The Cotton Tree Lodge is one of the most unique vacation experiences I've had. The facility and it's surroundings are beautiful, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and the food and drinks were always excellent. I highly recommend opting for the all-inclusive package, which includes all meals, non-alcoholic drinks and one tour per person per day. The money you'll save on paying for individual tours is substantial, and there are no other restaurants anywhere near CTL, so you'll want to eat all your meals there, anyway.
I loved that meals were served from a buffet setup, and that the dining tables were setup family-style. This made it much easier to get to know other people staying at CTL, and I made some great new friends because of it. The food was always fresh and ingredients were locally-sourced whenever possible. Each meal consisted of one entree offering which was posted on a board outside the kitchen every morning. In the event I wouldn't eat the main dish, the kitchen staff would always go out of their way to accommodate me with something else...and the alternative meal was always just as impressive as what they'd cooked for everyone else. Drinks at the bar, especially those which included tropical fruit juices, were excellent if a bit overpriced at $7 US each. On the plus side, they were always strong and never watered-down.
I stayed in the "honeymoon" cabana, which boasts it's own private two-person hot tub overlooking the Moho river (more on this later.) The room itself was quite large, with a king-sized bed, a table and chairs, a large dresser/closet and plenty of space for luggage. I really enjoyed that the interior was constructed completely from local wood, and the soaring thatched ceiling was beautiful. The cabana also had a private terrace with it's own ceiling fan, a very comfortable hammock, two outdoor chairs and a cushy sofa. The inclusion of a ceiling fan was a great idea, as it keeps you cool while you're lounging in the hammock while also keeping the bugs away. The bed was surrounded with a mosquito net, had it's own ceiling fan and was flanked by plenty of power plugs for charging cameras, laptops, etc.
Speaking of laptops, Cotton Tree offers WiFi internet access for a daily fee. The connection certainly isn't lightning-fast, but it was more than adequate for posting photos online, surfing the web and checking e-mail. The fact they can offer it at all in their remote location is pretty amazing, and a very nice perk for guests.
The highlights of my stay were the local tours offered by CTL, which included swimming in the Blue Creek Cave, a visit to two local Mayan ruins, and a visit to Eladio's cacao farm. If you can only choose one, go see Eladio and let him show you how amazing the jungle is (and feed you nonstop along the way.) I've traveled to destinations all over the world and had more than a few amazing cultural experiences, but the day I spent with Eladio and his family is easily one of the most memorable of my life. Swimming through the Blue Creek Cave was also quite fun, and I'd highly recommend it as a second option.
As wonderful as my experience at CTL was overall, I did experience a few things that could use some improvement.
I love the idea of a hot tub in the honeymoon suite, but in reality, the eco-friendly setup at CTL just doesn't support this feature. The tub is gigantic and the water pressure, which is more than sufficient for a shower, is too weak to fill a tub of that size in a reasonable amount of time (it took well over two hours to fill.) This wouldn't have been a huge deal if I could have turned the hot water on, left for dinner, and come back to a full tub. But the gas-powered on-demand hot water heater automatically turned itself off after 15-20 minutes of operation, which meant the water going into the tub turned cold unless I cycled it on and off at the tap from time to time. When I finally got the tub filled, the water was brown and murky. This is something I'd expect in the middle of the jungle, and after I threw in some soap to make bubbles, I didn't notice it one bit. But many travelers would be put off by brown water in their bathtub. My advice is to skip the honeymoon suite and go for a less-expensive cabana with a traditional shower. CTL staff, if you're reading this, rip out that hot tub and install a large two-person steam shower in it's place (or, better yet, a private water slide from the terrace into the Moho river!!)
Another issue involved the "Magic Jungle Bus" used to transport guests for tours. It has an amazing paint job which basically exists to cover up the incredibly bad condition of the bus. Most exterior lights were broken and the entry stairs were badly damaged. Every time we turned a corner, the drivers door popped open and had to be slammed shut while he steered the moving bus. The passenger door also wouldn't close completely. The bus was very noisy, and the seats were old, uncomfortable and placed so closely together that most passengers didn't have room for their knees behind the seat in front of them. On paved roads the bus was uncomfortable but tolerable. On the heavily-rutted and bumpy unpaved roads leading to and from CTL and to many of the sites we visited, it was downright painful to ride in. As a finale, it broke down (blown transmission) and stranded our group by the highway for more than an hour while we waited for CTL staff to collect us in another van. The driver knew the bus was broken and immobile before we started our second tour, but instead of calling for another van to meet us afterwards, he waited until we were finished, eating 90+ minutes out of our day waiting for a rescue. The staff at CTL were very apologetic about the problem and offered us a complimentary cocktail when we returned, which certainly helped smooth things over. Regardless, that bus is uncomfortable and unsafe, and I certainly don't think it should be used to transport clients staying at a fairly high-end resort. Be sure to ask if your tour will be using the "Magic Jungle Bus," and request a different form of transportation if so.
Lastly, the bed in my cabana was quite uncomfortable. I sleep on a platform bed at home so I'm used to a mattress with no box springs, but the mattress on the bed was pretty worn out. I could feel the springs on my back when laying down on it. Not a good thing. The pillows were fantastic, however, making it easier to get some good sleep.
In the grand scheme of things, these were small problems during an otherwise fantastic stay at CTL. If you're thinking about booking a stay here, keep in mind that this is not the same kind of experience as you'd have staying at a traditional hotel. The rooms are spectacular, but they have no windows and are open to the world. This means you'll hear every noise of the jungle, including the extremely loud howler monkeys. If you're a light sleeper, I'd definitely suggest packing a set of earplugs to wear when you go to bed.
I'd also suggest bringing at least two or three cans of bug spray. You're going to the jungle, after all, and the jungle has lots of insects that enjoy biting humans. Deep-Woods Off did the trick for me, and I left almost completely unbitten even after trekking through the jungle on multiple days. Others who arrived without bug spray weren't so fortunate. If you're prone to itching a lot when you're bitten by insects, bring along a box of Benadryl tablets and some Cortisone cream in case a bug gets through your line of bug spray defense.
Flip-flops have absolutely no place at CTL or in any other location in Belize, including the beach. Water shoes are must, however, and when I say water shoes, I mean those outdoorsy semi-open sandals that look like hiking boots with holes in them. If you don't own a pair, buy one before you come. You'll be glad you did.
Another little info nugget is that visitors to CTL are asked not to flush toilet paper, as it wreaks havoc on their eco-friendly waste composting system. Instead, visitors are asked to put their used toilet paper in a trash can next to the toilet, which is emptied daily. I'm not a fragile kind of guy, but this was a very strange adjustment to make. It became second nature after a few days, but pre-arrival heads-up before I arrived might have been a good thing. I certainly don't count this as a "complaint," especially seeing as how CTL prides itself on being ecologically friendly. I bring it up only so people who visit CTL in the future will know what to expect.
As I've said multiple times, I loved almost every minute of my visit to Cotton Tree Lodge, and if you make sure you know ahead of time (and prepare yourself for) the quirks that accompany staying in a remote, eco-friendly jungle lodge, you'll have an amazing experience. I would highly recommend Cotton Tree Lodge to anyone looking for a unique, "once in a lifetime" kind of vacation experience.
Skip the honeymoon suite, as the hot tub is a pain to deal with. The jungle cabana is VERY remote an...
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