Where: Southern Florida, USA
When: Mid-January to Mid-April in the dry season
Best sights: 700-year-old great cypresses and Seminole Indians mingle with many swamp loving creatures
Remember to bring: Dry footwear, a tent and mosquito repellent
Watch out for: Crocodiles, alligators, and the elusive Florida Panther
Where it’s At
No trip to Florida could be complete without a trip to the Everglades National Park, the last great wilderness in the eastern half of the United States. It used to be home to the Seminole Indians who now inhabit Big Cypress Reservation in the northern wet prairies, who in many ways buffer and manage the overall park. There are 38 miles of track to hike and the endangered swamp is really a huge river, measuring around 50 miles wide by 100 miles long, which flows gently downhill from Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay in the south.
The Everglades National Park is a swamp so take dry footwear with you to change into for the evenings, a tent to sleep in if camping, and plenty of insect repellent as mosquitoes are abundant. If you don’t fancy walking take a bike – a lot of the trails are suitable for biking.
When to Go
December to mid-January is the peak tourist season. To avoid the crowds as much as possible aim to visit the park in the dry season between mid-January and mid-April. Once the rainy season sets in you’ll be hard pressed to see members of any species.
– 700-year-old great cypresses that have been lucky to evade the logging industry, gumbo limbo trees with their red peeling bark, royal palms, snakes, herons, turtles, deer, dolphins and air plants are among the many species of flora and fauna that you’ll spot whilst walking down one of the many tracks. Tracks to try are the Anhinga Trail, Gumbo-Limbo Trail, Otter Cave Hammock Trail, and the trails around Flamingo where you can book into Flamingo Lodge – the only lodging available within the park.
– For a guided safari experience try Billie Swamps Safari, who offer tours of the 2,200 lush acres of Big Cypress Reservation that are open to the public. Here you can stay in a traditional Seminole Indian tiki hut on the edge of the water and watch alligators slide past your window. In the day, take guided rides out on exhilarating airboats and swamp buggies into reservation wetlands, hardwood hammocks and sloughs, where wildlife abounds. You may get a sighting of deer, water buffalo, bison, wild hogs, hawks, eagles and alligators are common. If you are very lucky you may even spot a rare Florida panther.
– Make sure you visit the nearby Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum whose contents preserves and interpret the customs and language of the Seminole Indians, the only tribe in the Americans never to be vanquished in battle.
Florida is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist. The easiest way to tell them apart is from their snouts. Alligators have u-shaped snouts whereas crocodiles have v-shaped snouts. Crocodiles have made a big comeback since 1975 when they joined the endangered list; now researchers believe there are 500 to 800 thriving in Florida. Cooling canals at the Turkey Point Nuclear Plant near Miami have provided ideal croc nesting conditions but they may be having a negative impact on the alligator population. The American crocodile is meant to be a real sweetheart as there has never been a human death attributed to a croc in the whole of America.
A less visible resident of the Everglades, but one to watch out for is the Florida Panther; there are thought to be less than fifty still in existence. Bears, bob cats, snakes and mosquitoes are among the less amiable species in the Everglades but exercising caution and a strong insect repellent should keep predators at bay.
The The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Billy Swamps Safari
Big Cypress Reservation
Billie Swamp Safari
HC-61, Box 46
Clewiston, Florida 33440
Telephone: 001 (800) 949 6101
Telephone: 001 (863) 983 6101
fax: 001 (863) 983 9396
By Faye Welborn