Ever engaging, ever beautiful and ever surprising – that’s the Everglades, the jewel in the crown of South Florida. This massive prairie wetland, with its endless miles of saw grass, its tangled mangrove thickets and treasure chest of rare animal and plant life is one of the world’s most unique environments – which makes Everglades National Park tours an absolute must for anyone on their Florida Holidays.
Think Everglades and you think ‘swamp’ – but it’s actually a 50-mile wide, slow-flowing river that’s rarely more than a foot deep and where one gallon of water takes a month to meander its way south to the ocean. It’s also a wonderland of amazing plants, with ‘rivers’ of saw grass, tree islands studded with cypress and tropical hardwoods, and rare orchids, as well as a haven for wildlife: look out for bottlenose dolphins, manatees, alligators, crocodiles, bald eagles and herons.
Everglades National Park tours are made easier with the help of some top-class visitor centres stationed close to the park entrances and areas of interest. Here you can find out all about this mesmerising region via films, interactive exhibits and live talks. You can also book onto a ranger-led walk or activity and get to see the Everglades through the eyes of an expert.
But just how you explore the park, and how close up you get to its spectacular scenery and wildlife is up to you. For the most intimate of experiences you might want to hire a canoe and paddle through channels arched with foliage, where otters dive for cover. Or you might want to cruise through the backcountry on a guided tour, or walk one of the marked trails. You can even take a two-hour tram ride.
Whichever way you choose to experience the mind-blowing beauty of the Everglades, it’ll be a trip you never forget.
This rare and endangered species was once a common sight throughout south-eastern US, but today its numbers have fallen to around 100. With their sleek beige fur and pale-green eyes, the panthers make for a stunning sight – so keep your eyes carefully peeled and you may even be lucky enough to spot one.
Named for the river that runs through it, Shark Valley plays host to a 15 miles of track. Trams glide along it throughout the day, and offer captivating two-hour tours with commentary by a knowledgeable guide plus the chance to spot alligators, turtles, watersnakes and all manner of birdlife. And if you don’t fancy the tram, you can bike round the loop instead.
The 50-minute Anhinga Trail provides a perfect introduction to the park and is packed with wildlife; you can expect to see alligators, lizards, turtles, river otters, herons and egrets. The nearby Gumbo Limbo Trail is just as enjoyable and meanders through a jungle-like wonderland of gumbo-limbo trees, royal palms, ferns orchids and air plants.
Everglades National Park tours are at their best in the dry winter season between December and April. When it’s humid and hot during the summer months, some of the tours won’t run, you’re likely to see fewer animals, and the local mosquitoes will be out in force!
Nothing conjures up an image of the Everglades more than skimming over the water in an airboat, with the saw grass parting as the boat speeds forward. But airboats are prohibited from the park itself to preserve its delicate ecosystems – although you’ll find plenty of options to take an airboat tour outside the park’s perimeter.