Disclaimer: Our stay at Cotton Tree Lodge was complimentary in exchange for an honest review. All photos, thoughts, and opinions are my own!
Belize has been popping up on my radar more and more recently as a great place to travel. But the Belize that most people have experienced is the tropical Cayes off the coast of Northern Belize. Southern Belize in contrast is covered in jungles, Mayan ruins, and small villages with self sustaining farm lives. So when the owner from Cotton Tree Lodge reached out to myself and a friend to come stay at the Eco-lodge in the jungle of southern Belize, I jumped at the opportunity!
About Cotton Tree Lodge
Cotton Tree Lodge is a magic little eco-lodge located in the jungle of Southern Belize near Punta Gorda. Located in between two small Mayan villages, the owners saw an opportunity to build a place where travelers can learn about and experience the local culture in a hands-on way. Also situated directly on the Moho River, the lodge provides an opportunity to relax and escape the typical tourist scene.
Many of the employees of the lodge are actually from the two surrounding villages, and CTL aims to give back to the local communities as much as possible. They also grow a lot of their own food right on the premises and follow a lot of sustainable practices such as composting toilets and asking guests to limit electricity usage.
While we were there, we often found employees going out of their way to teach us about the culture, farming and wildlife. In just the few short days we learned about permaculture farming, plant-based alternatives for medicine & beauty products, how food is made by hand, and even got a walking tour into the jungle to find the howler monkeys! Every employee had more to offer and genuinely loved teaching about their ways.
How to Get There
The downside of Cotton Tree Lodge is how remote it is. Traveling to get there is not easy or cheap. However the upside to this is it is not overrun with tourists, so the experience is that much more special.
You first need to fly into the Belize International Airport in Belize City. We were able to find decently affordable flights there. ($344 US round trip, BOS to BZE.) From here you will need to decide whether you want to fly or drive down to the Southern part of Belize.
If you opt to fly there, you will hop on a TINY little plane with either Tropic Air or Maya Island Air to get down to the south. I was surprised by how expensive these flights were considering how short the travel time was. ($240 US round trip, BZE to Punta Gorda.) Flight time will vary because they often make stops along the way at different small airports throughout Belize! Landing and taking off as if it were a bus! If you need assistance, Cotton Tree Lodge will help you book these flights and arrange a car service to meet you at the airport.
If you opt to drive you can either rent a car and make the 6 hour drive through rough roads and farmland yourself or take a rather uncomfortable school bus ride down to the south. Both of those options will save you a decent amount of money if you’re willing to take the adventure! The bus ride only costs $24 US round trip from BZE to PG, so it’s well worth it for the budget friendly traveler!
Once you get to Punta Gorda, a driver from Cotton Tree Lodge will meet you with one of their vehicles and bring you down the VERY bumpy roads, about 45 minutes, to the lodge. Even though the drive was long, the sights were fascinating because the landscape and the vegetation arebeautiful to look at.
Cabanas and Hammocks
Never did I think I would find myself in a cabana on stilts, sleeping under a mosquito net, but what an experience it was! We were lucky enough to stay in a two bedroom cabana along the river with two hammocks on our balcony.
The entire cabana has an open feel but is sealed tight by netting. The netting allows you to hear all the sounds of the jungle at night though, which was a blessing and a curse! Waking up to the birds in the morning and listening to the crickets at night were amazing. On the other hand, the Howler Monkey wars in the middle of the night were something I don’t think I could ever get used to. That’s nothing I can explain though, you’ll just have to wait and hear it for yourself!
The Cotton Tree Lodge focuses on sustainable practices so they ask that you shut all lights and fans off whenever you leave the cabana. They also have a limited amount of hot water so showering was hit or miss. But they bring you fresh water daily and make up and turn-down the room for you every morning and night!
The mosquito nets over the bed are necessary and practical but also create a whimsical feel to the rooms. The beautiful wood construction of all the furniture and the cabana itself, accompanied by the grass roof, really transport you to a jungle getaway.
Adventures and Activities
Being that the Cotton Tree Lodge is so remote, they offer a ton of their own activities and excursions to choose from. There was only a small amount of people staying at CTL while we were there, so every night at dinner, we coordinated with the other guests to plan out excursions and who would be interested in what!
Our first full day, my friend Kristen and I went out with a guide to Tiger Cave, located in the San Miguel area. Equipped with helmets and head lamps, we followed our guide deep into a cave with very few sources of natural light, but ALL the amazing sights to look at. This activity was listed as ‘Difficult’ and they were not kidding about that. I struggled at points, needed assistance from my friend and our guide and eventually hit a point where we needed to turn around and go back. But it was a fascinating and exciting adventure none-the-less.
Following the cave hike, our guide took us to a beautiful bright blue pond, where we ate our prepared lunch (Chicken, rice, veggies & fresh squeeze mango juice!) and went for a very refreshing and much deserved swim in the water. On the way back to the lodge, our guide taught us a lot about the farming of this area and the system of agriculture that they use. It’s all very different than how the U.S. grows food.
The next day, we took a bus to the small village of Santa Ana to visit Mrs. Bo, a tiny Mayan local. She taught us how to make fresh tortillas from start to finish and told us all about her family and what it was like living in the villages of Southern Belize. They don’t have much money in these villages but they live very simply and for the most part are self-sustaining families with large plots of land. We then got to eat our hard work in the form of eggs, tomatoes and fresh made corn tortillas, and then said our goodbyes.
We opted to kayak back to the lodge from the village which was longer than expected but a beautiful trip. (BRING SUNSCREEN!) We spent the rest of the day lounging and swimming in the river with some drinks in hand, a much appreciated break from the activities.
We were able to get a group together to go on the sunset boat cruise down the river to the ocean. The guide stopped multiple times to point out howler monkeys and tucans high up in the trees and pointed out all the best photo ops! We had hoped to also take a snorkel trip out to the reef but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate.
They keep a book of the activities and their descriptions in the main lodge for you to read through. They have everything from Chocolate tours, shopping trips, extreme hikes and even nighttime jungle survival treks! Whatever you are interested in, they’ll have something for you.
If you prefer to stay at the lodge to relax, you can spend some time doing some yoga, getting a massage at the spa, having some drinks by the river, or playing games in the main lodge.
Farm to Table Fresh
I think that my favorite part of the whole experience was the food! They have a farm to table system at the lodge, where most of their food is grown right on the premises, including some animals for their meats. They also will cook up the fish you catch during the day if you opt to head out on one of their fishing boats!
Every morning for breakfast, we had an array of eggs, meat, rolls, and fresh fruit to fuel your day. Then typically most people had packed lunches during their excursions, which were exceptional and much better than the typical sandwich lunch.
Nothing beat the dinner experience though. We had a family style dinner every night where we sat at a big table with all the guests and listened to everyone tell about their days! We usually started with a light appetizer, followed by soup, salad, a fresh and hearty dinner, and a delicious dessert! I was not disappointed by a single thing I ate over the 4 days that we were there.
One night they even had a guest chef from the vegan restaurant in Punta Gorda. He came out and talked to us for a while, telling us all about his passion for cooking, and his dreams of creating a healing center and farm. Love learning about locals and their lives.
Would I recommend it?
I’ll start off by saying that the Cotton Tree Lodge is a COMPLETELY different experience from anywhere else I’ve ever stayed. We loved every single moment of our stay and I will forever look back on those few days as one of the coolest trips I ever went on. That being said, I do not think that the Cotton Tree Lodge is for everyone.
If you are afraid of big bugs or lizards, it is not for you.
If you need air conditioning at all times and do not like sweating, it is not for you.
If you are a picky eater, and don’t like trying new things, it is not for you.
Beyond that though, I would recommend it to absolutely anyone! Especially if you like learning about culture, agriculture, sustainability, or enjoy venturing off the beaten path! There is no better way to learn about the culture of a new country than completely immersing yourself in it and learning from the locals themselves. Cotton Tree Lodge went above and beyond to create this experience in a way that was both interesting and fun!
Thank you so much for hosting us! Hope to make it back sometime!
To read more about the Cotton Tree Lodge, check out my new friend Malin’s post about her stay at the lodge! Travels with MK. Until next time…