So the plan was to meet up with Vanessa and the chocolate group on Saturday night and then stay in Punta Gorda rather than the Cotton Tree Lodge. The trip was going marvelously for the first few hours and then the clutch slipped. We were only miles outside of the Lodge turnoff and the clutch kept going in and out so after a bit of that we pulled off to the side of the road to give the vehicle a break. Neither of us is very mechanically inclined so we were hoping this was a “reboot the computer” situation. I peed in the bushes on the side of the road – there aren’t many restrooms on the Belize highways – and we waited for about 10 minutes looking under the hood to see if anything was obviously broken or smoking. Finally we decided to fire it back up again and see what happened. Thankfully it started right back up and we were on our way again without clutch issues. We made it to the Lodge a little worn out but very happy to be there. The very first thing I noticed walking on to the grounds from the parking lot was the gigantic cotton tree situated right next to their walking path. It is a phenomenal site. Once in the Lodge we learned that the group we were meeting had just arrived so it was perfect timing – we hung out at the bar and waited for them to get settled in. We met Chris Crowell the owner and chatted with him for a few minutes and just took in the scenery. The Lodge is situated between a beautiful river and the jungle so an array of nature’s voices can be heard, especially at night.
We quickly decided that we would rather not drive anymore and rented a cabaña there for the night. We went back to the vehicle and grabbed our backpacks to settle in to the room. It was beautiful – a circular room with screened in windows, thatch roof and right next to the river. We could hear the howler monkeys in the distance while we unpacked.
That night was a bit of a blur, we were tired and everyone else was exhausted from their travels that day so it was an early night for everyone. The trip seemed to be off to a great start except for the little setback with the vehicle but that would be taken care of the next day.
Here are the highlights…
Punta Gorda, Belize
I had never experienced PG (Punta Gorda) so I was a little disappointed that our day of exploration in PG was on a Sunday when everything was shut down. It was like a ghost town – I thought Corozal was bad on Sundays, but this was far worse. We had dropped off the vehicle at the mechanic Chris uses (he was nice enough to call the guy and lead us to him) so we had a few hours to kill before we could pick it up again. We spent a lot of that time talking with Chris at his new pizza shop in town. He was finishing up some of the final touches before having a soft open the next day. We got to try a slice of the pizza and it was delicious – you rarely find good pizza in Belize so if you find yourself in PG check out his little shop just upstairs from the Cotton Tree chocolate factory/store in town.
Nature’s Way: Punta Gorda
That night we decided to stay at a guesthouse called Nature’s Way which is located 3 blocks south of the central park and across the street from the water. It is run by a man who goes by the name of Chet who was very friendly and helpful in telling us what we should not miss in Guatemala. Our room was very basic with a simple bed, desk, chair and fan. The bathrooms were shared and there was a community room that was equipped with a TV, computer (with internet access), books and a few games. Everything was very clean and it only cost us about $20 USD to stay for the night. The only real downside was if you are a late sleeper like me you will be awoken by the sunrise coming directly in window if your room faces east. Luckily we had to get up early so it didn’t bother me too much. Nature’s Way also serves breakfast, it was delicious and perfect before our boat ride to Guatemala.
We went to Guatemala via water taxi from PG. It cost us $40 BZD apiece and is about an hour and a half ride over. We had to pay the standard $37.50 BZD fee to leave the country and got stamped out before we got to the dock to wait for the boat’s arrival. We weren’t sure where to leave the vehicle for the three nights we would be gone but we found out for $10 BZD per night you can park a vehicle in a fenced-in lot next to immigration. Our boat left a bit late because we were waiting on a group to get through immigration – they had arrived a little late but we were in Guatemala before noon.
We did not have any itinerary at all for our trip to Guatemala which may reflect in some of my reviews so our plan was to do whatever looked good in that moment. It’s a way of traveling which I have grown accustomed to while living in Belize and traveling around the country. I will mention here that it is very beneficial to have at least some understanding of the Spanish language. Some people spoke English in Livingston but most spoke Spanish – luckily my bf has a solid intermediate level of Spanish, mine is basic at best.
As we were approaching the dock we could clearly see at least 10 men waiting for this boat full of tourists to grab immediately. About half the boat said “yes” to these men but we snuck around them as quickly as possible to get our bearings first. Note; the initial approach (especially coming right off a boat) is almost always the worst deal. Say no first then make a decision after checking things out – those guys will be there all day long. The very first thing you should do after disembarking is to go to the immigration office and check in to Guatemala (if you are coming from Belize). There are no signs to the office so to get there head straight up from the dock, up the hill and it will be on your left as you get to the top of the hill. There is also an ATM in a small blue enclosure on the opposite side of the street up a little – you should use the Guatemalan currency rather than USD (which they will take at a worse exchange rate). The official exchange rate is 8 Quetzal for 1 USD and the best way to get this exchange rate is at a bank. Okay, now that that is out of the way on to the fun stuff…
While we were in Livingston we walked a lot – just checking things out. It is a small town which has a main “tourist” street and is very easy to explore. The local people are mostly Mayan or Garifuna which is almost the same as Punta Gorda. It was strange coming from a place where everyone speaks English to a place where Spanish is predominantly spoken while the cultures are very similar in both places. The highlights of Livingston were Casa Rosada and the beach. There is a small beach which can be reached by foot when you are in town – it wasn’t crowded at all but the shore line wasn’t particularly clean either. There is a large grassy area, and then a small bit of sand before the ocean starts. The first few feet of sand in to the water is a bit littered but once you navigate through that it is a beautiful spot – black sand, warm water and an outstanding view. Our plan was to take a boat ride on the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) while we were in Guatemala so we hadn’t planned on staying in Livingston the entire time.
Casa Rosada: Livingston (http://www.hotelcasarosada.com/home.htm)
We had been told about a small hotel in Livingston that was cute and cheap to stay but the only thing we knew about it was there is an honor system for the beer/soda/water that you take from their cooler, and we had a vague idea about which direction it was in. So from the dock we went up and made our first left (before the hill) and just kept walking straight hoping for the best. We walked for a little ways and passed a couple hotels which didn’t interest us too much and then we were a bit discouraged when we passed through a section of the road where about three different places had hundreds of fish out to dry causing a very fishy smell. We kept walking though and happened upon a small sign for Casa Rosada hotel and restaurant so we went through the small gate having already given up on finding the place that was recommended to us. Through the gate was a garden oasis which seemed like its own little world. We quickly learned that they had an honor system for their beer and we knew we had found the spot by accident.
We saw the bungalows they offered which only have two single beds and are very small, but are also very cute with thatch roof and three walls of screened windows. They have shared bathrooms and showers but everything was extremely clean and inviting so we both felt like we should give it a shot – the price was great at around $20 USD.
We ended up staying here for all three nights of our Guatemala trip because it had a very unique and relaxing vibe – the only downsides were the single beds (which we pushed together) and the open thatch that let in a few mosquitoes that buzzed around our heads at night (there were single bed mosquito nets). Two of the three nights we enjoyed dinner at the hotel too (we should have eaten there all three nights) and it was absolutely delicious. By far Casa Rosada had the best food we ate in Guatemala. It is run by Javier and Sandra and a variety of languages are spoken by the owners and staff (Dutch, French, English, Spanish and Q’eqchi). You can book trips from the hotel and a boat will pick you up on their dock. The staff was friendly and informative and we even got to make friends with the pet cat that roams around the property.
Rio Dulce: Guatemala
For our second day in Guatemala we decided to book a trip on the Rio Dulce via boat. We boarded a boat in the morning along with a few other people expecting a lot – we had been told this ride was extraordinarily beautiful. We had not been lied to – it was a two hour ride of breathtaking scenery. If you are ever anywhere near this area of the world please put this trip on your list. The plan was to stay the night in the town of Rio Dulce but we didn’t have a clue where since we hadn’t planned anything in advance. When we docked and got in to town it was hot, loud and crazy. We were walking down the side of the main road with backpacks on trying to avoid getting hit by semi trucks, hungry, sweaty and frustrated. Here I will say that it would be advisable to have some idea of where you want to go when staying in Rio Dulce. Ultimately we didn’t find anything that looked better than our spot in Livingston so we turned right back around and got on a boat back to Livingston that afternoon. Moral of the story; go on the Rio Dulce and know where to stay when you get to town.
While back in Livingston we decided to try another day trip and booked two spots on a boat to Playa Blanca and the Seven Alters Waterfalls through the hotel. We got up early to eat breakfast and get to the dock but that morning the weather had turned gray and drizzly. We waited at the dock, the boat arrived and the sky was not looking good so when we pulled up to the gas station we jumped out of the boat and walked back to the hotel – a rainy day at the beach didn’t sound like much fun. Instead we spent a lazy day on the grounds of the Casa Rosada and walked around town a bit.
Back to Belize
It was Thursday morning when we left Guatemala and because of the day of the week there were no direct boats from Livingston to PG. Instead we had to take the water taxi to Porto Barrio, Guatemala and then take a boat from there to PG. It was a very windy day and the water was completely different than our ride to Guatemala so we had our jackets and jeans ready. In Porto Barrio we stamped out at immigration and bought a ticket to PG. We didn’t follow our own advice when buying the ticket and let the first guy who asked sell us a ticket and in doing so we ended up paying about $6 USD more per ticket than we should have. There are ticket agents very close to the dock that you can inquire about a price for tickets and you really should only pay 160 Quetzal per ticket. Regardless we got our tickets and made the trip back to Belize – it was cold and wet this time.
Cotton Tree Lodge: Belize (http://www.cottontreelodge.com/)
We headed back to the Cotton Tree Lodge when we arrived in Belize after a delicious lunch at Gomier’s Restaurant which is a vegetarian and seafood place on the right side of the road just past the ‘Welcome to Punta Gorda’ sign. The building is painted in Red, Green and Gold and the food was very yummy.
Back at the resort we finished our trip with two very relaxing days of kayaking, lounging and enjoying the company of the chocolate group. The Lodge is the perfect place to go to just get away. It’s secluded with plenty of activities to take part in; kayaking, nature walks, horseback riding, outside excursions or just a great place to lounge and read. It is predominately set up to be an all-inclusive package with on the ground activities and daily tours included as well as meals and soft drinks, but a room-only option is also available. We had an additional highlight during the last two nights because we were staying in the cabaña that was featured on this month’s edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine.
It was Saturday again and we were done with our trip and headed back to Corozal. It was an amazing week that I am so happy I got the opportunity to experience.