Rustic paradise: A review of Calala Island, a private island bookable with World of Hyatt points
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Ever since Hyatt partnered with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), World of Hyatt members have been able to use points to book stays at over 500 independently owned boutique hotels across the globe from the South of France to the streets of Southeast Asia.
Some of these SLH properties stick out and one of these is Calala Island, a private-island retreat with just four rooms off the coast of Nicaragua that touts itself as part of the “NiCaribbean,” the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
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As soon as the property became bookable through World of Hyatt for just 40,000 points per night, it shot to the top of our list of places that we had to get to. After all, how many private islands can you book on points? I booked the first nights I could find on points at the tropical resort. After my three-night stay at Calala, I can confidently say that this property is an absolute steal and deserves a spot at the top of your bucket list.
As mentioned previously, Calala Island is bookable with Hyatt points. As of now, you can redeem for 40,000 points a night, but once dynamic pricing goes into effect, rooms here can be had for as little as 35,000 points per night on off-peak dates. At this rate, it’s an absolute steal, considering rooms regularly go for over $2,000 per night. I booked the hotel using Chase Ultimate Rewards that I transferred to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. As cash prices were $2,800 per night during my booking, this means I got 7 cents in value for each of my points, far more than TPG’s 2-cent valuation for Ultimate Rewards points.
The hotel consists of only four rooms, though only the junior suites (of which there are three), are bookable via points. Each room can accommodate two people, which means that a total of eight guests can occupy the island at any given time. During my stay, only two of the rooms were occupied: myself and my mom in one room and a couple in another room. Come to find out, they’re big fans of The Points Guy and also had booked with Hyatt points.
Related: The best hotel credit cards for 2020
If you’re short on Hyatt points, consider signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. You’ll be well on your way to a stay at this private-island paradise.
Unfortunately, Hyatt elite members don’t receive benefits at SLH properties despite their partnership. This is stated when you book online. Although we didn’t get elite-status perks, we were already enjoying so many benefits (such as nightly gifts during turndown), that I didn’t feel the loss.
Calala Island bills itself as part of the Caribbean, and although it’s not wrong, getting to this hotel is a schlep. There are no major airports nearby. Instead, guests fly to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, and then take a plane to Bluefields (on the east coast of Nicaragua), and from there board a speedboat to the island.
You can view this as a hassle, but you can also see it as a way to see a lot of Nicaragua on your journey to the hotel. From the taxi ride through the city to the two-hour boat ride, you’ll get to experience the country all the way to the resort.
The resort told us that a representative would meet us at 1 p.m. at Managua Airport (MGA) to shepherd us onto the flight to Bluefields. Our flight from Managua to Bluefields departed late and stopped at another island first (with no advance notice). Once we landed at the airport, we were met by another hotel representative who was practically dancing with excitement. After the two-hour boat ride, we made it to the resort after sunset at 6:30 p.m., well beyond the anticipated arrival time of 4 p.m. It wasn’t a huge deal to me, but don’t count on a seamless journey.
Unlike other resorts bookable with points, Calala Island‘s rate includes transfers. This means that the round-trip flight on a prop plane and four hours of speedboat journey will cost you nothing out of pocket. This is in stark contrast to popular resorts such as the Conrad Maldives, where round-trip transfers run upwards of $700 per person.
Unfortunately, transfers are limited to two departures per day, so if you arrive outside these hours, be prepared for a long wait.
- To get to Calala, you can either choose to leave at at 5:45 a.m. or 1 p.m. at Managua Airport.
- You can leave the island at either 5:30 a.m. or noon, for an arrival into Managua Airport at 9:45 a.m. or 5:15 p.m.
Have you ever been greeted by an entire island upon your arrival? I have, now that I’ve stayed at Calala Island. It was a music-playing, coconut-offering extravaganza upon our arrival. Every member of the resort’s staff was present and the two managers swiftly escorted all four of us (all of the guests at the resort) to the dining area to outline the facilities.
There was no check-in, per se, and everyone was already familiar with our names and stay dates. With fresh coconuts in hand, we were guided to our rooms and given the details of dining on the island.
In short, the island is gorgeous. Located in the Caribbean, it’s got picture-perfect white sand beaches and palm trees to spare. If you’re looking for an island paradise, look no further.
I challenge you to find a resort more accommodating than Calala. When my mom and I eyed each other nervously at the mention of a single king bed in our hotel cabana, one of the resort managers, Claudia, offered me my own room.
Let me repeat that. Because my mom and I didn’t want to share a bed, the hotel manager offered me a separate room of my own with no additional charge. At a property that runs in the thousands of dollars per night, this is generosity unparalleled by any elite status out there.
The cabanas feature all-natural materials, like thatched roofs, wooden beams and decorative seashells. There is no air-conditioning, but the rooms had excellent airflow and two ceiling fans apiece. In March, this meant I was able to sleep under the covers comfortably without feeling stifled. If you choose to stay during the summer, however, be aware that temperatures skyrocket and even the most generous of airflow probably won’t save you.
Each junior suite consists of one king bed and a small couch.
The bathroom was fully stocked, but it is open-air, so things could get awkward quickly depending on who you’re sharing with. This is also true for the cabana at large, as its massive glass-fronted walls open directly to the beach. Island security guards walk by on occasion, so I’d be extra wary of wandering around immodestly, especially at night.
I asked the staff to cover up those holes in the middle of my outdoor shower, which they willingly did.
The toilet, while hidden behind a door, is open to the rest of the cabana. This means that no matter how much you love your roommate, things might get a little more intimate than you’re used to. The hotel did provide incense sticks and matches atop the toilets to help rectify this problem.
I was worried about bugs after reading some reviews from previous guests. However, I can safely say these worries were groundless. Did I find a huge horrific cockroach in my snorkel mask? Yes. But the island provides bug spray and bug killer everywhere on the island, so you don’t really need to worry.
Each cabana also features an outdoor patio, hammock and beanbag chairs.
Although there are only four rooms in the entire resort, they are all located along the same strip of beach. To combat accidental creepiness, the hotel asks that you use the back doors located inside each cabin to get anywhere you need to go.
Food and Beverage
Calala Island calls itself an “ultra all-inclusive” resort. Nearly all drinks are included, all your meals are free and most every activity costs nothing out-of-pocket.
Our first meal at the property was a lavish four courses. Because there were only four guests, the entire event took less than an hour, despite the decadence of the meal. The hotel is very good about dietary preferences and will make basically anything you’d like to order if they’ve got the ingredients.
Barring special needs, your meal comes either prix fixe or available from a menu.
Unlike many other all-inclusive resorts, Calala Island has specific dining hours. Generally, you can expect to eat breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch from noon to 4 p.m. and dinner from 7:30 p.m. on.
The food is some of the best I’ve ever had at an all-inclusive resort. No, it’s some of the best I’ve had, period. I’ve traveled to the Maldives and enjoyed resorts in Tahiti, but Calala’s chefs served up some of the tastiest food I’ve ever had.
Everything is fresh, skillfully prepared and arranged with care. Our fresh fruit was perfectly ripened. My steak was as tender as could be and if you felt the desire to fish for lobsters, they’d cook them for you perfectly.
Calala Island is tiny, so the activities are focused on the water. If you don’t like water sports, you should head elsewhere. For everyone else, there are a host of activities to try. Want to picnic on a deserted island? Go spearfishing? The hotel has you covered, at no additional cost.
There’s a spa on the island, though it’s also outdoors, so if you’re looking for soothing music and air-conditioning this isn’t your jam.
There’s the infinity pool, of course, which is guaranteed to be uncrowded with a maximum of eight attendees at any given time.
In fact, we felt alone for the majority of our trip. There was no fight for pool chairs, our cellphones could be left unattended and our cabanas had a key that never needed to be used. The whole island feels safe, private and exclusive.
On our second day, we opted for island-hopping with our fellow guests, which meant we jumped back into the speedboat and motored out to our neighboring islands. This was one of my favorite activities. Surprisingly, I felt like an urban explorer. Yes, urban. The islands nearest Calala are filled with failed resort startups, and we saw the decaying buildings amid lush tropical vegetation.
It’s also true, however, that you can complete a walking lap of the entire island in two minutes and 30 seconds, so if you get island fever, the hotel may be a little small for you.
Although the rooms are nice and the food is exquisite, what really makes the property stand out is its people. From the moment we arrived, we received unparalleled attention. There are 25 staff members for just four guests, and these people were overwhelmingly great.
Let me give you an example. At breakfast, I had ordered a mimosa. Nearing the bottom of my drink, a staffer made eye contact with me and hurried forward to mix up another mimosa, no words asked, complete with freshly squeezed orange juice. At any given time, there are at least two staff members waiting unobtrusively to help you with whatever you need.
Even better, absolutely everyone can help you with absolutely everything. On my first day I asked my in-pool bartender for help with my shower. I then asked the maintenance man for a freshly chopped coconut. Regardless of your request, you’ll receive smiles and prompt, helpful service.
Calala Island is a tiny property with big heart. From personalized doodles from the staff to the anything-you-can-think-of resort request system, everyone on the island is there to make your stay memorable.
If you’re looking for an authentic adventure with high-end touches, Calala Island is where you should be. Expect little, receive much and take advantage of all the amenities for an unforgettable experience.
There are a few downsides. The trip to the island felt very long, and there was the odd cockroach in my snorkel mask. Calala Island isn’t one of those perfectly manicured resorts you’ll find in the Maldives or Bora Bora. Instead, it’s an homage to unspoiled island beauty. With its luxe touches and attentive staff, Calala is a perfect paradise for blending a little bit of nature with a beach vacation.
Is it worth its rate in cash? Not to me, but on points it’s an absolute steal.
I’m already looking to return.
All photos by the author.
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