Cotton Tree Lodge offers a range of complimentary excursions (free for guests who opt for the all-inclusive package) as well as some special tours (e.g. snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, sailing etc.) that are available at an extra charge. Walk-in guests or those on the Room Only plan are welcome to sign up for these tours at a rate of US $79 per adult and US $59 per child 12 and under. This rate does not include a 10% general sales tax. Water, juice, and a picnic lunch or snack are included on these excursions.
Each day guests have the opportunity to explore the Toledo District on one of the cultural, chocolate, adventure, or wildlife tours. You can visit Mayan villages and homes and connect with the local people or listen to the Afro-Carribbean rhythms of Garifuna drummers or taste the sweet tartness of the cacao fruit. Active guests will enjoy jumping from Rio Blanco Waterfalls or venturing into Tiger Cave. If you are looking to try something a little different, consider joining a volunteer project with Sustainable Harvest International.
Cotton Tree Lodge offers some of the most interesting and unique tours of any lodge in Belize. Their aim is to show you the real Belize and to support some of the sustainable practices and projects in the region. While every effort is made to accommodate your interests, local conditions in Belize often require some flexibility. Some tours are only available on certain days. Each day one, two, or three tours will be scheduled with a maximum of 10 guests on each. Most tours depart between 9 and 10am and return in the mid-afternoon. Our tours are accompanied by licensed local guides who are fluent in English and Mayan dialects.
At one time the area that is now known as Belize was the heart of the Mayan empire, which stretched from northern Honduras to southern Mexico. Mayan culture still poses many mysteries - its intricate pictographic script and complex mathematics and calender calculations were all highly specialized, yet the empire had already fallen by the time the Spanish arrived on the Belizean shores. Their descendents however still live throughout the region, scattered in small villages, living their traditional lifestyles and speaking a variety of Mayan dialects. Mayan culture is both dead and alive. The ancient ruins found throughout Mayan heartland bear witness to this once great culture. Visit the sites of Lubaantun, Nim Li Punit, and Pusilha.
Belize is the smalles country of Central America, yet culturally it is the most diverse. Even just within Toledo district there are 7 distinct ethinic groups: Mopan Maya, Kekchi Maya, Garifuna, Creole, East Indian, Chinese, and a small settlement of Mennonites as well as people with Spanish, English, or American backgrounds.
These cultural tours will introduce you to some of the food, music, and crafts of the Maya and Garifuna people. As a visitor to Santa Anna, Crique Sarco, Barranco, or Blue Creek, you may be welcomed into village homes and given the opportunity to interact directly with local people and their families.English is the official language of Belize, allowing you to communicate freely with your hosts. On these tours you will visit local artisans and craftsmen to learn about their arts and crafts.
To the ancient Maya and Aztec people, Cocoa was a sacred food of the Gods. The tropical lowland climate of southern Belize is perfect for growing cacao - the fruit that is processed into chocolate. Today, cacao is enjoying a new popularity as a cash crop for Mayan farmers in southern Belize. A small and quite unusual looking tree tree, cacao can be grown organically, prevents erosion, provides habitat for wildlife, and offers an alternative to slash and burn farming. Most farmers in Toledo sell their beans to the Toledo Cacao Grower's Association (TCGA). This Fair Trade cooperative, which was organized by Green & Black's chocolate, ensures that Toledoís farmers have a market to sell their cacao at a fair price.
Cacao farm tours to San Felipe village and San Pedro Columbia village are regular favorites with guests at Cotton Tree Lodge. See how cacao is grown, learn to process chocolate, and enjoy lunch with a Mayan family in their home.
Cotton Tree Lodge is associated with a Fair Trade, organic chocolate company, Cotton Tree Chocolate, and tours of the Cotton Tree Chocolate factory in Punta Gorda are offered frequently. Those who are truly interested in chocolate might consider joining one of our Chocolate Weeks (see special tours) in February or May. Participants visit cacao farms, meet with the TCGA, participate in chocolate making workshops, and leave with chocolate bars they made themselves.
The Toledo Cacao Festival in May is an annual celebration of chocolate in the Toledo District, as well as a showcase for the music, food, and art of the Mayan, Garifuna, East Indian, and Creole cultures of the region.
Belize has designated nearly half of its land as protected areas, and wildlife enthusiasts will be amazed by the unique and rare tropical creatures that live here: puma, jaguar, ocelot, gray fox, howler monkey, Central American spider monkey, tapir, peccary, red brocket and white-tailed deer, agouti, paca, Mexican porcupine, scarlet macaw, jabiru stork, toucan, ocellated turkey, harpey eagle and many others. In addition to animals, Belize is home to over 4,000 species of plants, including over 250 types of orchids.
Cotton Tree Lodge is located in the Toledo District, the most sparsely settled region of Belize, boasting miles of unspoiled coastal mangroves, tropical broadleaf forests, wetlands, and river ecosystems. Protected areas in Toledo include the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, the Columbia Forest Reserve, Bladen River Nature Reserve and The Rio Blanco Waterfall Park.The Temash, Sarstoon, Moho, and Rio Grande rivers all flow through this district and to the Caribbean.
Medicinal plants still flourish in the old growth rainforests around Cotton Tree Lodge, and some are growing in the gardens between the cabanas and Main Lodge. As you circle the boardwalk, you may see hand-painted signs pointing to the gumbo limbo tree (the bark is good for skin irritations) or cowsfoot (the leaf makes a tea good for indigestion), among others.Santiago Chub, a knowledgeable healer from Santa Anna village, regularly offers medicinal plant walks to our guests. Some tours stay on the property and trek into the dense jungle surrounding Cotton Tree. Other trips head to Santiago's home, where he has cut a medicinal plant trail into the hills behind his house and transplanted certain species to show you.Walks can last from 30 minutes up to an hour, depending on the interest of guests.
The medicinal plant walk at Santiago's home may be reached by horseback, horse-drawn buggy, or bicycle, or guests may arrange to kayak back to Cotton Tree from Santa Anna village.
Not far from Nim Li Punit ruins, the Itzama Medicinal Plant Garden in Indian Creek village is dedicated to studying and preserving traditional Mayan medicine. Species of medicinal plants from all over Toledo are transplanted and cultivated here. The garden is overseen by the Belize Indigenous Training Institute, which is attempting to establish an apprenticeship program for older healers to train a new generation in traditional medicine. Tours of the garden will introduce you to the BITIís conservation work and the dozens of species of medicinal plants which are growing here.
Just over the karst hills of Santa Anna and San Felipe is the Aguacaliente Wildlife Sanctuary, which was declared a protected area in 1998 and is co-managed by the Belizean government and the Aguacaliente Management Team - a consortium of representatives from the ten villages surrounding the sanctuary.
The protected area extends over 5, 492 acres of land and water, stretching from the Rio Grande River in the east to the Moho River in the south. Though it is small, Aguacaliente has been judged of particular importance by the National Protected Areas Policy and System Plan. The sanctuary features two ecosystems which are found nowhere else in Belize: tropical evergreen broad-leaved lowland swamp forest, Aguacaliente variant, and short-grass swamp savanna without trees or shrubs. Major features of the landscape include three fresh water lagoons, two hot springs, and several streams.
In the dry season, from February to May, guests here will have the opportunity to explore the area on a boardwalk and on hiking trails which lead to the hot springs and hills. The 5,000 acres provides habitat for orchids, butterflies, fish, turtles, deer, and the illusive tapir, but the main attraction is the birdwatching. Visitors to Aguacaliente can expect to see egrets, herons, cormorants, jabiru storks, and roseate spoonbills, just to name a few.
The endangered Scarlet Macaw is a magnificent bird identifiable by its white face, red body, and bright blue, green, and yellow details on its wings and tail. Macaws can grow up to 35 inches long, fly at speeds of up to 35 mph, live up to 75 years old, and mate for life. These macaws usually raise only one or two young each season, and just like humans not all pairs reproduce every year, so the population grows very slowly.
A small group of scarlet macaws migrates to southern Belize during the early part of the year, providing macaw enthusiasts and bird watchers with a great opportunity to observe these magnificent birds.
The Tour: Red Bank Village is about two hours from Cotton Tree Lodge. For this trip, you will depart the lodge around 6 am and drive north towards the Stann Creek District. Once you arrive in Red Bank, you will park your vehicle and continue the journey on foot - uphill or down winding jungle trails - where ever the Scarlet Macaws have been sighted that day. Along with the macaws you are likely to see hummingbirds, oropendolas, herons, parrots, and toucans in the dense jungle foliage. After your hike you will return to the village for a picnic lunch, then return to Cotton Tree in the early afternoon.This trip is only available from mid-January to March of each year.
For those who like hiking, climbing, jumping off cliffs, exploring, getting dirty, and having an adventure, Southern Belize is meant for you.Toledo is the least populated district of Belize, and just a short drive away from Punta Gorda town will find yourself surrounded by dense jungle, unusual creatures, waterfalls, and unexplored caves.
There is much to be discovered in Toledo by any adventurous spirit, and the trips in this section are meant to be challenging and memorable.They are all safe and accompanied by trained guides. However, we recommend that you be in good physical condition before you undertake them.
Looking to get your hands dirty, meet local families and make a difference on your vacation? Sustainable Harvest International is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing farming families in Central America with the training and tools to overcome poverty while restoring our planetís tropical forests. They oversee programs in Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, and right here in the Toledo District of Belize.
You are invited to join SHI for a day-long service project, which may include building a fuel-efficient wood burning stove, reforesting land, or planting an organic school garden. Working side-by-side with SHI families and staff, you will have the opportunity to learn first-hand about the cultures and communities you are assisting. You will also gain a deeper understanding of SHIís environmental and social efforts within Belize and across Central America. Your day of volunteering includes a traditional Belizean lunch prepared and served by an SHI family in their home.
Volunteer opportunities are available regularly on Wednesdays, but please contact firstname.lastname@example.org at least one week before your visit to Cotton Tree Lodge to make arrangements. SHI requests a tax deductable donation of $20 per volunteer or $50 per trip to defer the costs of staff time and materials.($50 for one volunteer, $25 each for two, or $20 each for three or more)
For further information and booking inquiries please send us and e-mail.