wife and I out.

After spending 40k/night at SLH’s Hotel Villa Franca in Positano, Casa Angelina in Praiano, and the Roundtree in the Hamptons, I feel the ultra luxurious is more our speed and I’m not sure we’d get that at Calala
dwhelan5 is offline  
Old Jul 14, 2022, 7:15 pm
  #62  
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Programs: WOH Globalist
Posts: 232
Originally Posted by dwhelan5
Appreciate the thorough write up. I’ve got a 5 night stay in May 2023 that I have been increasingly considered canceling. The journey of getting there and the lack of air conditioning were my biggest concerns and the mice would definitely freak my wife and I out.

After spending 40k/night at SLH’s Hotel Villa Franca in Positano, Casa Angelina in Praiano, and the Roundtree in the Hamptons, I feel the ultra luxurious is more our speed and I’m not sure we’d get that at Calala
also have a 5 night stay next spring that I am getting more hesitant about…a lot of opportunity cost for the time and points
Cometstar is offline  
Old Jul 14, 2022, 7:32 pm
  #63  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: NYC
Programs: DL Platinum, AA Plat Pro, Bonvoy Lifetime Platinum, JetBlue Mosaic 3, Amtrak Select
Posts: 967
Originally Posted by njvandy
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.
fantastic, incredibly informative review. Thank you for being a reason flyertalk is helpful and thank you for helping justify skipping this place for our honeymoon
njvandy likes this.
uppereastsider is offline  
Old Jul 15, 2022, 3:04 pm
  #64  
 
Join Date: Feb 2019
Posts: 138
Originally Posted by Cometstar
also have a 5 night stay next spring that I am getting more hesitant about…a lot of opportunity cost for the time and points
Really depends one what kind of experience you're hoping to get at Calala. When I stayed this past December, I had an incredible experience (it may have helped that I stayed during Christmas week, and the property was not completely full). I think people come into this property expecting ultra luxury (based on number of points/cash price). While it makes sense to expect that, my arrival on Calala made me realize how difficult and costly it must be to run a resort at its current caliber as is. I've stayed at quite a few high end hotels such as WA Maldives, Conrad Bora Bora, Al Maha, Amangiri, Burj Al Arab etc -- yet my stay at Calala was entirely worthwhile, and probably one of my favorite resort/hotel stays ever.

As the previous reviewer has stated, there are quite a few issues with critters that I had encountered myself (slugs on the floor of the outdoor shower, a mouse that ran across the ceiling of our room and disappeared, random small bugs on the netting in the bed that would sometimes land on the bed itself). As gross as it all sounds, I came to terms with it and didn't let it bother me after two or so days. I even returned home with upwards of 80+ noseeum bites (yes I counted). To be fair, I was warned not to sit around the hammock/water during sunset because that is when they come out. Its true, because the previous 4 days I had not a single bite. While we weren't bothered by the lack of air conditioning, we do agree it would have been great. Our stay in December was not too warm, so it wasn't an issue. In fact, the evenings were slightly chilly. The issue was the thick comforters they provided.

As for the food, the seafood they serve was as fresh as could be. The fish I caught that morning becomes ceviche that same lunch. They bring is fresh lobsters from local fisherman nearby. We had a buffet, tasting menus, stew from the cooking class, surf and turf (porterhouse steak with two lobsters per person), etc... all while seated by the beach, on the sand, under intimate string lights that are arranged differently each night. Furthermore, they prep a pizza oven every day during lunch to cook their pizzas (of course), as well as other items such a jerk chicken. The effort they put into the food is astounding. We elected to do their cooking class, where they taught the four of us to make a local stew and literally put in 4 crabs, 4 lobsters, 4 fish etc. It really felt like no expense was spared when it came to food. And the stew was served to each person on a personal burner to keep it warm throughout the meal. Impressive! Overall, I would consider the food to be on average 8/10 once you find the menu items you love.

One day while we were lounging by the pool, the GMs even offered a free 60min massage treatment each to me and my partner. Their attention to detail, and making the guests feel special, was really the highlight of this property. The staff would remember your drinks preference, and we had so much fun talking to the local staff and learning about their culture/family. Days spent with the staff doing the activities passed by super quickly. We were able to island hop to 3 different islands, but we were rained out after the 2nd one. I also had so much fun fishing with their team. One evening, we let the staff know that we wanted to enjoy the dark nights for stargazing. They set out two bean bags on the beach, and turned off all the lights to the resort. It was amazing!

Despite all of Calala Island's shortcomings, the island offers an incredibly unique tropical getaway. It is truly worthwhile for those who are hesitant, just don't expect it to be an ultra lux accommodation. While I wouldn't go again (since I have no interest in returning to the same place twice), I would still highly recommend Calala Island to my loved ones. Hope this gives everyone a different perspective. Also, maybe consider visiting during cooler times of the year.
24.05.2004, md125, njvandy and 6 others like this.
gbongc is offline  
Old Jul 16, 2022, 10:37 am
  #65  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: SJO/MGA
Programs: bits of shiny plastic w/ varied utility
Posts: 383
What an excellent review. Thanks for taking the time to post. Glad you had a memorable visit. Personally, I've always run a course of Cipro after DAC ("Dangerous Atlantic Coast") visits. Soooooo many amoebas and parasites hitch rides on unsuspecting gringos!

Originally Posted by njvandy

I cannot possibly understand how this is a profitable operation.
I lived in Nicaragua for years and spent quite a bit of time on the DAC . From my experiences (and IMHO), there's profitable operations and operations that are profitable. The DAC is something akin to the wild west. The "white lobster" run every night and that takes all kinds of infrastructure to happen.
24.05.2004 is offline  
Old Jul 17, 2022, 7:47 pm
  #66  
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Charlotte, NC
Posts: 23
Consult with a medical professional of course but if you're in Nicaragua and having gastrointestinal issues as per the reviewer above, consider asking for Lomotil. That stuff has worked wonders for me on more than one trip there and iirc you don't need a prescription.
PFDigest is offline  
Old Jul 17, 2022, 7:53 pm
  #67  
 
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 407
Originally Posted by PFDigest
Consult with a medical professional of course but if you're in Nicaragua and having gastrointestinal issues as per the reviewer above, consider asking for Lomotil. That stuff has worked wonders for me on more than one trip there and iirc you don't need a prescription.
Might be better off with Cipro to treat the bacteria especially if you're drinking
parrotheadmjb is offline  
Old Jul 29, 2022, 8:50 am
  #68  
 
Join Date: Mar 2022
Posts: 13
Originally Posted by dwhelan5
Appreciate the thorough write up. I’ve got a 5 night stay in May 2023 that I have been increasingly considered canceling. The journey of getting there and the lack of air conditioning were my biggest concerns and the mice would definitely freak my wife and I out.

After spending 40k/night at SLH’s Hotel Villa Franca in Positano, Casa Angelina in Praiano, and the Roundtree in the Hamptons, I feel the ultra luxurious is more our speed and I’m not sure we’d get that at Calala
I've been following Calala Island for some time now, but couldn't find any availability to book with points. Can you let me know how to book a stay at Calala with points? Thanks in advance
Howieh is offline  
Old Jul 29, 2022, 9:14 am
  #69  
 
Join Date: Nov 2020
Programs: WOH Globalist
Posts: 232
Originally Posted by Howieh
I've been following Calala Island for some time now, but couldn't find any availability to book with points. Can you let me know how to book a stay at Calala with points? Thanks in advance
A lot of trial and error. They open dates less than a year in advance so you have to figure that out and then basically book when it opens if it's peak season. They have a minimum 3 night stay as well. It might just be booked up and that's why you can't see availability - it's gained some traction from social media recently.
Cometstar is offline  
Old Jul 29, 2022, 9:16 am
  #70  
 
Join Date: Mar 2022
Posts: 13
Thanks so much
Howieh is offline  
Old Aug 1, 2022, 10:08 am
  #71  
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Chicago
Programs: Hyatt Glob; UA 1K; BonVoyage LTT (RIP SPG); HH Dia; JX Insighter
Posts: 1,650
Considering a babymoon here but the boat transfer has me...concerned. Thoughts?
CLEguy is offline  
Old Aug 1, 2022, 10:14 am
  #72  
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: DCA
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Originally Posted by CLEguy
Considering a babymoon here but the boat transfer has me...concerned. Thoughts?
How far along is your wife? I would strongly advise against it in any case. We went for our first trip after having a baby and remarked a few times about how it would not have been crazy to do this while pregnant. The boat ride is fun but it can feel like an up-and-down roller coaster at times. Also, I cannot imagine what would happen if you needed a maternity doctor for some reason.
njvandy is offline  
Old Aug 9, 2022, 12:49 am
  #73  
 
Join Date: Oct 2016
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Thanks - good feedback. We are considering Calala for a babymoon also - wife would be 6.5 months pregnant. Terrible idea to chance the boat ride? I suppose it makes sense for me to contact Calala also.
fluke712 is offline  
Old Oct 14, 2022, 12:42 pm
  #74  
 
Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 36
Originally Posted by njvandy
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.
We must missed each other by a week or so. I stayed there the 3rd week of April. It's interesting to see how our experiences varied. My wife and I had a blast, loved the "free spirit" of everything. That being said, we sort of knew what we were getting ourselves into. It would have definitely been nice to have air conditioning but we didn't suffer (never woke up in pools of sweat). We sprayed bug spray often, turned off our lights before leaving the room to avoid bugs entering. Got some minor bug bites but nothing that was crazy. It is definitely a more of a "one with nature" sort of vacation though. I got pooped on a gecko while in bed. Housekeeping changed out the sheets and it was no big deal.

Near the end of our stay, we were the last ones on the island and they moved us to the master suite. They basically moved everything in a 1:1 mirror location without us doing anything. Food wise, we didn't have any issues and we've done our fair share of Michelin starred restaurants. We had a 11 course tasting menu on our last night that we had no complaints. Breakfast/lunch was alright. We didn't get sick during our trip - though we primarily drank mixed drinks and sparkling water (which was bottled Perrier). My wife didn't really like the taste of the filtered water.

It's definitely a unique vacation that allows you to connect with the other guests unlike other places. On night we all hung out at the bar after dinner, got control of the Spotify account controlling the speakers and went around playing music and shot the .... until like 1am. We loved it enough that we had plans to return earlier this week but that got cancelled last minute due to hurricane Julia.
mortalwombat is offline  
Old Oct 14, 2022, 2:42 pm
  #75  
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 173
Anyone know how the resort fared in the hurricane?
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