Sanibel and Everglades national park , Florida – on alligators, panthers and anhinga trail

Sanibel

Sanibel ? what is that ? A beach in Florida ? Florida ? you say? Isnt Florida is all about Disneyworld ? Yes it is. Then why we should go to Sanibel ?

Minutes later, we were looking for hotels in Sanibel !

 

Sanibel shell collections

I have seen beautiful picturesque beaches before, beaches where you will want to spend the rest of your lives lying on that crystal white sandy coast, but I have never seen a beach full of shells !  Live shells too !

To be honest I have never heard of anything called Sanibel before. Well, then many things in life happens in an uneventful way. A quick glance at this LIFE magazine from TIME and Sanibel quietly slips into our “must visit” destination list.

sanibel shell beach

Few unusual  set of geomorphological events bliss the island with the riches of seashells, making it best in the world for shelling. Beautiful seashells in all sort of imaginable colors accumulates here in abundance much to the delight of shell lovers and beachcombers from around the world makes a yearly pilgrimage to Sanibel. To admire the beauty of not-so-perfect shells, a tiny pastel colored bivalve, orange lipped tiny broken shell with eroded interiors, those rare coquinas or just to take home the best souvenirs from the sea, gifts from the ocean and few memories.

Sanibel Florida

Unfortunately it was an overcast day, and it was beyond the scope of my camera to get few good pictures . So don’t go by my pictures, I am posting the photo from the magazine as well to entice you ! I do enjoy photography but at Sanibel I was torn between  photography and shelling, I was more keen to collect those treasures lying openly on the beaches. For a change I didn’t enjoy photography there. I was more interested to fill my little plastic bag.

A day spent in Sanibel or even few hours on the beach is worth every bit of travelling few extra miles down south of Florida to Fort Myers, the nearest city to Sanibel with plenty of options to dine and stay. However, Sanibel too had some lovely restaurants lined up on its palm-tree dotted Periwrinkle way. It also houses a museum to showcase the greatest treasure of Sanibel. I was charmed by its artistic and rare collections. Do not miss it !

Everglades

Fort Myer on the west coast of Florida serves two purposes for the tourist – one access to the beautiful beaches of Sanibel on the gulf and other as a gateway to the wilderness of Southern Florida – called Everglades, the river of grass, originated from the native American word “pa-hay-okee” meaning grassy waters.

Everglades are part of tropical wetlands, the sawgrass marshes represents a complex ecosystem that includes cypress swamps, estuarine mangroves, hardwood hammocks and the marine environment of Florida Bay. This ecosystem also supports large number of birds, alligators and that elusive panther.

everglades blue heron

Little Blue Heron

We started our trip with the Gulf Coast boat tour (a 2 hour tour)  to mangroves and ten thousand island. You will see few birds, dolphins and sea manatee (which is actually rare). If you have not been to mangroves before, then you will not be disappointed. Apart from a dolphin, and couple of blue herons, we also spotted few pink pelicans relaxing on a sand bar.

Next we travelled further east to Shark Valley . This is perhaps the best Everglades experience for me. The guide was extremely entertaining and informative too. When he said ” this is the last tour of the day and the best” I knew luck was on our side ! This two-hour narrated tour through the river of grass offers plenty of wild life spotting. Alligators were almost everywhere, the big ones and their babies too. Besides the alligators, we also spotted few turtles and tree frogs. It was towards dusk, so more activities were going on in the swamps. We have seen so many beautiful and different kinds of birds there, I lost count actually. And all were new for me, so we enjoyed it the best. Great Egret, Woodstork, Roseatte Spoonbilled, Blue Heron, Anhinga with their babies, Snow Goose, ducks, pigeons, pelicans, turkey Vultures etc.

Pink Pelicans – Anhinga drying its wings under the sun – Great Egret – Pigeon (some species) – Woodstork – group of Turkey Vultures.

everglades

Shark valley tram tour was best in my opinion, and very next day we returned to Everglades for Anhinga trail.

Anhinga Trail – a short boardwalk through the swamps , will be repetitive for you if you had done the Shark Valley before. However, here you may not spot unseen wild life, but you will get to see them pretty close. I mean “Very Close”, an inch away from the Alligators. Goosebumps ! See the picture below, these are wild and not tamed, only that they don’t care much for “humans” !

everglades alligator

 There is also a Gumbo -Limbo short trail at the same center, that will lead you through the hardwood hammocks. The red peeling barks of the Gumbo-limbo trees are extremely fragile and almost paper-thin. We spotted few pond apples and another fruit with immature wild fruits (name please ?).

gumbo limbo everglades

Evergaldes encomapasses 1.5 million acres of tropical habitats and travelling through the vast swamp marshlands was one of a kind experience, you can call it bizarre, thrilling or eerie . We drove through the US-41 or Tamiami trail for hours on end, no sign of habitation.  Sometimes it is just you alone on the road in this swamps, even at many points GPS failed to navigate. A ocassional spotting of another car in the distance sometimes brings relief to somewhat frightened heart. So always go there fully prepared in all respects. Stuff your car with gas, emergency medicines, food, water, cell phones, GPS, map printouts etc and it is not advisable to linger there after dark. So try for an early exit.

cypress swamps everglades

Driving through the Cypress swamps towards Flamingo – southernmost tip of Florida

Before going to Everglades, I have read many documents and travel stories surrounding the elusive panthers of Florida. Some have even makes hundreds of trips to get a glimpse of the panther. I certainly never expected to see one on my maiden trip to the Everglades. However, chasing the panthers through the vast swampy marshland was both exciting and creepy ! But panthers are real and not fictitious ! See the bones of animals below that were killed by the panthers.

everglades travel panther

Unfortunately we could not make it to Big Cypress trail. May we could have spotted one or two panthers there!

You can check the pictures here and for more information you can visit to the nps.gov site.

Big Cypress

Sunset in Everglades .

sunset at Everglades

Two indigenous native American tribe Seminoles and Miccosukees  have made this swampy lands as their  home, they survives on this healthy Everglades ecosystem for their living.  As you travel through the swamps, you will find their beautifully adorned palm-thatched huts called chickees inside the walled enclosures.

Well, we missed the delicious gator tails and frog legs by fraction of few seconds !

miccosukee everglades

I will never forget the wilderness of Everglades and a true lifetime experience for me.

Have you spotted any exotic bird or gators or any wildlife recently ?

See you until next

Sukanya