Cotton Tree Lodge – Punta Gorda, Belize

Isn’t it great when a hobby becomes something that works in your favour? During a heavy procrastination session at work, I posted a travel photo from many moons ago & hashtagged the crap out of it. Low & behold, it led to the Cotton Tree Lodge reaching out, & leading me on one of the most fulfilling & educational adventures of mine to date. This review is purely of the hotel & activities that I took part in, & there’ll be additional travel diary content after.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Cotton Tree Lodge. For the most part, I’d never considered Southern Belize as a destination for me. The Caye’s? Yes! The Deep Blue Hole? Yes! The 2nd largest Barrier Reef in the world? Yes! Punta Gorda? Punta… who?! But boy am I glad they did. A trip with little expectations really opened my perspective & allowed me to align on some personal goals, all within an idyllic setting for creativity. So for now, sit back & watch me launch praise on this ECO retreat in the heart of the Belizean jungle.

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Getting Here

The Cotton Tree Lodge is situation in one of the most Southern points of Belize, near Punta Gorda. There are 3 options of getting here from Belize City, the route I took:

  • Flying – Maya Island Air & Tropic Air Belize both offer daily flights. They range in price between $120 – $ 180 USD. This is your most costly method of transport, but also your quickest from Belize City.
  • Rent a car – Again, not the cheapest method for the budget traveller, although this isn’t a budget resort. The drive would take around 4 hours, & it’s a great way to soak in the Belizean coast & jungle scenery.
  • Public bus – Now here’s where the fun begins! There is a luxury, 4 hour air conditioned bus you can take, leaving Belize City at 5/6AM. Who’d want to do that though? Jump on the James Bus at Belize City bus terminal for $24BZ ($12USD) & take a 6.5 hour, stuffy bus with all the locals & their chickens. The taxi from the airport would cost $25USD.

I’m presuming you can guess which option I went for. Not only did I sweat in my fleece, but I learnt a lot about the culture I was immersing myself in, & the community I was about to spend the next 7 days with.

The great thing about the Cotton Tree Lodge is if you take public transport, you can easily arrange a pick-up at either the local airport or at the bus terminal. Sammy, my driver & also groundsman at the Cotton Tree Lodge, was eagerly awaiting to meet me (maybe that’s an exaggeration), in the heart of Punta Gorda.

Now I know what you’re thinking, as I thought the same. How can a 24KM journey take 45 minutes?? Well, after getting off the highway, you will plummet onto the jungle roads, where caution is wise. Potholes are everywhere due to the flash rain showers the jungle gets, pigs are in the road & there’s a certain calmness irrespectively to life in the South. Either way, the last couple of minutes build up that excitement, & it’s eventually realised when driving through the gates for the first time. The huge cotton tree shadows down over you, & the wooden cabanas dust the horizon.

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The Room

I was blessed again to be gifted the Deluxe Cabana overlooking the Moho River, which leads directly to the Caribbean Sea. I remember walking up to my cabana, along the wooden panels that deck the entirety of the resort, murmuring “oh.. my.. God”. This didn’t change upon entering the room. They’re all uniquely designed, beautifully crafted by the locals (it’s custom in Belize for the male community to come together & build the houses, while the women cook), & art is crafted by many of the WorkAway volunteers. It’s an example of great community building, & singular entity relaxation.

My room had 2 beds, which was ample space for me & my hand luggage. Mosquito nets hang over the bed which gave it a luxury feel, yet the wood perfectly counterbalanced this to keep the authentic, jungle feel. The bathroom also feels luxurious, & it’s hard to believe it’s completely eco & solar powered, especially when that warm water sprinkles over your sunburn.

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The balcony was perfect for me. 2 hammocks, iguana’s lounging in the Caribbean sun, & birds whistling as I gazed over the horizon. There’s a hint of privacy, but the resort has a community feel which I loved, & conversation on the balcony doesn’t go a miss.

Each room is different, with custom artwork being provided by local & work-away artists. The layouts are unique, & there’s even a boat cabana, which can be your own private retreat in this private jungle retreat! A real home, away from home.

Amenities

I was pleasantly surprised with the abundance of amenities straight from lodge. In addition to the activities, which I will get to, there are plenty of things to do in the resort. These are:

  • Rent bikes to see the local villages & nearby cocoa farms
  • Use the kayaks for Moho River escapades
  • Rope swing into the Moho River!
  • On-site spa, with wonderful massages & a complimentary 10 minute massage to welcome you into the lodge
  • Morning yoga – a perfect way to prepare you for the day!
  • Plenty of board games, cards, & family fun in the main lodge
  • A boozy bar with an experimental barman
  • Laundry service
  • Room service
  • Bar food, in addition to the farm to table delights. The burrito is a pretty wholesome “snack”
  • Fishing gear for your inner angler

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Activities

There’s an abundance of choice for people of all fitness levels & interests from the Cotton Tree Lodge. Unless you have a car, these are very difficult, & you’re charged a decent price for the pleasure of doing these. Having said that, included in each tour is usually your lunch, transportation, & any admission that may be needed. Plus, your money is benefitting communities that need it more than us. Our tour guides were Nate & Manuel. Nate’s a native (classic) so doing the Mayan Ruin Excursion was definitely a highlight, as the culture, history & spirit was well & truly embedded in him. Belizeans try to keep the Mayan culture alive & host regular events to celebrate the different Mayan sub-cultures (Creole, Mopan, Kekchi Maya & many more). WATERFALL AT THE END

Another highly recommended tour is Eladio’s Cocoa Farm Tour. He takes you around his 30 acres with passion & spirit, teaching you the ways of his 40+ years experience. Eladio’s personality is infectious, & you can’t help feel a part of the farm when he shows you around. For an older guy too, he moves pretty damn good! Afterwards, you spend time in Eladio’s home & family, which includes 15 children & their offspring. Christmas must be a real experience! Lunch was delightful, & then seeing the work & process go into chocolate making gives you a new found appreciation for that chocolatey goodness! It’s a rigorous process which I will describe in another post.

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The final tour was the Blue Creek Adventure Swim. I was actually slightly apprehensive about this, I didn’t think it would be worth it. Turns out it was a great tour. The exploration takes a couple of hours, but being immersed in complete darkness is really cool, seeing a variety of rock formations & bats swooping overhead as you voyage through the water.

Exploring the grounds is also a fun, & inexpensive way to do an easy tour on a down day. Going into the jungle & looking for Howler Monkeys, borrowing bikes or kayaks & exploring the local neighbourhoods or simply checking out the farm, there’s always adventure at the Cotton Tree!

For a full list of Cotton Tree Lodge Activities, follow this link

Staff

Arguably the most endearing feature of the Cotton Tree Lodge are the people. I spent a lot of time chatting with Blue, the barman, who has aspirations of travel to sharpen his trade. Sammy, one of the groundskeepers, is a devoted family man, who actually spent 24 hours in the actual Cotton Tree, ensuring the satellite picked up the internet signal! Valerie & Estevan head the front-desk. Val is the longest standing employee at the lodge having worked there for 8 years. Estevan is the communications manager & is extremely charming! There are so many people to list, & I express my complete appreciation & gratitude for your hospitality during my stay.

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