Crossing the border between Mexico and Belize was like stepping out of Latin America and into another continent. With influences from Garifuna, Creole, Maya, and Mestizo, it really stands out a bit. This country does not use Spanish as their official language, but English, and after being approached in Spanish for quite some time at this point, I accidentally answered people back in Spanish.
Belize is the youngest nation in Central America, which gained independence in 1981. The inland is filled with thick jungles, wildlife, and Mayan ruins. While the coastline offers endless island cayes in the Caribbean Sea.
My first stay in Belize was at Cotton Tree Lodge, down south, by the Moho river outside the town of Punta Gorda. I went with a night bus from Cancun to Belize City, which took about 8-9 hours and cost me 45 US$. At the border, all non-Belizean/Mexican passport holders need to pay a 30 US$ visa fee. Do not expect much from the bus station in Belize City, it is very simple with a few wooden benches, a few kiosks which sell drinks and snacks as well as a man selling tickets to inland buses.
I would say that more than 95% of the buses are old American school buses and for those who have never gone on one before, let me tell you that they are not the most comfortable ones. James Buses are the number one bus company who goes down south, and they have about 8-10 departures per day with two options being an express bus, which takes 5 hours and one that takes 7 hours by stopping more frequently and picking up people on the road.
Well down in Punta Gorda, a staff member from Cotton Tree Lodge picked me up at the station. They had sent me an e-mail beforehand asking when I would be there, and I had told them that I would try and catch the 7 am bus and since I had no Wi-Fi to access I had the bus driver call a number I had received.
The Cotton Tree Lodge amazed me by first sight! It is a jungle dream come true with 12 cabanas that sleep up to 4 people in each, all located in a blossoming garden with cacao, banana and mango trees. The lodge has its own dock by the Moho river where you can swim and relax. There is a spa-cabana where the therapist offers several massages and treatments. The gazebo is a smaller cabana where guests are welcomed to participate in daily free yoga classes with an instructor as well as borrow a mat to practice on individually at any point.
The lodge is eco-friendly and tries to run as sustainable as possible with minimum waste of electricity and water. This without making it less comfortable for the guests. All cabanas have fans, both on the floor and in the ceiling, but guests are simply asked to turn the lights and fans off while not in the cabanas. The lodge also provides drinking water to the guests, both in the room and the main cabana, where ones can fill up their bottles.
The lodge has its own organic garden where they grow all kinds of plants, vegetables, and fruits, and they work their meals around what they got. By staying at the lodge, you can choose to book an all-inclusive stay which includes accommodation, three meals a day as well as some drinks and activities. You can also choose to book accommodation only and then handpick what more you want on the spot. The main cabana has a reception, a small gift shop, a bar, and a kitchen, and this is where guests can interact with one another and dine. The kitchen serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with dinner being a four-course meal with an appetizer (so it is really like a five-course meal). When fully booked they might, however, do a buffet instead.
There is no Wi-Fi, but they do have phones that can be rented in which you could connect your own device with a hotspot. I myself choose to keep myself disconnected throughout these days. Highly recommended!
When it comes to things to do and see you will not be left hanging as the lodge offers a large number of activities ranging from on land tours, river and sea excursions and cultural experiences. You can also choose to rent a kayak or a tube for a day and cruise along the river on your own. All staff is locally employed by the nearby Mayan villages of San Filipe and Santa Ana or Punta Gorda with its surroundings.
The bird and wildlife around the lodge is magical. There are iguanas on the ground, howler monkeys in the trees and birds singing all day long. Imagine laying in and hammock on a porch with a warm breeze on your skin and to go to bed and waking up with all the natural music given to you. My stay here was my first sponsored one, but I have been to a few lodges in these kinds of environments by now and the Cotton Tree Lodge is by far my favorite!