THE EVERGLADES AND HEADING DOWN TO KEY WEST
Coming from Tampa we decided to break the drive into two days. I wanted to experience both “sides” of the Everglades since this might be the only time we were down there. I started off first on the west side of the Everglades, which took us to the Gulf Coast. We visited the Everglades National Park from Everglades City, FL. Inside the park is the Everglades Florida Adventures company which runs daily tours out onto the Gulf.
We took the Ten Thousand Island Cruise which runs about $40/per person, includes all ages and lasts 90 minutes. It’s an easy boat tour where we spotted dolphins and a variety of birds.https://evergladesfloridaadventures.com/
Side note. The boat did have a top or cover to help protect passengers from the sun.
Next stop down Highway 41 South was the Miccosukee Tour. The Everglades are famous for their air boat rides. I chose this company to support a local, Native American tribe. https://tribe.miccosukee.com/ We did not go into the Village Shop or Cafe on Tamiami Trail but we were able to book an air boat ride on the spot. No reservation required (which oddly enough I can’t find a link to the air boat ride on the website), but you may have to wait 20 minutes or so. Make sure not to arrive right before they close (5pm).
The boat ride itself was fun and windy. My son was a little, ummm, not blown away. But hot, so I guess it worked out that it was short. This may sound silly but I imagined the Everglades to be a Cyprus tree-filled swamp but it is not. It is very, very flat and wide open, with nothing but swamp grass and reeds. No trees whatsoever and in the boat you are kinda going too fast to spot any alligators or other wildlife. The highlight for me was not the ride itself but the little traditional village stop where you can walk on a board walk around a ton of gators (big and small) and see a village fire and some native crafts. All and all I would do it again if I was down there. But I will say that the Everglades aren’t really my thing. I need trees people.
Anhinga Trail- Everglades National Park
This is a great bike ride. I do not recommend it as a walk. Although it is flat, there is little to no shade and the sun beating down on you is hot no matter what time of year you go. If you want to see alligators than look no further. They line the paths (startling close actually) and we even saw an alligator nest. There are a lot of bird sightings as well. I think this is a great place to stretch your legs (on a bike) and get a good feel for the Everglade ecosystem. Their visitor center is very informative as well.
I am going to be open about a parenting fail on this bike trip. There are some pretty large gators right beside the paved path. These gators are familiar with people and the park is familiar with them. But when I look back at some of these photos of my child stopping for a photograph near one of the alligators, I feel highly irresponsible. Even though these gators are “tame” they are still wild animals and very large. Gators do leap and climb and in a minute they can grab a child. So even though it seems cool to get an epic pic next to a wild, large gator, don’t take the risk.
So we had to stop somewhere to get some rest. Homestead, the town where the hostel is located, was desolated in the Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the town, in my humble opinion, isn’t worth writing about. However it was a great stop for our night’s rest. Now back in my college days and late 90s, staying at hostels around Europe was the norm. Whenever I traveled all I could afford were hostels and I met a lot of backpackers and acquaintances along the way. But now traveling with a child and staying in a hostel in America (in Florida none the less) made me a bit weary of this place.
The Everglades International Hostel is now called the Hoosville Hostel https://www.hoosvillehostel.com/accommodations. When I discovered this place online what convinced me to stay was the ability to get a private room. We stayed in “The Library” for a slightly higher price. When we got there my son took one look at the place from the outside and said, “No, it doesn’t look clean and safe”. I told him let’s go inside and take a look and give it a chance. Well boy was he glad we did. HE LOVED THIS PLACE.
There was a very cool tree ropes course/canopy. He was all over this. Even though there were no kids around when we were there, this is a kid’s idea of heaven. Not so sure how stable and secure the ropes course was but he was fine 🙂
A little lounge house with cushions and instruments to have a….jam session? haha. Or whatever floats your boat. There was a latter outside where you can sit on the top and star gaze if you fancy.
They also have free, unlimited pancakes. You do have to make them on your own but its a great way to meet people and swap traveling suggestions with fellow travelers around the picnic table in the morning.
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. http://pennekamppark.com/activities/
Next stop was the John Pennekamp State Park. I was really looking forward to stopping on the way down and having a refreshing swim. My son really enjoyed himself while I swatted away jellyfish. WARNING: Cassiopeia jellyfish were everywhere. Also known as the upside down jellyfish. Tiny little stings everywhere including my lip 😦 What they don’t tell you until you get there is that jellyfish are more abundant around mangrove shores. They wash in and hang out. If you go, stay on the beach or kayak or paddle board out. But a relaxing swim it was not. I also walked through some mangroves on a little back trail to head to a spot further out. Almost knocked myself out on a low hanging branch. Opened my eyes to see a giant iguana staring at me. I kid you not. Could not make this stuff up. Meanwhile the kid is walking on rocks with a bunch of college kids having a great time (wear water shoes it is slick on the rocks). See rocks below and the beach in the background.
The little stingers that ruined the day for me.
I won’t be returning for a swim here ever again. Sorry but no.