by, 12-16-2013 at 02:46 PM (958 Views)
I have always found Belize to be a fascinating little country with a more Caribbean than Latin influences. On this our 3rd Belizean adventure, we chose to explore the more remote southern Toledo district. Most tourists (or whatever you want to call yourself) do not travel further south than Placentia which apparently is the hot new destination in Belize. Thanks to a new package which appeared on Luxury Link we had the opportunity and a great deal to stay at the Cotton Tree Lodge near the small town of Punta Gorda.
PG, as the locals call it, is the southernmost sizeable town in Belize with a population of around 5,000. PG can be reached from Belize City via Maya Island or Tropic Air, James Bus Line or you can rent a car in Belize City and drive for approximately 4 1/5 hours to reach the lodge. There are also water taxis in PG to transport you to/from Livingston and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.
The Toledo district is noted for its chocolate and there a few chocolate factories around the area, including Cotton Tree Chocolate which we visited during our few hours in PG excellent offerings! There is not a whole lot to do in PG and we went on market day which is the best time to visit since you are pretty much assured everything will be open. We purchased some nicely made local baskets at one of the little cooperative craft shops and discovered the small Snack Shop for some excellent fresh fruit smoothies for BZ $4. There are also quite a few well regarded jungle lodges in the PG and Toledo district area Cotton Tree Lodge, Lodge at Big Falls, Belcampo Lodge, Tranquility Lodge, and Hickatee Cottages.
Cotton Tree Lodge was built in 2006 and opened for business in 2007. The lodge is around 12 miles from PG and between the 2 small Mayan villages of Santa Ana & Santa Felipe (from which most of the CTL employees hail from) and is on the banks of the Moho River. The lodge offers 3 different accommodation tiers: all inclusive which includes room, all meals, transfers and all tours, full board which includes everything except the tours, and room only which includes breakfast and room. For the room only option lunch is available for US $12 and dinner for US $24 per person. Alcoholic beverages are extra and I thought they were a bit pricey local Belikin beer US $5 and frozen drinks like Pina Coladas are US $9, however, I did not get a chance to see what these types of drinks cost in the little PG bars to compare. The lodge has fresh fruit and vegetables from their organic garden and there is also a farm with goats (fresh goat cheese yum!), sheep, pigs, and chickens (fresh eggs for breakfast!). Salads made with different types of fresh greens were delicious. The lodge focus is on ecotourism and is pretty much off the grid and uses solar panels and generators for electricity so you can expect the occasional brown out. Toilets are composting and waste flows through an intricate piping system into self-contained tanks which are drained by the banana trees pretty clever! Internet and cell phone access is spotty so if you really, really are one of those folks who need to stay connected this may not be the place for you. There is also no TV or air conditioning cooling is provided by ceiling and floor fans in the main lodge and the cabanas. We totally loved being off the grid during our stay.
There are on site activities at the lodge swimming and kayaking in the river, bird watching, and hiking around the beautiful 100 acre property. Offsite tours are US $99/pp if not on the all-inclusive package and include visits to Mayan ruins, Garifuna villages, snorkeling at the off shore cayes. Chocolate making, and cave exploration. We were there for relaxation and did not do any tours, however, the few other guests that were there during our stay said they were very enjoyable.
Our 5 night package was for the deluxe cabana, transfers, breakfast each day and 1 dinner we upgraded to include all meals which I highly recommend as PG is the only option for dining and you never know what will or will not be open on any particular day and even though PG is only 12 miles away, you are looking at a ride of 45 minutes each way depending on road conditions and at night it is really, really dark! We also wanted experience the Jungle House so we also upgraded to include this.
We arrived at the lodge around 4:30pm on a Sunday evening and were welcomed with cool drinks which were greatly appreciated after a long day of travelling! I dealt with the lodges US office for all our upgrades and I am not sure if it was due to the spotty phone/internet coverage at the lodge or not, it turned out the lodge never received the information and had a different cabana ready for us luckily I had my receipt showing that we had paid extra to include all the meals and the jungle house so all was straightened out. The owner and staff are all friendly and make you feel at home.
We were told our accommodations would be ready after dinner so we sat outside for a bit enjoying the beautiful and peaceful grounds until appetizers were served at 6pm (delicious beef empanadas). Dinner starts at 7pm each night and is a set menu (you let the lodge know ahead of time if you have any dietary restrictions) and since it was Sunday they serve that all time Belizean favorite chicken, rice and beans which I have to admit is not one of my favorite but since we had been to Belize before, I knew to expect this meal and all its variations. Dinner is usually served family style with all the guests at one table, however, we were tired an opted to sit at a table for two. The meal was wholesome and filling good but not great, although the salads are excellent. Coffee and tea are set out on a beverage station along with filtered water. If you are a black tea drinker like I am, I would recommend bringing your own like I always do as they had run out of black tea but did have various herbal teas available.
After dinner it was off on the Ό mile walk through the jungle to the jungle house an interesting walk in the dark bring your flashlight! The JH is a 2 story a frame structure with a thatch roof and screened walls built up on pilings no real privacy with just screens for walls but who is walking around in the pitch black jungle at night to see you ;-) You go up a few steps to enter and the 1st floor consists of a decent size bathroom with sink, toilet and shower stall. You go up a steep set of stairs (like on a boat) to the 2nd floor which contains a table, 2 chairs, small wood shelving for your clothes, and a king size bed covered by a mosquito netting. A ceiling and floor fan provide cooling. There is also a small deck off the 2nd floor. We did not find it very comfortable and felt cramped. There was also a musty smell which we attributed to thatch roofs not drying very well in humid, jungle conditions. A couple of the staff guys walked our luggage over and discovered that there was no hot water they use tank less water heaters and some minor repairs were in order. We also noticed the structure swayed and felt like being on a boat and we were a bit nervous about the stability of the structure. And then I noticed we had some visitors beetles and lots of them and I for one am not a fan of bugs, especially the hard exoskeleton variety! We were exhausted so we crawled into the bed, after getting the beetles out of the bed and made sure the mosquito netting was closed. I had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom so I grabbed the flashlight and headed down stairs on my way back up I felt something on my leg and sat down on one of the chairs, shined the flashlight on my leg and discovered 5 beetles clinging to my pajama pants and to top it off they fly one flew into my head and then I lost it and started screaming the beetles are attacking me! This of course woke the hubby up and he leaped out of bed to see what was wrong and I am babbling about the beetles and he was laughing while swatting them off I had to take a sleeping pill in order to fall back asleep with visions of beetles dancing in my head. Around 4:30am the howler monkeys started and that was it for anymore sleep on our 1st night in the jungle.
Breakfast starts at 7am and after a hot shower, we headed to the main lodge and needless to say, the 1st stop for me was the office where we requested a different cabana. While the location of the JH is great and the jungle sounds are awesome, it needs some work in order to comfortably stay there for a few nights! We were offered 2 different options and after breakfast we would choose which one.
When there are multiple guests at the lodge as there were our 1st 2 days, breakfast is served buffet style and consists of scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, bread, juice, coffee, tea and water breakfast was good but again not great many items were cold and it could have been done much better. Our last 3 days, we were the only guests so we were served breakfast, however, we were not asked what we would like 1 day was fried eggs, one day scrambled and 1 day an omelet all were served with re fried beans, bread and either bacon or sausage we had to ask for juice and only had fruit the 1st day. Bread is baked on the premises and is excellent I ate a lot of bread.
After breakfast the other guests (a family of 3 from Utah and 2 women travelling together) left to go on their tours and we picked our new cabana we picked the 2 bedroom cabana because it had a coffee maker (the only one that does) which is perfect for me to make hot tea to drink while sitting on our deck in the evening. The 2 bedroom cabana is spacious with a queen bed in one bedroom and a queen bed and set of bunk beds in the other, a shared nice size bathroom and a spacious deck with 2 hammocks, 2 chairs and a loveseat with table we spent a lot of time on the deck enjoying the birds and views of the jungle. All beds are covered with mosquito nets which are needed as there are bugs mosquitos, spiders, ants and the occasional roach. We were at the lodge in early December which is the end of rainy season so there were quite a few mosquitos I suggest some sort of insect repellent. I use permethrin spray on my clothes and I only had a few bites while my husband who does not like to use anything had quite a few bites.
The cabanas do have electricity and are all cooled by fans no air conditioning the fans worked just fine and in fact on a few evenings we used light weight blankets which was surprising considering the days were pretty hot upper 80s to low 90sF and away from the lodge it was also humid. The cabanas are all connected by wooden walkways to the main lodge area, the garden and farm areas. The main lodge is very comfortable and has nice seating areas, a large dining area, gift shop, bar, kitchen and the office. There is also a very nice gazebo near the river with 2 comfy couches where we also spent a lot of time checking out the river birds and just relaxing and enjoying the peacefulness. There is also a bar near the river and we found out that during different times of the year, they have some outdoor entertainment Garifuna drummers, local dancers, etc. There is also a rope swing for swinging and jumping into the river for a swim.
Lunch is served from 12 -2. As the other guests were on tours with lunch packed for them, we had lunch time to ourselves on all 4 days stewed chicken, a hamburger, fried chicken again filling and good but not great. Appetizers are served at 6pm each evening in the bar area and they were some of the best things I ate at the lodge beef empanadas, seafood salad served on lettuce leaves, fried eggplant with dipping sauce these were some of the offerings. Dinner on some of our other nights consisted of red snapper, stuffed pork loin (the best dinner I had there), shrimp and rice, pasta, sausage and tomato sauce. Other than the pork loin and the appetizers, I did not find any of the meals to be particularly memorable menu in my opinion could use a bit of work.
Guests tend to turn in early in the jungle and we usually headed back to our cabana around 9pm at the latest. Our last 2 days, we were the only guests which has its pros and cons we got to hang out with the owner and heard many, many interesting stories and learned about how he discovered the property, building the lodge, life at the lodge and in the surrounding villages a definite pro. We also got to check out many of the other cabanas and take pictures for everyone to see. One of the cons of being the only guests is we felt we did not get to actually experience how it would have been with more guests would the food have been better for example? When we go on vacation, we usually try to cram as much as we can into the trip, however, we had decided that this time we were going to just relax and not do much of anything and we succeeded. The location of the lodge is excellent and we very much enjoyed getting away from TV, internet, cell phones and all the noise you encounter in our home town of Philadelphia. Thank you Chris for finding the location and building this jungle paradise and thank you to all the staff for being so nice and friendly and making us feel at home.
Since we had obtained such a great deal to do this trip we thought it was very nice and enjoyable, however, we both felt that if we had paid full rack rate we would have been disappointed, although, maybe since there were few other guests and we were the only guests for our last 3 nights, we did not experience the full A game maybe the meals would have been better if more guests had been there hard to tell.
Would we return in the lodges present condition if the price was right yes the location is excellent, the owner and all the staff is great and with some tweaking of the menu and updates to the cabanas, especially the jungle house, this would be a great place and then who knows, we would consider paying the full rate! It certainly was one of the most relaxing and peaceful trips we have experienced.
Here is the link to our pictures: