A few months ago I read an interesting article about the Florida Everglades, which got me to thinking. How is it that I’ve traveled all over the world and never been to the Everglades? I will admit that I don’t consider Florida an adventure destination. It’s for retirees and the Disney crowd or so I always thought. But upon further consideration, I realized the error of my thinking and set about rectifying my mistake.
The result of all my research and planning was a ten-day Florida Keys and Everglades Adventure. I’m going to save my Keys experience for another time as I want to focus on my favorite part of this trip—my Everglades Adventure. I discovered there are many great options for exploring the Everglades, but I ended up choosing Everglades Day Safari. In addition to liking all that it offered, I was impressed with its credentials. First of all, the company has been doing this since 1991. Secondly, they have been voted the “Everglades Best EcoTour” for twenty-two years in a row. And lastly, they have won several awards, including Florida Society of Ethical Ecotourism’s “Gold Level Certification” and Trip Advisor’s “Certificate of Excellence.”
After participating in this adventure, I know why! The day began with an exhilarating airboat ride across the “River of Grass.” In addition to the thrill of this Miami Vice style boat ride through sawgrass prairies and pond apple forests, we saw lots of gators (and baby gators too!), turtles, and swamp birds. Next, we took a wildlife drive in Everglades National Park where we saw lots of cool stuff while our guide shared a ton of fascinating facts about the Everglades. One of the reasons this company has received such high praise is that they use well-trained naturalists who truly seem to like their jobs, at least our guide, Amelia (who was getting ready to graduate with a degree in marine science and biology) sure seemed to. It is worth noting that Everglades National Park has the distinct honor of being an International Biosphere Reserve, Wetlands of International Importance, and World Heritage Site. It is one of only three places in the world to be on all three lists.
We had a delicious seafood lunch at the Oyster House in Everglades City (lunch is included in tour cost). This is where I ate my first alligator! I’ve had lots of interesting cuisine having traveled all over the world but never alligator—until now. It tasted like a mild white fish. After lunch, we took a nature hike in the 721,000-acre Big Cypress Preserve before climbing aboard a boat for our voyage into the Ten Thousands Islands mangrove forest. This is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. You should know that part of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is within Everglades National Park. As if this narrated scenic ride wasn’t spectacular enough, we were rewarded with an abundance of wildlife sightings including manatees, dolphins, and shore birds such as brown pelicans, snowy egrets, and white ibis. Roughly 350 species of birds, 50 reptile species, and 40 mammal species (including the endangered Florida Panther) can be found in Everglades National Park.
I didn’t realize beforehand how much of Florida we would cover during this ten-hour adventure. We saw the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. At one point we were just thirty-six miles from Naples. At another point, we were less than forty-five miles west of Miami. I really liked how much terrain we covered and how much we learned in just one day. And I really liked that for once I didn’t have to worry about looking at a map and navigating highways and byways.
It was a lovely way to explore the Everglades and I highly recommend it, but I have some tips if you’re going:
1. Wear 30 SPF sunscreen, insect repellent and comfortable shoes. Don’t bother primping as the wind (airboat) and humidity (everywhere) makes that a waste of time. Remarkably, we had no problem with insects but most of the time they are problematic given that we’re talking about the Everglades!
2. You will be given earplugs as you board the airboat but don’t panic. They aren’t necessary if you avoid the very back of the boat.
3. Approximately one million visitors come to the Everglades each year. This means you need to make reservations BEFOREHAND if you want to be guaranteed a space. You can go on your own but it will still be crowded and you may not be able to get a boat ride, at least not without a lengthy wait. Tour groups don’t wait. As soon as we were all assembled on the dock, we took off. You can do an Everglades excursion from elsewhere, such as the Upper Keys, but I think ones originating in the Fort Lauderdale area are best.
4. Tipping is expected EVERYWHERE in Florida. Tour guides, boat captains, trolley drivers, ghost walk leaders, bus drivers, and everyone else who interacts with tourists expects a tip. In case you forget, don’t worry. There are signs posted everywhere to remind you that “Tips are welcome.”
5. The company has an alternative to this adult-oriented tour if you’re traveling with kids. Captain Bob’s Excellent Adventure is shorter (half-day) and kid-oriented with an interactive reptile show.
How to Book: 800-472-3069 or www.ecosafari.com
Cost: $159pp or $139 (children <12). No discounts.
Cost for Captain Bob’s Excellent Adventure: $80pp or $50 (children <11). No discounts.
For more information about the Everglades, visit www.nps.gov/ever