This article is written by Travel Wonders and is kindly sponsored by Club Med Sandpiper Bay, an active all-inclusive family destination and the ideal getaway resort for your next Florida vacation.
Sandwiched between the ugly urban sprawl of Miami and the alluring beaches of Florida Keys are the exceptional Everglades. This unusual subtropical wilderness of 1.5 million acres is full of sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, mangrove beds and shallow waters and harbours a remarkable range of birdlife, marine life and the infamous alligators.
Waters creep slowly south across Florida carrying huge amounts of grass giving an appearance of a moving unkempt lawn. Walking a couple of short path near the Royal Palm Visitors Centre, alligators abound most seemingly oblivious to folks tiptoeing awkwardly in a strange combination of apprehension, speed and fascination to not rouse these demonised creatures. A huge variety of water birds including ibises, the elegant pink roseate spoonbills with their skillet-like beaks, eagles, osprey and kites populate the area.
Further north, the Shark Valley area includes a hideous concrete walkway that provides a superb panorama of the area showcasing the unusual feel for this marshy world.
Canoeing is the best way to see the area. Slithering along the peaceful and shallow waterways among the mangroves, near the islands (can’t land on most as they are nesting sites) and through the sinister brackishness in the 10,000 Islands area shows the area at its finest. While sighting alligators only protected by a few millimetres of fibreglass is a little unnerving, the tranquility (broken only by incessant mosquitoes) after visiting Miami or Orlando is worth any discomfort.
Outside of the park, rides are available on airboats, a hovercraft with a giant fan attached to the back and remarkably manoeuvrable. Though it makes a hideous din, it buzzes along at 30 to 40 kilometres per hour, tree branches whisking past your ears and the wind tousling the hair. Slamming on the brakes (or is that turning the fan off?), the craft pulls into a grassy knoll and sure enough peering through the reeds are the beady eyes of an alligator lying peacefully in the weak afternoon sun. Many more are spotted each staking their own territory with the dedication of a medieval army.
Another alligator cruises up to the boat in their haunting whisper-quiet glide, ripples slowly falling from its eyes, the only part above the water line. This prehistoric monster so ideally evolved for its environment rides to less than a metre from the craft before it is time for “see you later, alligator” and on through further lagoons, accelerating through the shallows of the Everglades.
Take a break from the hectic theme parks of Orlando or the glitzy beach life of the Florida Keys and spend a day or two exploring the unique and tranquil wilderness of the Everglades. Though commercialised with alligator farms and airboats, try to escape for a quiet hike or peaceful canoe through this most unusual ecosystem.
This article is kindly sponsored by Club Med Sandpiper Bay. Located in sunny idyllic southern Florida, Sandpiper Bay is an all inclusive spa resort that offers tennis, golf, fitness, yoga, and fun activities for couples and families alike.