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 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
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 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
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.
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
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.