One of the things I looked forward to the most when planning my trip to Florida, was a visit to the Everglades National Park and it did not disappoint! So here’s what I got up to in this stunning park!
About the Park
The Everglades National Park is huuuuuuge! It basically covers 1.5 billion acres of the southern part of Florida. It was established to protect the Everglades wetlands and the species that inhabit those wetlands. I didn’t know much about the Everglades and wetlands in general before my visit, but I learned a lot whilst I was there since the park is very informative.
The Everglades wetlands used to cover much more of Florida, but humans at some point decided to turn them into farmland, thus draining the water. They only realised the impact this had on the fragile eco system when it was almost to late and the population of many species such as the Florida panther had declined rapidly. Since then, the National Park aims to protect those species and restore nature to what it was before humans decided to take control and interfere with nature.
How to Get There
From Miami, it’s a one hour drive to get to the west entrance of the park which is the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. Highway 41 is your best choice if you’re heading to Everglades City or the Ten Thousand Islands since it goes straight through the park in 1.5 hours from Miami.
What to Do
The best way to start exploring the park is to head to one of the visitor centres to see which trails are open. This varies during the seasons, in wet season many trails are closed due to flooding.
We started at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center from where we headed to the beautiful Anhinga Trail. Although we didn’t see any aligators there, we saw plenty of birds and enjoyed the views. Since we went in October, there weren’t many other visitors there.
After a quick stop at the Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout Tower we drove further down to the Mahogany Hammock Trail which leads through beautiful trees and overlooks the vast lands.
We ended day one in the best way ever. It was my friends birthday and we hadn’t really seen any crocodiles or aligators yet, so we were hoping to see more wildlife at the Flamingo Visitor centre. When we got there, a boat tour was just about to leave and even though $30 seemed a bit steep for a boat ride, we joined. The tour took us up the Flamingo canal to Coot Bay and Whitewater Bay.
A few minutes into the ride, our captain noticed some dolphins next to us! There was a mother with her baby dolphin swimming next to our boat for at least 30 minutes. I didn’t even take any pictures because I was so mesmerized watching them! It was one of the best parts of this trip, seeing how they played under the boat, swimming along with us!
When we got back to the visitor centre, we were so happy and thought this day couldn’t get any better, but then we noticed some people standing on the pier facing the sea and looking down at something. We joined them and spotted manatees really close to the pier. They were just chilling out, sometimes coming up to get air and then going down again. We stood there watching them for almost an hour before it was time to head back to Miami.
Still euphoric from our first day in the Everglades, the next day we headed along Highway 41 to the Shark Valley Visitor Centre. So far we still hadn’t seen any crocodiles or aligators, but we were in for a big surprise! We pulled up to the parking lot and saw that you can hire bikes here. There’s a 15 mile loop you can cycle through the wetlands. Although it was quite windy, we went straight for it. After getting on our bikes and cycling for maybe 100 metres, we met him or her:
Honestly, at first I thought it was plastic, since it posed so perfectly for the cameras. Well turned out it was alive and not the only aligator we were going to meet that day! The small stream you can see behind the aligator follows the cycle path to the Observation Tower before you head back to the visitor centre through the other side of the wetlands.
Whilst cycling, we saw tons of birds, a small turtle swimming in the stream and countless aligators! Some of them were blocking the street and we had to wait at a safe distance for them to move out of the way. We even saw a mommy aligator with her babies on the side of the road!
I loved that the park allowed you to get so close to nature. There were no barriers, barely any tourists and so much to see! Here’s the turtle we saw which could be a Florida softshell turtle. It looks so different to all the other turtles I’ve seen so far!
The observation tower at the end of the long straight road is definitely worth a climb up for this incredible view:
After our 15 mile bike ride, we were pretty exhausted and decided to save Everglades City for day three.
On our last day in the Everglades, we decided to visit Everglades City and honestly: I wasn’t the biggest fan. It’s a teeny tiny place with only 400 inhabitants that mostly caters to American tourists. There were a few nice buildings, but not much else. If you’re heading to the Ten Thousand Islands, it might be a good place to start, but otherwise it’s skip it!
What to Avoid
I always stay away from activities that harm the environment, no matter how much fun they could be. For instance, I would never, ever ride an elephant, take a picture with a sedated tiger or go to a circus that involves animals. I do wholeheartedly believe, that everyone should consider the impact of activities like this before they take part.
One of the most popular activities to do in the Everglades are airboat rides. I did some research about this before I went and instantly decided against one. Airboats are incredibly noisy, thus disturbing local wildlife and chasing them out of their habitats. Furthermore, they turmult the water they glide on, making living conditions for water animals unbearable and forcing them to migrate. These are two of the main reasons they’re not allowed in the National Park.
Another popular activity in the Everglades, are visits to Aligator Farms. My opinion on this is similar to all other activities that include animals that don’t have a choice to participate. I’d much rather see them in the wild, in their natural habitat.
If you’re a fan of wildlife too, this park is perfect for you!
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