Connect with the People and Culture of Belize at the Eco-Friendly Cotton Tree Lodge

Cotton Tree Lodge
Visit the Cotton Tree to claim one of the eleven cabanas connected via wooden walkways that wind through tropical gardens. Each boasts a thatched roof, private bathroom, hammock, balcony, and ceiling fans.

I recently traveled to Belize for the first time. My visit was inspired by images of tropical beauty, wonderful food, amazing adventures and an alluring culture. With an affinity for seclusion and rustic accommodations, I checked into the Cotton Tree Lodge. Located in the Toledo district of Southern Belize, the Cotton Tree proved to be the perfect escape.

Cotton Tree Lodge
Ceiba Pentadra! The famous cotton tree that inspired the lodge!

Cotton Tree is a bit off the beaten path which is fine with me. From the International Airport in Belize City, I took a local flight, available through Maya Island Air or Tropic Air (I flew both), to Punta Gorda. I then boarded a Lodge shuttle for the 25-minute, often bumpy, ride to the property.

When you arrive, the first thing to greet you is the massive cotton tree that inspired the Lodge’s name. There I found eleven fully screened cabanas connected via wooden walkways that wind through tropical gardens. Each cabana features a thatched roof, private bathroom, hammock, balcony, and ceiling fans. The Main Lodge features a giant palapa roof with the regal cotton tree providing shade. This is the hub of the resort. Guests enjoy meals and cocktails here as they replay the day’s adventures.

The Cotton Tree is Eco-Friendly

Cabana interior at the Cotton Tree Lodge
Each fully-screened cabana is extremely comfortable making it easy enjoy the sounds of the rainforest at night, especially the howler monkeys! Pick a cabana that faces the river! And bring a flashlight for walking to your room at night!

However, the best part of Cotton Tree is that they focus on sustainable tourism. As an eco-hotel, Cotton Tree is an environmentally sustainable hotel and has made environmental improvements to its operations to minimize its impact on the natural environment.

The lodge boasts an organic garden and many fruit trees. These resources provide  chefs Marcelo Bo and Benjamin Mis fresh produce to prepare their delicious creations. One night I had freshly made pasta in pesto with stir-fry vegetables, the next I savoured coconut infused rice with a grilled catch of the day. I found all meals superb.

Gardener Armando Sam Cotton Tree Lodge
Gardener Armando Sam tends to the Lodge’s organic garden. He can even lead you on a survivalist tour into the rainforest!

Gardener Armando Sam loves to tell what he is growing or help you collect ingredients for the evening meal. Ask him and he’ll lead you into the rainforest to harvest edibles for your dinner including jippi jappa, cohune cabbage (heart of palm), and many others. This amazing man also leads a popular onsite tour called “Jungle Survival.” During this fascinating demonstration Armando will show you how to survive by using only the plants and animals of the rainforest.

The lodge currently raises free range chickens and goats, and will soon incorporate pigs. They also source catfish and snook just downriver from the lodge. Cotton Tree is serious about where they get their other ingredients and how they are grown/raised. They only purchase from local farms so the majority of what is served is sourced within a 10 mile radius.

Things to do  

The lodge is nestled between the Moho River, the rain forest, and the Mayan villages of San Felipe and Santa Ana. On the property itself, you can go kayaking, bird watching, swimming, practice yoga or simply relax in a hammock. But the real adventures start when you step off the property. You can easily connect with the people and culture of Belize on daily tours to villages, Mayan ruins, cacao farms, caves, waterfalls, and more.

The Blue Creek Cave
Blue Creek Cave Tour
Don your headlamp and jump in to experience a unique wet cave adventure!

My favorite excursion was to Blue Creek Cave. Here you take a short hike along the Blue Creek until you reach an entrance to the cave.  Then you don a headlamp and enter a pool of emerald blue water. As you swim into the cave the darkness envelopes you. Once inside the cave you encounter several dramatic waterfalls. When I reached the end of the cave, I rode the current downstream to emerge into natural light. This was an exhilarating experience!

Eladio’s Chocolate Tour

The Eladio’s Chocolate Tour was also worthwhile. In the hilly village of San Pedro Colombia lies Agouti farm, a cacao farm belonging to Eladio Pop. After meeting with the always jovial Eladio, you will walk along the trail to Agouti farm where the land subtly changes from wild jungle to cultivated agro-forestry. Eladio will explain his unique philosophy on nature and teach you about the organic agriculture techniques that he employs.

After this energetic tour of Agouti farm, you will ride back to Eladio’s house, where a delicious lunch of organic produce is waiting for you. I then enjoyed a demonstration of the drying, winnowing and grinding process that is undertaken to turn cacao beans into chocolate. With a new appreciation for chocolate, you will enjoy the samples of the local dark chocolate bars and a hot chocolate drink.

Cotton Tree Lodge
The Main Lodge is set under a giant palapa roof. Here you can enjoy a meal and a cocktail while recounting the day’s adventures.

If that is not enough, there is plenty to do in the Toledo District.

  • Examine the archaeological sites of Nim Li Punit at Lubaantun
  • Learn to play drums at Warasa Garifuna Drum School
  • Explore Hokeb Ha, Laguna and Tiger Caves in Blue Creek
  • Hike/Swim at Rio Blanco National Park
  • Experience an overnight at a Maya Village Homestay
  • Check out the offshore islands of Sapodilla Caye and Snake Caye
  • Visit the spice farm and experience the botanical gardens walking tour
  • Enjoy garifuna cuisine
  • Stop at the Punta Gorda Market

A Recommended Destination 

Torch Ginger Flower
While exploring the rainforest I came across this incredible flower. I am told it is called the torch ginger. I believe parts of it are edible!

While Belize is well-known for its beaches and diving opportunities (Great Blue Hole), I’m happy to observe that eco-lodges, like the Cotton Tree Lodge are gaining the attention of adventure travelers who seek lodging that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.

In the past it was only ardent travelers who would explore the Belizean rainforest. Today families, couples, and solo travelers are seeking to connect with nature, people and culture. And properties, like the Cotton Tree Lodge have responded to adventure seekers, travelers with kids, and even honeymooners looking to indulge in a beautiful, eco-friendly jungle setting.

 Hearing the sounds of the rainforest at night while attempting to count all the stars is magical for everyone. So, if you’re ready for seclusion, serenity, adventure, and relaxation, the Cotton Tree Lodge is the place for you.

Learn more

Cotton Tree Lodge
Moho River, Punta Gorda, Belize


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