If you’ve ever dreamed about escaping to your own private island, that fantasy is within reach at Calala Island. But you’ll need help finding this tiny tropical hideaway on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast.
Calala Island’s assistants will escort you through the process. A staff member meets you in Managua’s Augusto C. Sandino International Airport to show you how to transfer in the domestic terminal, an easy-to-miss separate building, and facilitates your check-in (the transfer is included in your hotel rate).
After a 45-minute flight, you arrive at Bluefields Airport (make sure you don’t get off at the wrong stop, your escort rightly warns) and another staff member greets you, secures your luggage and then accompanies you via cab to the dock, where a speedboat takes you on a 90-minute ride with nothing but verdant mangroves in sight.
Just as weariness from travel starts to overcome you, a small lit-up island appears like an oasis on the horizon. As the boat inches closer, you notice almost a dozen people with convivial smiles lining the dock, welcoming you with chilled washcloths and sweet rum punch. They break out into song while one strums the guitar.
Your harried trip stress melts away.
While Calala is a hotel, you’ll practically have the place to yourself — there are just four villas that accommodate a maximum of eight people (and you can rent out the entire island). The only life we found (aside from the staff) at Calala were the golf-ball-sized hermit crabs scurrying across the sand.
At this deserted isle getaway, expect a more rustic experience: There are no TVs, air conditioning or even alarm clocks. If you want a quiet, away-from-it-all feel, it’s here.
But you won’t sacrifice luxury — a staff of 25 tends to you, and the secluded villas filled with different Nicaraguan hardwoods have floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the ocean just feet away. The cushy beds welcome you after a day of activities while the alfresco showers have semi-see-through rattan walls, giving you privacy while still allowing you to be at one with the pristine surrounding nature.
This area of Nicaragua that hugs the Caribbean Sea is referred to as the Caribbean Coast or Mosquito Coast, named after the indigenous Miskito people who inhabited it. It’s unlike what you’ll find in Managua or elsewhere in the country. The Mosquito Coast is home to seven different ethnic groups, each with its own dialect and culture.
Whereas people speak Spanish on the mainland, Creole is the predominant language in this less-populated region, and you’ll hear more soft reggae and soca in these parts than Spanish-language tunes.
The 10.5-acre property makes you feel like you washed up on a deserted island, but you won’t have to forage for coconuts and crack them open like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. One of the best perks of this Calala is its fine-dining cuisine.
Chef Lorne Emerson has worked in the kitchens of Le Pré Catelan in Paris and Le Saint-Martin in the French Riviera. Born in England and spending the majority of his life in France, Emerson brings a French sensibility to the Nicaragua hotel. He changes the menu daily with dishes you’d expect to see in Paris or London restaurants. But Emerson swaps in local ingredients (many of which are grown on the island). Fresh caught lobster is transformed into carpaccio. In the “Mystery Egg,” a dragon-fruit-cured egg yolk is enveloped in a coconut and Caribbean curried meringue. Everything from the bread to the coconut sorbet is made in house.
One other difference from those restaurants in Europe: you’ll dine under an open-air palapa and can go barefoot, if you so desire.
Reading on your macramed hammock for two with the ocean as your backdrop is one of the best activities you can do. But for more active pursuits, watersports reign here. Borrow stand-up paddle boards or kayaks to trek out to the hotel’s Little Calala Island, a nearby sliver of land that only has sand and a small palapa, perfect for sunbathing or picnicking.
Or plunge into the hotel’s sinuous pool under the palms, swim up to the bar and have always-smiling bartender Eden make you one of his tropical Piña Calalas (white rum, pineapple and fresh coconut milk).
Opt to go snorkeling and the speedboat will drop you off near some virtually untouched reefs where you can see butterflyfish, grunts, angelfish, squirrelfish and starfish.
Another option is to try your hand at fishing like a local — it takes a few attempts to get the hang of the crude coconut shell slice affixed with string and a hook, but you’ll be rewarded with red snapper that the chef will barbecue for your dinner, along with a vast spread of steak, lobster, shrimp, pork, coconut rice and beans, coleslaw, corn on the cob and more.
Walk a secret trail to the spa hut, an open-air waterfront palapa amid the thick mangroves. Gnarled branches provide a natural cover from any rare passersby in the water. Get the shiatsu massage so that the aesthetician can unlock your pressure points while a warm breeze caresses your skin and all you hear is the lapping of the waves and the rustling of the palm fronds. This is the deserted island luxury dream.