Florida Tourist Attractions – Part 3
Canoe Camping at 10,000 Islands, the Everglades
At once desolate and lush, tropical yet eerie, the serenity and beauty of the Everglades is to canoe or kayak through the excellent network of waterways that line the northwestern part of the park. The 10,000 Islands consist of many (but not really 10,000) tiny islands and a mangrove swamp that hugs Florida’s most southwestern border. The Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile trail between Everglades City and Flamingo, is the longest canoe trail in the area, but there are shorter trails near Flamingo.
Most of the islands are fringed by narrow beaches with white sand beaches, but be aware that the water is brackish, not clear, and very shallow most of the time. It’s not Tahiti, but it’s fascinating. The best part is that you can camp on your own island for up to a week.
Getting around the 10,000 islands is pretty straightforward if you religiously adhere to NOAA tidal and nautical charts. Going against the grain is the quickest way to make it a miserable ride. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center sells nautical charts and hands out free tide charts. You can also purchase letters in advance of your visit: call 305-247-1216 and request letters #11430, 11432, and 11433.
Parrot Jungle Island, Miami
Parrot Jungle (305-666-7834; 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, off I-396/MacArthur Causeway; adult/child $24.95/19.95; 10 am-6 pm) has been a cheesy attraction since 1936, but since 2003 it’s moved to the much more accessible spit of land between South Beach and downtown Miami, it has become a much fancier place to visit.
Their new 18-acre waterfront facility, planted and lushly landscaped with minimal pesticides and solidified with 27,000 tons of structural fill, is now the proud home to parrots, macaws, flamingos, and cockatoos in endless varieties, some caged but many flying outdoors. aviaries that simulate their natural environments. You can watch the birds, talk to them, and feed them, or sit back and let them entertain you in one of the stage areas (where the trained birds chat and, unfortunately, dance for the audience).
Other creatures include snakes, crocodiles, gibbons and orangutans, creating a mini zoo that children especially enjoy. The walkways are covered (from both rain and bird droppings), and the indoor dining, gaming, and shopping areas provide great shelter from storms. Parking is available for $6.
Everglades National Park, The Everglades
The only subtropical preserve in North America, this park is filled with an impressive variety of environments and creatures: temperate and tropical plants, marine life, and wading birds. Plus, it’s the only place on earth where alligators (who prefer fresh water) live side by side. The parks’ three entrances allow you to choose the type of experience you’d like to have, whether it’s walking to the end of a wooden gazebo to watch the sunset, biking along floating marshlands, or kayaking. from island to island until you find the best place to set up camp for the night.
There are three main entrances to the park: one along the southeast edge near Honestead and Florida City (Ernest Coe), one on the north-central side of Tamiami Trail (Shark Valley), and a third on the beautiful northwest coast (Gulf Coast ), beyond the city of Everglades. From the Coe entrance, follow Highway 9336 to Flamingo, a visitor area that offers everything from boat tours to a lodge and restaurant. Shark Valley is where you’ll find the convenient trolley tour, while the Gulf Coast region is the least developed and geared toward campers and kayakers.
Author: Kenneth Ng