logo ×

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

You want to admire thousands of butterflies in a lush, tropical environment? Then, the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates are perfect for you. Here, colorful pollinators flutter about – and you can walk freely amongst them. Conversationists will tell you more about butterfly breeding, the gift shop offers useful utensils for your garden, and thanks to a café, visitors do not have to go hungry. Interested? Then, read on and learn everything you need to know about this hidden gem in Fort Myers.

Fort Myers Butterfly Estates in a Nutshell


The history of Fort Myers´ Butterfly Estates is inseparable from the Florida Native Butterfly Society: an NGO that works tirelessly to protect Florida´s butterfly species. Everything started in 2009: Then, Estate owner Rob Johnson and co-owner Matthew Hoover renovated three old houses to make room for a café, a book shop and a restaurant called “The Gathering Place”. In addition, a greenhouse was installed, so visitors could study butterflies in their natural habitat.

Location and Directions

The Butterfly Estates are located in Downtown Fort Myers, just 0.4 miles from the banks of the Caloosahatchee River and the Edison Bridge. Motorists starting in central Cape Coral should account for 20 minutes of driving. Free parking is available.

There are several buses like the numbers 10, 70, 120 and 140 that connect Cape Coral with the Butterfly Estates, and the next bus stop Rosa Parks is a 10-minute walk away. However, due to a shortage of direct connections, most visitors have to change buses. Therefore, it can take 1 to 1.5 hours to reach the Butterfly Estates.

Opening Hours

At the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates, the following opening hours apply:

  • November to May: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am–3 pm
  • June to October: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am–2 pm

On holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, Easter and the 4th of July, the Butterfly Estates are closed. In addition, opening hours can be shorter on particularly hot days.

Tickets and Prices

Tickets to the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates can be purchased on-site. The following prices apply:

  • Visitors aged 16 or older: 10 USD
  • Children from 3 to 12 years: 7 USD
  • Children under 3 years: free
  • Senior citizens (65+): 9 USD
  • College/university students: 8 USD
  • Active Military personnel and Veterans: free

If you want to visit the Butterfly Estates regularly, you can purchase annual membership, which comes in 3 variants:

  • 1 person: 30 USD
  • 2 persons: 45 USD
  • Families with 4 persons: 75 USD

Fort Myers Butterfly Estates – Attractions

Peaceful nature, shopping, dining and butterflies galore – the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates offer a wide variety of attractions.

Butterfly House

The main focal point of the Estates is the Butterfly House: a 3617 square ft. green house with lush, tropical plants. This vegetation provides food for monarchs, longwings, peacocks and other native species – and you do not have to search for them: The insects flutter freely in the green house and come close to visitors, especially to those with brightly colored clothes. No question: There is something deeply relaxing about sitting on the benches, listening to New Age music and admiring butterflies in all their splendor. Adding to the peaceful vibes are ponds where you can watch turtles and koi carps.

If you are looking for an extraordinary experience, 10:30 am is the perfect time to visit the Butterfly House. Then, you will witness the newly hatched butterflies take their maiden flight.

Guided Tours

Since its beginnings, the Florida Native Butterfly Society has strived to educate visitors on the ecological importance of butterflies. Thus, guided tours are a main focus of this NGO. In 30 minutes, you will get valuable insights into the life of these insects and learn, among other things, how to make your garden butterfly-friendly. In addition, the guides will show you how butterflies are bred at the Estates.

Gift Shop

Not surprisingly, everything revolves around butterflies at the Estates´ gift shop: There are books for children and adults, plants, gardening utensils and grow kids for breeding your own caterpillars. In addition, you can buy organic honey, and if you are looking for a souvenir, the artfully crafted deco items are ideal for you.

Bullig Coffee & Bites

No trip to the Butterfly Estates would be complete without visiting Bullig Coffee & Bites: This café offers pies and waffles, whose recipes trace back to the owner´s German grandmother. Thanks to sweet and savory variants, you are guaranteed to find something for your taste. Equally popular are the coffee specialties and the homemade frozen yoghurt.

Fort Myers Butterfly Estates – Events

The Butterfly Estates are a popular venue for wedding receptions – but these are not the only events here. During workshops, you can learn how to attract butterflies in your garden. Guided walks will teach you everything about wild herbs, and every other Sunday, children can have their faces painted. In addition, lectures, talks and cooking courses are often held at the gift shop. If you want to know more about these events, you should check the Facebook page of the Butterfly Estates.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

What are the opening hours of the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates?

The Butterfly Estates are open every day except Monday: from 10 am to 3 pm between November and May, and from 9 am to 2 pm between June and October. On Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Ester and 4th of July ,the Estates are closed. .

How much is admission to the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates?

Tickets cost 10 USD for guests aged 16 or older, 7 USD for children between 3 and 12, 8 USD for college/university students and 9 USD for senior citizens (65+). Children under 3 years, active Military personnel and Veterans visit the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates for free.

Which animals can I see at the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates?

The Estates focus on butterflies that are native to Florida – among them species like monarchs, peacocks and longwings. In addition, koi carps and turtles populate the ponds in the Butterfly House.

Can I book the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates for my wedding?

Thanks to their idyllic surroundings, the Butterfly Estates are a popular place for wedding photos. In addition, you can hold wedding receptions here. However, please note that the restaurant “The Gathering Place” with room for 40–50 guests is no longer located at the Estates.

740 acres, 4 miles of walkways and 3,000 animals – Zoo Miami is not only one of the oldest zoos in Florida, but also the largest.

Here, you will find American species like bears and alligators, as well as the iconic animals of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America – from tiny frogs to giant elephants and rhinos. But it is not just the variety of species that makes Zoo Miami so special: Fun rides, interactive animal encounters and events for the whole family also add to the park’s popularity.

In this article, we will tell you what to expect at Zoo Miami, which activities are particularly worthwhile and how you can visit the zoo at a discount.

Zoo Miami in a Nutshell


Zoo Miami, also known as Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens, was established in 1948 – and can look back on a long, eventful history. Much has changed since the founding years, when the zoo housed only six animals. At that time, it was located on the island of Key Biscayne. The threat of hurricanes, however, prompted its managers to find a new location, and in 1980, the zoo reopened in southwestern Miami.

Zoo Miami is a proud member and accreditee of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – an organization with strict standards for animal welfare and professional conduct. In addition, the zoo is involved in numerous conservation projects all around the world.

Location and Directions

The zoo is located in southwest Miami, between Three Lakes and South Miami Heights. The distance to Downtown Miami is about 23 miles.

Motorists will find free parking directly at the zoo. Theoretically, it is also possible to travel by public transport. However, this can take 1–2 hours from Downtown Miami, as no bus or train goes directly to the zoo and you have to change lines more than once.

Opening Hours

Zoo Miami is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. The last tickets are sold at 4 pm.

On public holidays, the following opening hours apply:

  • Thanksgiving Day: 10 am–3 pm
  • Christmas Day: 12–5 pm
  • January 1: 10 am–5 pm.

Tickets and Prices

Tickets for the Zoo Miami can be purchased on-site and online at the following prices:

  • Visitors aged 13 and over: 22.95 USD
  • Children between 3 and 12 years old: 18.95 USD
  • Children under 3 years: free of charge.

In addition, there is a group discount of 10–25% – depending on the number of people you bring to the zoo.

Want to save a few dollars? Then, you should look for coupons that you can download from websites like groupon, couponbirds or travelincoupons.

Zoo Miami – Attractions

From the savannahs of Africa to tropical jungles, aviaries and aquariums to relaxed rides – there is a great variety of attractions at Zoo Miami.


Zoo Miami is divided into very distinct zones that are home to iconic animals from five continents:

North America

Familiar habitats of the USA await visitors right next to the entrance. Here, North American species like brown bears, otters and flamingos are at home – accompanied by alligators, the iconic reptiles of the Sunshine State. They live right next to their relatives, the crocodiles. Another highlight of this area are bald eagles – America’s national symbol.


Located in the center of Zoo Miami is Asia – a large area that showcases the diversity of this continent. Here, gibbons and orangutans live next to Malay bears, tapirs, tigers, rhinos and Asian elephants. Numerous bird species populate the Wing of Asia Aviary, and further north, the tropical landscape of Southeast Asia gives way to grasslands that are home to Bactrian camels, dromedaries, and antelopes. Families with children are well-advised to visit the petting zoo in the south.


If you want to see the “Big Five” of the Black Continent – lions, elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and giraffes – you have plenty of opportunity to do so at the African zone. In addition to zebras and rare antelope species, hyenas and painted dogs roam the enclosures. Our closest relatives are also at home here, as Zoo Miami features both chimpanzees and gorillas.

Amazon and Beyond

The natural diversity of South America is celebrated in the northwestern parts of Zoo Miami: Here, spider monkeys swing from branch to branch, while howler monkeys sound their calls and giant otters and Orinoco crocodiles swim in the water. Other species include bats, sloths, anteaters and the king of the jungle: jaguars. Snakes and colorful dart frogs populate the “Cloud Forest”, and the “Flooded Forest” aquarium harbors numerous fish species from the Amazon.


Last but not least, Zoo Miami also features iconic animals from “Down Under”. In Australia, you can see parrots, kangaroos and cute koalas – accompanied by giant tortoises from the Galapagos Islands. Right next to warthogs and red river hogs, the zoo´s playground is located.

Animal Encounters

Seeing the animals of Zoo Miami from a distance is not enough for you? Then, you should check out the following animal encounters:

  • For an extra charge, you cannot only feed the parrots, but also giraffes, camels and even rhinos.
  • At the “Tortoise Encounter”, visitors can get close to Galapagos tortoises – and take selfies with these gentle giants.
  • If you want to learn how animals like chimpanzees, giraffes and tigers are cared for, the “Meet the Zookeeper” programs are perfect for you.


If you want to travel the area in style or simply rest your feet, you should try the following rides at Zoo Miami:

  • Lostman’s River Ride simulates a relaxing boat trip in the Everglades – alongside the brown bear enclosure, birds of prey and quaint wooden huts.
  • With its four stops, the Monorail not only provides a comfortable way to explore the zoo, but also a great view of the animal enclosures.
  • Do you want to sit back and learn more about the animals of Africa and Asia? Then, you should take a ride with the Safari Tram Tours.
  • Pedal boats are available for relaxing trips on the lake of Zoo Miami.
  • A highlight for young visitors is the Wildlife Carousel with its carnival flair and lovingly designed animals.

Zoo Miami – Events

There are many reasons to visit Zoo Miami multiple times – one of them is the exciting event calendar:

  • Running for a good cause – this is the name of the game at the annual “ZooRun 5K” in autumn. The revenue of this 3-mile-race goes to charities, while participants are rewarded with free admission to the zoo and a cool T-shirt.
  • Spook-tastic fun awaits you at the “Zoo Boo” in October. Then, Zoo Miami hosts a big Halloween party with craft workshops, costume contests and – of course – Trick or Treating.
  • Do you want to spend a night at the zoo? At the “Roars, S’mores, and Snores Campout” in November, this wish comes true. Then, children can learn more about the nocturnal residents of Zoo Miami, play fun games and listen to stories at the campfire.
  • Every year from November 11 to 14, Zoo Miami thanks America’s veterans with free admission. In addition, their families receive a 50 % discount during the Veteran’s Day Savings.

Zoo Miami – Restaurants and Shops

Hungry visitors can choose from three restaurants at Zoo Miami:

Located right next to the petting zoo is the Carousel Café, which serves American classics – just like the Oasis Grill where you can enjoy burgers, sandwiches, pizza and French fries. In addition, vending machines are positioned across the zoo.

Do you want to dine with a top view of the Everglades? Then, we recommend the Nourish305 right at the entrance. Its stylish, modern ambience is complemented by excellent pizza, a large selection of salads and craft beer from the region.

If you want to buy souvenirs, you should visit the gift shop at the entrance. There, you will find everything from clothes, bags and hats to toys, stuffed animals and jewelry. Or how about giving your loved ones a visit to the Miami Zoo or even a unique tour? Then, the Gift Cards are your best choice.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to walk the Miami Zoo?

Zoo Miami is the largest animal park in Florida. Therefore, you should account for 2–3 hours if you want to visit all attractions on foot. Alternatively, you can take the monorail, which runs back and forth between four stations in the zoo.

How much does Zoo Miami cost?

Adults (13 years and older) pay 22.95 USD for admission; Children between the age of 3 and 12 pay 18.95 USD, and children under the age of 3 visit the zoo for free.

How do I get to the Miami Zoo?

The fastest and easiest way is by car. You can also take public transport. However, there are no direct connections from Downtown Miami, so the trip can easily take up to 2 hours.

How far is Miami Zoo from South Beach?

Zoo Miami is located about 27 miles away from South Beach. Depending on the time of day, motorists should account for a 40 to 90-minute drive.

Orlando is truly blessed with amusement parks that offer exciting rides and animal encounters. But while most visitors flock to Disney World and SeaWorld, a lesser-known tip lies north of the city: the Central Florida Zoo.

Here, 100 animal species live in wide enclosures, botanical gardens showcase the flora of our continents, and the zipline, playgrounds and carousel are perfect for little guests. As if this was not enough, the zoo also offers interactive animal encounters and tours, as well as exciting events all year round.

In this article, you will learn what makes visits to the Central Florida Zoo so worth-while, which animals are on display here and how you can purchase tickets at a discount.

Central Florida Zoo in a Nutshell

History, directions, opening hours and prices – here are the most important facts about Central Florida Zoo:


The history of Central Florida Zoo dates to the 1920s – and begins with a small Rhesus monkey. A traveling circus gave the animal to the Sanford Elks Club. More and more animals were added, and 20 years later, a zoo was opened on the shores of Lake Monroe. What followed were numerous expansions, such as botanical gardens, an animal hospital, elevated boardwalks, playgrounds and event locations.

Since the 1980s, the zoo has been part of the “Association of Zoos and Aquariums” (AZA) – demonstrating its high standards for animal welfare. In addition, conservation projects also play an important role, with the Central Florida Zoo working towards the protection of rare indigo snakes and striped newts.

Location and Directions

The Central Florida Zoo is located in Sanford, a small town between Orlando and Daytona Beach on Florida´s east coast.

From Orlando, drivers need about 30 minutes. Parking is free and there are even charging stations for EVs.

Unfortunately, arriving by public transport is more complicated. Although the SunRail runs between Orlando and Sanford, the zoo itself has no station, so you have to travel the remaining 3 miles by taxi.

Opening Hours

Central Florida Zoo is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, including Sundays and holidays.

Tickets and Entrance Fees

Depending on your age, the following entrance fees apply:

  • Adults: 21.50 USD
  • Children (3–12 years): 15.75 USD
  • Children under 2 years: free of charge
  • Senior citizens (55+): 17.95 USD.

You can buy tickets to the Central Florida Zoo on-site and on the homepage – with online tickets coming at a 2 USD discount.

Regular visitors can save money with an annual pass, and additional discounts are available if you visit the zoo with 15 or more people. It also pays to bring coupons for the Central Florida Zoo, which can be downloaded from websites like groupon, hotdeals or valuecom.

Central Florida Zoo – Attractions

Not surprisingly, animals and plants are the main attraction at Central Florida Zoo – but by no means the only one:


The Central Florida Zoo houses more than 350 animals from different regions of our planet:


From small monkeys to imposing giraffes – Central Florida Zoo is home to a wide variety of mammals: While sloths relax in the foliage, lemurs and tamarin monkeys swing from branch to branch. Warthogs, otters and fossas, a cat-like species from Madagascar, are accompanied by large predators such as mountain lions, cheetahs, leopards and black bears. A true darling of visitors is “PJ”: The zoo’s rhino loves to splash around in the water on hot days.


In addition to bald eagles, the national symbol of the USA, Central Florida Zoo houses 18 species of birds: including colorful parrots, vultures, owls and hornbills, endangered birds from Southeast Asia. The “laughing” of Kookaburras fills the air, and every day at 11.30 am, you can witness the acrobatic skills of falcons and owls at the bird show “Flying High!”.

Reptiles, Amphibians and Insects

If you want to see the Sunshine State´s iconic reptiles, Central Florida Zoo is the right place for you: Here, alligators live right next to their relatives, crocodiles. In addition, the zoo is home to monitor lizards, geckos, iguanas, turtles and 19 species of snakes that you can see at the Herpatarium – if you can spot these well-camouflaged creatures. A particularly colorful sight are the zoo´s frogs and salamanders.

Insects and other crawlers are on display at the Wayne M. Densch Discovery Center: including tarantulas, scorpions and Madagascan cockroaches that use their horns as weapons against rivals.

Do you want to marvel at colorful pollinators? Then, the Butterfly Garden is an ideal place. What is more, a huge collection of ferns, bromeliads and medicinal herbs demonstrates that Central Florida Zoo truly deserves the suffix “Botanical Gardens”.

Animal Encounters and Tours

Visitor interaction is key at Central Florida Zoo. This can be seen in the parks´ animal encounters and tours:

Feed a Giraffe

If you want to check how long a giraffe’s tongue really is, you should book this activity. Rafiki and Gage, the long-necked animals of the zoo, will gladly eat snacks out of your hand.

Meet a Rhino

PJ, the zoo’s rhinoceros, may look menacing. In reality, though, he is very playful and loves visitors. If you want to get up close and personal with the rhino, you can do so at 11:30 am, 11:50 am and 12:10 pm.

Barnyard Buddies

Located at the heart of Central Florida Zoo is the petting zoo “Barnyard Buddies”. Here, little visitors cannot only pet goats, donkeys, llamas and alpacas, but also feed them.

Keeper Chats

How heavy is a snake? What do rhinos eat, and why do parrots have such a curved beak? The zookeepers will gladly answer these and other questions during the daily Keeper Chats.


Central Florida Zoo offers guided tours where groups can learn more about different animals and the zoo’s conservation efforts.

More Things to do

Are you looking for more action or a chance to cool off? Then, the following activities at Central Florida Zoo are perfect for you:

Seminole Aerial Adventures

Exploring the treetops like a monkey – this wish comes true at the Seminole Aerial Adventures. Here, participants test their dexterity on an obstacle course with rope ladders and platforms, before taking the zip line for a rapid descent.

Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground

The water playground in the southern part of the zoo is a real blessing on hot days. Here, little guests can splash around amidst fountains and colorful animals.


On the zoo´s carousel, children can ride cute horses, zebras and even alligators – and enjoy nostalgic carnival flair reminiscent of Florida´s old days.

Central Florida Zoo – Events

No matter the season – thanks to a variety of events, Central Florida Zoo is always worth a visit:

  • At the “Kids Night Out”, children can visit the zoo after dark – and find out more about its nocturnal animals.
  • “Sunset at the Zoo” is perfect for guests who want to explore the zoo after the official opening hours. Then, at 5 pm, reduced entrance fees apply.
  • In best Oktoberfest fashion, “Brews around the Zoo” in September features live music and a craft beer tasting with 30 regional sorts.
  • On Halloween, Central Florida Zoo is adorned with spooky (but kid-friendly) decorations and invites little guests to play Trick or Treat.
  • Santa Claus visits the zoo in December to take photos with his fans and host a fun candy cane hunt.

Central Florida Zoo – Restaurants and Shops

Central Florida Zoo not only takes care of its animals. Hungry visitors can get their fill at Graze – a family-friendly restaurant that serves American classics like burgers, hot dogs and French fries, accompanied by healthy salads and vegetarian options.

For a little snack, you should visit Swirl right next to the rhino enclosure: Here, you can enjoy nachos and pretzels as well as cotton candy, popcorn and ice cream. If you prefer an adult beverage over soft drinks, you will love the zoo´s selection of craft beers.

Of course, no trip to Central Florida Zoo would be complete without taking home a souvenir – no problem, thanks to the Zoofari Shop selling stuffed animals, T-shirts, games and books.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How far is Central Florida Zoo from Orlando?

The distance from Orlando to Central Florida Zoo is 23 miles. Motorists should account for a 30-minute drive.

What are the opening hours of Central Florida Zoo?

The zoo opens every day at 9 am and closes at 4 pm. Sometimes, Central Florida Zoo stays open longer, so visitors can explore the area after dark.

How much is admission to the Central Florida Zoo?

Adults who buy their ticket online pay 19.50 USD. In addition, there are discounts for children and seniors, as well as group discounts.

Does the Central Florida Zoo have elephants?

Currently, the Central Florida Zoo has no elephants – but other iconic species like giraffes, porcupines and cheetahs, as well African birds.

Can I feed the giraffes at Central Florida Zoo?

Yes, feeding the long-necked animals is offered for an extra charge of 5 USD per person.

Do you want to watch alligators, turtles and flamingos, feed colorful parrots or simply take a stroll amidst Florida’s lush, tropical surroundings? Then, Everglades Wonder Gardens is THE place to go. For almost a century, this small zoo has been showcasing the biodiversity of the Sunshine State – while also providing a new home for endangered species.

What makes Everglades Wonder Gardens so special despite its modest size? Which animals can you encounter here, and how do you get the most out of your visit? We will show you in this article.

Everglades Wonder Gardens in a Nutshell

From the history of the zoo to directions, opening hours and entrance fees – in the following section, you will find the most important information about Everglades Wonder Gardens:


The story of Everglades Wonder Gardens started more than 80 years ago with very modest beginnings: In 1936, the pioneers Bill and Lester Pipe opened a small roadside attraction where visitors could see rescued animals up-close. Originally known as “Bonita Springs Reptile Gardens,” the zoo was renamed in 1950, but closed in 2013 due to low popularity.

Luckily, this hiatus did not last long: Just one year later, Everglades Wonder Gardens reopened with the support of the city. This helped to preserve not only a refuge for endangered species, but also a valuable remnant of “Old Florida” architecture.

Location and Directions

Everglades Wonder Gardens is located in the heart of Bonita Springs, just off the banks of the Imperial River. Free parking is available.

Getting here with public transport is slightly more complicated. Guests departing from Cape Coral, Fort Myers or Naples will need to take the LeeTran and change buses several times. The nearest stop to the zoo is Old 41 Road, just a 5-minute walk away.

Opening Hours

Everglades Wonder Gardens is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm. Exceptions are Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and the first day of Christmas.

Tickets and Prices

At Everglades Wonder Gardens, the following prices apply:

  • Adults: 12 USD
  • Children (3–12 years): 7 USD
  • Children under 3 years: free of charge
  • Seniors (65+): 10 USD.

You can buy your tickets on-site and online.

By the way: If you want to save a few dollars, you should look for coupons on websites like groupon or 8coupons.com.

Everglades Wonder Gardens – Attractions – Attractions

300 animals, numerous exotic plants, interesting exhibits and activities for the whole family – Everglades Wonder Gardens boasts a wide variety of attractions:


Let’s start with the kings of Everglades Wonder Gardens: alligators. Florida’s iconic reptiles populate the “́Gator Hole”, where they can swim to their heart’s content and sunbathe on the shore. A real highlight: Visitors are allowed to feed the alligators – from a safe distance, of course. Far less threatening than their parents are baby alligators that you can see up-close at the breeding center.

Turtles and Tortoises

Everglades Wonder Gardens is home to multiple turtle and tortoise species. In addition to aquatic specimen such as the snapping turtle, it also houses spurred tortoises: These land-dwelling herbivores rank among the largest turtle species and can weigh up to 225 lbs.


White, red, green or rainbow-colored – Everglades Wonder Gardens has them all. Five parrot species are at home in the zoo: including cockatoos, eclectus parrots and large hybrid macaws. The most talkative of them all is Kiwi, the yellow-naped amazon. Just say “Hi” to him, and chances are he will greet you back.

Little visitors who have always wanted to feed and pet cute parrots can do so in the “Lorikeet Pavilion” – home to colorful rainbow lorikeets that love to climb on the shoulders of guests.


What is pink and stands on one leg? Flamingos, of course. However, Florida´s national birds are not the only inhabitants of the Flamingo Lagoon. This elaborately designed waterscape in the heart of the zoo also features peacocks, ibises and ducks that you can feed.

River Otters

In 2021, the otter enclosure at Everglades Wonder Gardens underwent an extensive redesign – good news for visitors who can now observe the playful animals better than ever before. The habitat consists of rocks, slides and a waterfall. In addition, it offers enough space to accommodate more rescued otters in the future.

Botanical Gardens

In additional to animals, plant species are another highlight of Everglades Wonder Gardens: The selection ranges from ferns, gnarled banyan and canistel trees to Japanese bonsais. Bromeliads and orchids make the landscape bloom, water lilies adorn the ponds, and colorful butterflies feed on passion flowers in the northwest of the park. With all this natural splendor, it should come as no surprise that Everglades Wonder Gardens is a popular place for weddings.

Natural History Museum

At the Museum of Everglades Wonder Gardens, visitors can learn more about Florida´s natural diversity. And not only that: In addition to beautiful landscape shots, bones and shells, you will also see the largest inhabitant of the zoo: “Big Joe”, a 15 ft crocodile that still commands respect, although the giant is now taxidermied.

Wonder Shoppe

Before it is time to head home, you should visit the Wonder Shoppe – especially if you are traveling with children: Here, you can buy stuffed animals, teddy bears, T-shirts, bags, postcards and candy. A true highlight in springtime are the richly decorated Easter and Valentine’s trees in front of the shop.

Yoga and Relaxation

With its idyllic surroundings, Everglades Wonder Gardens is a perfect place to relax and meditate – so what could be better than a yoga session at the zoo? All you need to bring is your yoga mat. Then, you are ready work on your inner balance with expert yoga teachers – under the curious eyes of peacocks and ibises. The yoga classes are suitable for guests aged 6 or older.

Everglades Wonder Gardens – Map

Do you want to get a quick overview of the zoo´s attractions? Then, the Everglades Wonder Gardens Map will help you.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

What are the opening hours of Everglades Wonder Gardens?

The zoo opens every day at 10 am and closes at 4 pm. On Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Everglades Wonder Gardens is closed.

How much is admission to Everglades Wonder Gardens?

Tickets cost 12 USD for adults, 7 USD for children from 3–12 years and 10 USD for seniors (65+).

What animals can I see at Everglades Wonder Gardens?

The zoo mainly features native species such as alligators, turtles, flamingos, ibises and turkeys, but also otters and parrots from the Old and New World, as well as snakes and lizards.

Can I book Everglades Wonder Gardens for private events?

Yes, Everglades Wonder Gardens is available for private celebrations such as birthdays and weddings. Its lawns and the Victorian-themed “Tea Room” can accommodate up to 200 guests.

Paw tracks in the mud, piles of leaves, scratch marks on trees – these signs indicate the presence of an elusive animal: the Florida panther. In order to protect this endangered species, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge was established. In addition, other rare animal and plant species also live in this area.

With its rather moderate size, the refuge is perfect for a short nature trip – completely free of charge. We will show you how to make the most out of your visit, which animals you can see and when particularly worthwhile activities take place.

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge – important Facts

From its history to different plants and animals and the best time for visits – here are some important facts about the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge:

History and Management

The history of the Refuge is inextricably linked to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This law mandated the creation of protected areas for endangered species, and one of them was established in 1989 to save the Florida panther from extinction.

For this purpose, the US Fish & Wildlife Service purchased an area of 38 square miles, which was expanded 7 years later. To this day, the agency is responsible for managing the protected area.

Another group that takes care of conservation efforts and projects for visitors is the non-profit organization “Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge”.

Location and Climate

The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is located about 35 miles east of Naples, bordering Parkway 93 in the south and State Road 29 in the east. With an area of 41 square miles, it is one of the smaller refuges in the state.

Like in the rest of South Florida, the climate is dominated by alternating dry and rainy seasons:

The dry season lasts from October to May. It sees temperatures of 25–30° C and moderate rainfall.

The refuge is also open in the summer months. Due to heavy rainfalls, however, many paths are flooded during this time. In addition, swarms of mosquitoes and high humidity make the summer months a less popular season for visitors.


The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge features different landscapes, which in turn are home to a wide variety of plants:

About 20 % of the area consists of flat, lightly covered coniferous forests. Another form of vegetation are hardwood hammocks: dense islands of deciduous trees that harbor more than 300 plant species. In addition, there are grassy prairies, swamps and cypress forests, which are flooded for several months of the year.

Especially during World War II, cypresses were cut down on a large scale. Lately, the population has been able to recover – although it will take a long time for these giants to regain their original size.


The name of this protected area is no coincidence, as the rare Florida panther still lives here. However, with only 11-16 specimens remaining, you are very unlikely to spot one. If you do, you might be in for a surprise: Unlike their relatives from the “Jungle Book”, Florida panthers are not black, but brown. They look similar to pumas – and in fact, are closely related to these felines.

Of course, panthers are not the only animals that populate the refuge. Permanent residents include more than 120 species of birds: among them storks, kestrels, gnatcatchers and caracaras: birds of prey with large beaks that are often spotted on wooden poles.

Mammal species include white-tailed deer, black bears, lynxes, armadillos, raccoons, and coyotes. In addition, frogs, snakes and alligators populate the wetlands, while blooming flowers along the paths attract butterflies.

Visitor Center

Unlike many national parks, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge does not have a full-fledged visitor center. There is, however, a main office a few miles north of the hiking trails. Although it does not offer access to trails, the office is still worth visiting if you want to take a brochure or have questions about the refuge.

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge – Things to Do

Since the Panther Refuge comprises a rather small area, the number of things to do is somewhat limited. Depending on the time of your visit, you have the choice between the following activities:


There are two hiking trails at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge:

The first one is a 550 yards gravel path that leads through lush vegetation and wooded hills. This path is well marked and easy to walk, even for beginners.

Being slightly longer, the second path winds its way through grassy prairies and coniferous forests. It takes about 45–90 minutes. Although Florida panthers mostly populate the inaccessible parts of the refuge, you might see their tracks along the path if you are lucky.

Please note that the second trail may be flooded and overgrown during the rainy season. Therefore, it is best to ask the refuge´s main office about the condition of the path (phone: 239-657-8001).

No matter which trail you want to tackle, the best time for wildlife observations are the early morning and late afternoon hours. Around noon, on the other hand, many animals seek shelter from the heat of the day.

Guided Tours

Every year in spring, usually on the third Saturday in March, the non-profit organization “Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge” hosts an Open House program: Then, parts of the park that are usually off-limits are opened to visitors.

Activities include swamp buggy rides, bird watching, plant tours, and guided hikes through the swamp. Bow and arrow shooting and other fun activities for children are also regularly offered.

In the near future, hunting and fishing could become legal at the refuge, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to expand visitor access to many protected areas in Florida. More specifically, planned activities at the refuge will include sport fishing and turkey hunting.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

When does the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge open and close?

The parking lot as well as the refuge’s two hiking trails are open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. Staying overnight in the protected area is prohibited.

What is the entrance fee for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge?

Hiking in the protected area is free of charge. However, the organization “Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge” accepts donations to finance their conversation efforts.

How long should I stay at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge?

The publicly accessible hiking trails only comprise a small portion of the refuge. Even the longer trail can be completed in 90 minutes or less.

How likely is it to see a panther at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge?

Florida panthers are shy, well-camouflaged and nocturnal animals that avoid humans. Therefore – and due to the small population of less than 16 animals – sightings are extremely rare.

From wide, open prairies to pristine mangrove forests, from the rippling waters of the Turner River to the last cypress forests in North America – There is hardly a place in the U.S. that can match the diversity of the Big Cypress National Preserve. If you want to see Florida’s iconic animals like alligators, manatees, turtles, waterfowl, and even panthers, this is THE place to go.

Just as diverse as the flora and fauna are the activities in this green paradise: Whether on relaxing strolls or adventurous swamp tours, whether by bike, kayak or off-road vehicle – there is always something to discover in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

We will show you what makes this protected area east of Naples so special, what kinds of animals and plants you can see here, and which places are particularly worth-while for a trip.

Big Cypress National Preserve – important Facts

History, geography, flora and fauna as well as important places for visitors – in the following section, you will find the most important facts about the Big Cypress National Preserve:


Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the area was inhabited by Semiole and Mikasuki Indians. After being used for hunting in the 19th and oil drilling in the 20th century, Big Cypress National Preserve was declared a protected area in 1974. Later, 232 square miles of land were added to the preserve, and the touristic infrastructure was further developed.

Location and Climate

The Big Cypress National Preserve stretches between Naples and Miami, which places it right in the middle between South Florida´s two coasts. In total, the preserve covers an area of 1,126 square miles.

Typically for South Florida, the climate is dominated by the change between dry and rainy season. From November to May, there are mild temperatures and moderate precipitation. In summer and autumn, temperatures reach 34° C and heavy rainfall causes floodings in large parts of the preserve. During this time, visitors should expect inaccessible paths, high humidity and swarms of mosquitoes – but they are rewarded with the sight of blooming wildflowers.


The Big Cypress National Preserve features an astonishingly diverse flora. One key feature are its extensive cypress forests – hence the name. In addition, the area is dominated by mangroves, grassy prairies and forested islands called “hammocks”. More than 800 species of plants are found in the preserve – almost as many as in the much larger Everglades National Park. A particularly colorful sight are 36 orchid species that grow both on soil and on tree trunks.


Given the wide variety of landscapes, it is not surprising that the Big Cypress National Preserve provides refuge for numerous animals: these include waterbirds such as herons, anhingas and ibises, as well as turtles, frogs, snakes and alligators. Otters, lynxes and black bears live well hidden in the undergrowth, and even more luck is needed if you want to see the rare Florida panther: Only 30–35 specimens roam the huge area of the Big Cypress National Preserve. A more frequent guest are Manatees: Florida’s iconic “sea cows” can be seen on the coast, but also in the canals of the preserve – especially in winter, when the animals seek shelter in the warm water.

Visitor Centers

Most guests of the Big Cypress National Preserve start their trip at two visitor centers that are open year-round (except for Christmas). Both are located right next to the Tamiami Trail Highway and feature exhibits on the flora and fauna, but also on the history of the preserve. In addition, you will find gift shops with souvenirs such as books, DVDs, postcards, T-shirts and mugs.

Adresses: .

Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center  Oasis Visitor Center 
33000 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, Florida 34141
52105 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, Florida 34141

Big Cypress National Preserve Map

Do you want to see where the Big Cypress National Preserve begins, which road you should take, and where the visitor centers are located? Then, this map will help you.

Big Cypress National Preserve – popular Activities

Whether on water or on land, solo or with expert guides – the following activities are particularly popular in the Big Cypress National Preserve:


The Big Cypress National Preserve offers both short strolls and long-distance hikes. If you are looking for a comfortable experience, we recommend the wooden boardwalk next to the Oasis Visitor Center. Here, you can overlook a pond that is populated by alligators. The 4,3-mile-long Gator Hook Trail is another easy route for beginners. Please note, however, that the paths of the preserve are flooded for several months of the year. Thus, if you want to avoid wet feet, the dry season between November and May is your best friend.

Are you wondering what secrets await beyond the official hiking paths? Then, a “Swamp Walk” at Big Cypress National Preserve is perfect for you. Armed with rubber boots and a mosquito net, you will follow your guide into the flooded swampland — a place not many visitors get to see. Here, no noises disturb the peace, except for murmuring creeks and the croaking of frogs. This makes every Swamp Walk a truly serene and meditative experience.

Swamp Buggy Tours

With their huge tires, the swamp buggies of the Big Cypress National Preserve may look intimidating at first sight. However, many visitors agree: There is no better way to comfortably explore this wilderness. Depending on the provider, up to 6 people can take a seat on these all-terrain vehicles. Not only do the Swamp Buggies provide perfect vantage points for observing and photographing animals. Experienced guides will also tell you interesting stories about the flora and fauna of the Big Cypress National Preserve.


If you want to explore the extensive waterways of the Big Cypress National Preserve, a kayak is your best choice. Especially popular is the Turner River Paddling Trail, which starts right next to Highway 41, leads 10 miles through the protected area and even cuts into Everglades National Park. Slightly shorter, but even more varied is the Lefthand Turner River Paddling Trail starting in Everglades City. After a 3-mile-long ride along flooded prairies and mangrove forests, the trail terminates at Chokoloskee Island, a truly picturesque place off the coast.


If you are looking for a balanced mix of exercise and natural scenery, you should explore the Big Cypress National Preserve by bike: either along the historic Tamiami Trail or on one of the designated bike paths. Especially beginner-friendly is the Fire Prairie Trail: a 5-mile-long dirt road where you can marvel at the vastness of South Florida’s grasslands. Or are you looking for a challenge off the beaten track? Then, the off-road trails of the preserve are perfect for you.


Fishing is allowed in all lakes, ponds, and rivers of the Big Cypress National Preserve. Although no special permit from the national park is required, visitors still need a State Fishing License. With this license, you will be ready to catch more than 60 species of fish – including eels, catfish, sea brass and snapper.


There is a lot to discover in the Big Cypress National Preserve – too much for just one day. Luckily, camping is allowed at 8 official campgrounds that are equipped with toilets and charge 10–30 USD per night. If you are looking for a true adventure, you should try Backcountry Camping: Off the beaten track, hikers can pitch their tents for free. All you need to do is fill out a permit – either online or at the visitor centers.


It may come as a surprise to foreign visitors – but hunting certain animals is allowed in the Big Cypress National Preserve: these species include deer, wild boar, turkeys, squirrels, quails, hares, raccoons and coyotes. However, hunters have to register at one of the Hunter Check-In Stations along Highway 41 and State Road 93.

Scenic Routes for Motorists

You do not have the time for long hikes or boat trips, but still want to experience the beauty of the Big Cypress National Preserve? No problem. You can also do so by car. Particularly popular is the Loop Road: a junction of the Tamiami Trail that runs for 27 miles along cypress forests and open grasslands; Alternatively, you can turn north onto Turner River Road. This route runs parallel to a canal, where many species of waterbirds can be spotted.

Off-road Rides

Motorists who want to venture deeper into the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve must leave the roads behind and bring an all-terrain vehicle. This way, you can explore unpaved routes, of which there are plenty in the Preserve. Please note, however, that you need to obtain an Offroad Permit that includes both an online safety course and the inspection of your vehicle. You can get the permit at the headquarters of the Preserve (33100 Tamiami Trail East. Ochopee, FL 34141).

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How big is the Big Cypress National Preserve?

The Big Cypress National Preserve is located in the heart of South Florida. With an area of 1,126 square miles, its size is similar to the state of Rhode Island.

When was the Big Cypress National Preserve established?

The Big Cypress National Preserve was established as a protected area on October 11, 1974.

What is the entrance fee for Big Cypress National Preserve?

Admission to the preserve itself is free. Fees only apply for campsites and special permits: for example, if you want to explore the area with an off-road vehicle.

What is there to do at Big Cypress National Preserve?

The Big Cypress National Preserve provides numerous opportunities for hiking, cycling and kayaking, fishing and hunting, as well as off-road trips and Swamp Buggy tours. In addition, there are two visitor centers with interesting exhibits about the preserve.

Stretching like pearls on a necklace, Florida’s barrier islands form the most southern points of the US. But while most tourists drive straight to Key West, there is a true hidden gem for nature lovers waiting in the Florida Keys:

Bahia Honda State Park features picturesque beaches, turquoise-blue waters, rare plant species and a colorful variety of waterfowl and fish. Here, you can see the “real Florida”, far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities – a perfect place to relax.

In this article, we will tell you what you should know before visiting this tropical Eden: from the best travel time and the flora and fauna to the most beautiful sights and activities at Bahia Honda State Park.

Bahia Honda State Park – important Facts

You want to get the most out of your visit to Bahia Honda State Park? Then, you should know these important facts:


The history of Bahia Honda State Park is inextricably linked to one person: Henry Morisson Flagler. In 1904, this oil magnate and pioneer of Florida tourism built a railroad to Key West. Although the project was thwarted by tropical storms, it succeeded in putting Bahia Honda on the map, leading to more and more visitors. The island first became a county park, and in 1961, it was declared a state park.

Location and Directions

The 494-acre park is located on Bahia Honda Key, an island in the far south of the state. It is situated about halfway between Marathon and the popular holiday island of Key West.

All of the Florida Keys’ barrier islands are connected by the Overseas Highway – a scenic route that makes arrivals by car super-easy. From Miami, motorists need about 2.5 hours.

Of course, you can also get there by boat: The Bahia Honda Marina features 19 slips with electricity and water as well as a pumping station, showers, toilets and waste disposal facilities.

You can reserve a slip via the telephone number (305) 872-3210 or the VHF channel 16.


Like the other islands of the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda features warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine all year round. Nevertheless, there are seasonal differences:

The dry season from November to April brings moderate temperatures of 25–28° C and low precipitation – ideal conditions for hiking, sunbathing and snorkeling.

In summer, you should account for more rainy days, hot temperatures and high humidity. While the showers are mostly heavy but short, there is the risk of tropical storms. The traces of Hurricane Irma are clearly visible on Bahia Honda, and exxperience shows that most storms occur between August 15 and October 15. However, warning systems can detect hurricanes quite early now.


On Bahia Honda, the flora of North America meets that of the Caribbean – resulting in a wide variety of species. The island is home to the largest population of the rare silver palm, which delights the eye with its bright, fan-like leaves. Gumbo-limbos can easily be identified by their reddish bark, the geiger tree is a colorful import from the West Indies, and sea-lavender lets the coastal areas shine in a sea of purple.

In addition, limestone soil brings forth an abundance of flowers, which in turn serve as food for the endangered butterfly species “Miami Blue”.


With its rich coastal landscape, Bahia Honda State Park attracts a large number of waterbirds: including pelicans, spoonbills, night herons and cormorants. Wood warblers like to spend the winter here, and the railway bridge in the island´s southwest is an ideal place to spot falcons.

Off the coast, the wildlife is equally diverse: rocks, coral reefs and seagrass meadows provide a refuge for angelfish, parrotfish, striped sergeants and barracudas. Larger marine species include manta rays, sharks, dolphins and sea turtles: even loggerheads, which have become a rare sight elsewhere, are regularly spotted off the coast of Bahia Honda.

Opening Hours

Bahia Honda State Park is open every day from 8 am until sunset. The Concession Building, where you can buy snacks, souvenirs and clothes, also opens at 8 am and closes at 5 pm.

Entrance Fee

All visitors to Bahia Honda State Park must pay an entrance fee that varies according to the mode of transport:

  • 2 USD for pedestrians and cyclists
  • 4 USD for motorcycles and single-person vehicles
  • 8 USD for vehicles with 2–8 passengers.

In addition, a county tax of 50 cents per person is due.

Bahia Honda State Park – Things to do

Whether on water or on land, alone or with knowledgeable guides, Bahia Honda State Park offers a wide variety of things to do for the whole family:

Swimming and Sunbathing

If you want to relax, enjoy the sun and splash around in the warm water, there are three beaches to choose from at Bahia Honda State Park:

The first one is Sandspur Beach, which many visitors consider the most beautiful beach in all of Florida – or better: considered. As of now (September 2021), the damage caused by Hurricane Irma is still being repaired here. For this reason, Sandspur Beach is currently closed.

Equally picturesque and situated 1.2 miles further west are Calusa and Loggerhead Beach. Not only do these beaches feature powdery, white sand and crystal-clear water. Here, you can also see the half-destroyed but still impressive railway bridge of the Flagler Overseas Railroad.

Snorkeling and Diving

If you want to snorkel or dive at Bahia Honda State Park, you have two options:

On the one hand, you can do so directly off the coast. There, you will find seagrass meadows and rocks that are home to crabs, colorful tropical fish, rays and nurse sharks. Snorkeling trips near the highway bridge are particularly worth-while. Please note, however, that strong currents can occur. A diver’s flag is mandatory to warn boaters.

If you want to experience the true underwater splendor of the Florida Keys, we recommend an organized snorkeling tour to the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary, 12 miles away. There, you can marvel at 50 species of corals and 150 species of fish.

Prior experience is not necessary for the tour and the equipment (mask, snorkel and diving fins) can be rented for a deposit. There is no age restriction. However, participants must be able to swim.

Snorkeling Tour Information:

  • Times: 9.30 am, 1.30 pm or 4.45 pm
  • Ticket sales: Concession Building (at Loggerhead Beach)
  • Duration: 1–1.5 hours
  • Costs: 29.95 USD (adults), 24.95 USD (children).


Due to its small size, Bahia Honda State Park does not offer long-distance hikes. However, there are short routes that showcase the natural beauty of this area.

The most popular one is Bahia Honda Bridge Trail: a 700 yard-long, marked loop that is easily walkable, even for beginners. It starts with a gentle climb and then leads over an old section of the Overseas Highway. There, you will have a great view of the half-destroyed railway bridge – still a masterpiece of engineering.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma ravaged much of Bahia Honda’s Atlantic coast in 2017. This is why the popular Silver Palm Nature Trail on the south side is no longer accessible. As compensation, you can walk around the southern tip of the island and admire the Overseas Railway Bridge from below.


The abundance of species at Bahia Honda State Park does not just attract snorkelers. Fishing fans can make the catch of a lifetime here – directly on the beach, off the rocky west coast or on a boat trip. Fishing under the highway bridge might no longer be an insider tip, but is still worth-while if you want to catch big, silvery tarpons. In addition, snappers, groupers and barracudas also populate the waters around Bahia Honda.


If you want to explore the picturesque coast of Bahia Honda State Park, kayaking is the perfect activity for you. You can launch your vessel at two boat ramps: either at the Loggerhead parking lot or at the marina. There, kayaks can be rented for 12 or 18 USD (single or double kayak).

Bahia Honda State Park – Accommodation

If you want to spend more than one day at Bahia Honda State Park, you can choose from the following accommodation options:


Bahia Honda State Park features three campgrounds with restrooms and running water. For more information, you can check the following table:

  Electricity  Hot water  RVs allowed 
Buttonwood  x  x  max. length: 71 ft 
Sandspur  some sites    max. length: 13 ft 
Bayside      x 


Buttonwood, the park´s biggest campground, offers sites directly on the water (but without shade).

Sandspur is known for its beautiful surroundings, but cannot accommodate large RVs. As of September 2021, this campsite is closed due to storm damage.

Bayside is the smallest campsite of the park. Vehicles must fit under the Bahia Honda Bridge, so they cannot exceed 7 ft in height.

Please note: The oceanfront sites are in high demand. To secure your spot, you can make reservations up to 11 months in advance.

Cabins and Hotels

Are you looking for a more comfortable stay? Then, the six cabins at Bahia Honda are a great choice. They can accommodate six people and are equipped with bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and air conditioning. In addition, they feature picnic areas and barbecue grills.

If there is no cabin available – just like on the campsites, the number of visitors increases rapidly in winter – the hotels of Marathon are only 9 miles away and offer a variety of rooms in different price ranges.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Does Bahia Honda State Park have Wi-Fi?

Public Wi-Fi is only available at the park´s concession building next to the Loggerhead Parking Lot.

How much does it cost to enter Bahia Honda State Park?

The entrance fee is 2–8 USD, depending whether you arrive on foot, by bicycle, motorbike or car.

Is Bahia Honda State Park open after Irma?

Yes. Although the cleanup is still going on, you can visit the state park and its beaches. Only Sandspur Beach and the adjacent Silver Palm Nature Trail are closed to visitors.

Can I snorkel at Bahia Honda State Park?

Yes. Snorkeling is possible directly off the beach and the rocky western coast. Alternatively, you can book a snorkeling tour to the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary.

Does Bahia Honda State Park offer camping?

Yes, the state park has three campgrounds that are suitable for both tents and RVs. Some sites are equipped with electricity and hot water.

Is Bahia Honda State Park dog-friendly?

Yes. Dogs are allowed if they walk on a leash. They are also allowed at the campsites – but not on the beaches of Bahia Honda State Park.

Have you ever wanted to feel like Robinson Crusoe – stranded in a secluded paradise with pristine beaches and turquoise waters? This dream becomes a reality at Cayo Costa State Park. On the idyllic island near Cape Coral, you can go swimming, sunbathing, fishing and hiking – or even better: go off-line for a few days and pitch your tent under the starry sky.

In this article, we will tell you what makes Cayo Costa State Park so special and how to get the most out of your trip. In addition to information on transport, accommodation options and the best travel time, we will also present the most worth-while activities in this island paradise.

Cayo Costa State Park – important Facts

From different modes of transport to the flora and fauna – here are the most important facts about Cayo Costa State Park:


The 2,400-acre state park is located on Cayo Costa: an island in Florida’s Lee County, nestled between Pine Island to the east, Boca Grande to the north, and North Captiva Island to the south. The next big city, Cape Coral, is about 6 miles away.


Over the centuries, many of Florida’s islands have experienced a significant population growth – not so Cayo Costa. Apart from the state park facilities and a few vacation homes, there are no buildings here.

Up until the 18th century, Cayo Costa was inhabited by the indigenous Calusa tribe. The Calusa were later followed by Cuban fishermen, most of which perished in the hurricane of 1910. The last fishing families left Cayo Costa in 1958. Today, 95 % of the island belong to the state of Florida and make up the protected Cayo Costa State Park.


Due to its secluded location, there is only one viable way to reach Cayo Costa State Park: boats. If you only want to stay on the island for a few hours, you can anchor right on the beach; for longer stays, however, we recommend the Bayside Docks featuring 10 boat slips and sanitary facilities.

Here, right next to the Ranger Station, the Cayo Costa Ferry docks – an ideal transport option for visitors who do not own a boat. Ferries depart from North Captiva Island, Bokeelia and Punta Gorda. Reserving your ticket in advance is recommended.

Of course, you can also access the island by kayak. Measuring 4.7 miles, the route from Pine Island is significantly longer than its counterpart between Cayo Costa and Boca Grande – but easier to navigate due to more moderate currents.

Opening Hours

Cayo Costa State Park is open every day from 8 am to sunset. However, you can stay longer if you have reserved a campsite or cabin. The Ranger Station also opens at 8 am and closes at 4 pm.

Entrance Fee

Visitors to Cayo Costa State Park have to pay an entrance fee of 2 USD per person. You can simply put the money into an honor box near the Ranger Station.


As in the rest of South Florida, Cayo Costa´s climate is characterized by alternating dry and rainy seasons.

Pleasant average temperatures of 20–25 degrees Celsius and low precipitation await you in winter and spring – the most popular travel time.

In summer, temperatures rise; rainfall and humidity increases, and the hurricane season lasts from May to November. The risk of tropical storms is particularly high between mid-August and the end of October. In addition, swarms of mosquitoes make summer holidays on Cayo Costa somewhat of an ordeal.


Despite its small size, Cayo Costa State Park features a wide variety of plants: Coniferous and deciduous forests and grassy prairies dominate the interior, while palm trees are found on the coast. In addition to sea oats, this part of Cayo Costa is also home to a Caribbean species: sea grapes, a traditional source of jam and wine. Where land and sea converge, there are mangroves – vital plants that provide shelter for an abundance of fish species.


Thanks to its secluded location and natural vegetation, Cayo Costa is a refuge for animals: Common species include waterbirds such as herons, ibises, pelicans and majestic frigate birds. Snowy egrets populate the coastal regions, and in the treetops, bald eagles like to build their nests.

The island is also known for its aquatic species: Off the coast, you are likely to see porpoises and playful dolphins, while Cayo Costa´s eastern lagoons attract alligators and manatees.

In addition, four species of sea turtles lay their eggs on Cayo Costa’s beaches. The island is one of Florida’s most important breeding grounds and in the summer months, conservationists mark the nests with tape. Despite the protection efforts, not all baby turtles make it into the water: For Cayo Costa’s crabs, raccoons and foxes, these animals are a rich source of food.

Cayo Costa State Park – Things to do

Whether on water or on land – Cayo Costa State Park offers a wide variety of things to do:


Almost 9 miles of sandy beach, far away from hotels and large crowds – sounds too good to be true?

On the west coast of Cayo Costa, you will find such a beach. Here, you can bury your toes in the sand, splash around in the warm water and enjoy the coastal landscape. Shelling is another popular pastime here. If you do not feel like walking to the beach, you can take a shuttle that leaves the ranger station every hour.


Do you want to see Cayo Costa´s beach in its full splendor, access the best fishing grounds or explore the eastern mangrove coast? Then, kayaks are your ideal option. A particularly worthwhile spot is the “Manatee Hole”: As the name suggests, this lagoon offers good chances of seeing Florida’s iconic manatees. Or how about a longer paddling trip? In this case, you should kayak for 2 miles along the eastern coast, visit Cabbage Key and treat yourself to a meal at the island´s famous restaurant.

Kayaks for one or two people can be rented at the Ranger Station.


Even though Cayo Costa is not considered Florida’s best snorkeling spot — visibility is often clouded and there is no coral reef — you are well-advised to bring your snorkel and mask. Then, you cannot only dive for colorful shells; with a bit of luck, you might also see large schools of fish. The best time for snorkeling is the dry season, and a particularly worthwhile spot lies off the northeastern coast near the island´s old quarantine station.


Whether you prefer snooks, redfish, mackerel or silvery tarpons – If you want to make the catch of your lifetime, Cayo Costa´s protected waters are perfect for you. Thanks to its large size, you can easily find a quiet place to cast your rod at the beach. Boca Grande Pass is known for its goliath groupers, and off the east coast, you will find an abundance of mangrove snappers and flounders.

Hiking and Cycling

When you are done frolicking at the beach, you should also visit Cayo Costa´s interior. Here, you will find 6 miles of hiking trails meandering through coniferous and deciduous forests – a perfect place to spot bald eagles in the treetops. In addition, one path leads to the old cemetery in the north, where the Cuban settlers of Cayo Costa are buried.

Visitors who want to explore the island by bike can rent one at the Ranger Station.

Cayo Costa State Park – Accommodation

At Cayo Costa State Park, you can choose from two accommodation options:

If you want to be as close to nature as possible, camping is perfect for you: Situated 1 mile west of the Bayside Docks are 30 campsites with sanitary facilities and picnic areas. There is no electricity or Wi-Fi, but the mobile phone coverage is fine, and you can charge your smartphone at the Ranger Station.

Are you looking for a more comfortable place to stay? Then, you should book one of the 12 wooden cabins, which are equipped with bunk beds and tables.

Reservations for campsites and cabins can be made by calling 1-800-326-3521.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get to Cayo Costa State Park?

The cheapest way to get to Cayo Costa State Park is by ferry from Bokeelia. Alternatively, take the ferry from Punta Gorda or North Captiva Island. Of course, you can also travel with your own boat. 

Where can I dock my boat in Cayo Costa State Park?

You can either moor directly on the beach or at the eastern Bayside Docks next to the Ranger Station. There are 10 boat slips available. 

Can I drive to Cayo Costa State Park?

No. Unlike in the Florida Keys, there are no roads leading to Cayo Costa. Therefore, you can only access the island by boat or helicopter.  

Are there alligators at Cayo Costa State Park?

Alligators mainly populate the mangrove-covered lagoons in the east of Cayo Costa. Off the coast, however, these animals are rarely found, as they prefer fresh water. 

With its warm climate and diverse habitats, Florida is a haven for animals. This diversity also includes snakes that can be found all over the state. The reptiles play an important role for the ecosystem – especially because they keep the rodent population in check and serve as food for other animals.

Due to ever increasing development, contact between humans and snakes cannot always be avoided. Most of the time, these encounters end without accident, as snakes are inherently shy and not aggressive. However, anyone who disturbs the animals accidentally or on purpose should expect a painful bite.

In this article, we will explain where Florida’s harmless and dangerous snake species live, and how to recognize them. You will also learn how to avoid encounters with snakes and which tips can save your life in the event of a snake bite.

Snakes in Florida – harmless Species

Of the 45 snake species in Florida, the majority are harmless to humans. Most tourists never even see a snake, as these animals lead well-hidden lives. Nevertheless, you may come across them on a hike or boat tour. Here are the most common harmless snake species in the Sunshine State:

Black racer

This snake ranks among the most common species in Florida. As the name suggests, it is characterized by black scales and high velocity. Black racers can reach a length of up to 6.2 ft and are often found in agrarian habitats such as farmland and gardens. For humans, this species is harmless. Farmers even welcome its presence, as the black racer feeds on small rodents.

Ring-necked snake

This snake can grow to a length of up to 1.2 feet and is easily recognized by her yellow ring behind the head. When she is playing dead, you can also see her yellowish underside. In Florida, this species is often found in piles of leaves, gardens or even in houses. Fortunately, the ring-necked snake is harmless to humans. She does not inject venom, but defends herself by secreting a foul smell.

Corn snake

Due to their striking black-red-brown coloration, corn snakes are often kept in terrariums. However, they also live in Florida´s natural habitats, where they skillfully climb trees. Sometimes, they enter houses and garages through small openings. Corn snakes can bite if they feel threatened. However, they are harmless to humans – unlike the coral snake (see below). Being similar in color, these two species are often confused.

Florida brown snake

With a length of only 1 ft, Florida brown snakes are among the smallest species in Florida. They feature a yellowish-brown coloration and are at home in forests, wetlands and farmland. Sometimes, they also populate gardens, where they find ideal hiding spots, or end up in swimming pools by accident. For humans and pets, this species is harmless.

Southern water snake

Due to its dark spots on light scales, this snake is often confused with the cottonmouth. In addition, both snakes share the same habitat: the banks of rivers and lakes, where they hunt frogs, fish and salamanders. However, the southern water snake is not venomous and poses no threat to humans. Even without venom, though, it can still bite. This snake also omits a foul smell – another reason not to disturb it.


These imposing constrictors originally come from the Old World and are not native to Florida. However, many pythons were imported as pets and managed to escape. For some years now, they have been causing a veritable snake invasion, especially in the Everglades. Their population is estimated at over 100,000, and the state has even put a bounty on their heads – so far with little success.

Snakes in Florida – dangerous Species

Florida is home to 6 species of snakes that can be dangerous to humans. Even if the risk of a bite is low – it pays to know what these snakes look like and where they live:

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

  • Size: 3.9–7.9 ft
  • Features: black, brown and yellowish-white patterns in diamond shape; tail rattle
  • Habitat: oak and pine forests, dry bushland.

This largest subspecies of rattlesnakes is found throughout Florida – even on islands like the Florida Keys. It usually lives secluded and is not considered aggressive. In case of danger, the diamondback prefers to flee and sound her tail rattle. If this does not help, she can deliver a venomous bite. Due to the large amount of venom, this can be life-threatening for humans. The bite of this rattlesnake leads to painful swelling and tissue destruction. Immediate medical attention is required.

Timber rattlesnake

  • Size: 3.3–5.9 ft
  • Features: muscular body, gray-yellowish scales with black diamonds
  • Habitat: bottomland, riverbeds, reeds, swamps

The timber rattlesnake is found exclusively in northern Florida, where she hunts for small mammals, amphibians, birds and other snakes. She injects less venom than the diamondback rattlesnake, and reports of deadly bites are rare. However, accidents can happen when hikers climb over fallen tree trunks – a preferred hiding place of the timber rattlesnake.

Dusky pigmy rattlesnake

  • Size: 1.6–2.3 ft
  • Features: light gray scales, black spots, often interrupted by a reddish band; pointed tail
  • Habitat: Forest areas near bodies of water.

This small member of the rattlesnake family likes to hide under leaves and deadwood. Due to its size, the dwarf rattlesnake injects less venom than its larger relatives and has shorter fangs. Therefore, the symptoms after a bite are usually limited to pain, swelling and nausea.


  • Size: 2.5–5 ft
  • Characteristics: black, brown or olive scales; brown to black bands that fade with age
  • Habitat: rivers, lake shores, swamps, coastal pine forests

This representative of the pit viper family spends most of her life by and in the water, where she hunts fish, frogs and small mammals. When threatened, the cottonmouth curls up and displays her fanged mouth. If this has no effect, a warning bite can follow. Her venom causes, among other symptoms, severe pain, swelling, necrosis and impaired blood clotting. Deaths are rare, though.

Eastern coral snake

  • Size: 1.7–4 ft
  • Characteristics: black-red-yellow bands, slim head with yellow band
  • Habitat: pine and liana forests, swamps, dry bushland

The eastern coral snake is native to the entire state. She prefers to hide in foliage and deadwood, but can also climb trees. When in contact with people, this species will try to flee. When she does bite, however, she injects a powerful venom that triggers severe pain, swelling, gastrointestinal problems, and paralysis. If left untreated, the bite can lead to death from respiratory failure.

Snakes in Florida – Tips and Precautions

If you spend a lot of time outdoors in Florida, you are likely to encounter a snake sooner or later. Do not worry, though – even the Sunshine State´s venomous species only attack people when they feel threatened. To prevent this from happening, you should observe the following precautions:

  • If you see a snake on the path in front of you, stay calm. The animal will most likely try to escape into the undergrowth. You should never try to cut off the snake’s escape route.
  • On hikes through dense shrubs, you can protect yourself from snake bites with long trousers and rubber boots.
  • Snakes often seek shade under fallen tree trunks. Tap the trunk with your foot before climbing over it. This way, the snake knows that danger is approaching and can flee.
  • Avoid lifting large stones on hot days. There, snakes like to seek shelter from the heat.
  • Many species of snakes play dead when they are in danger. This is why you should never touch a motionless specimen. Otherwise, the snake could feel threatened and bite.
  • If you come across a snake in the garden or house, try to identify it from a safe distance. Then, you can scare it away with a broom or long stick. In case of venomous species, you should call the Florida Wild Animal Removal Service hotline (386 235-2175) and have the snake removed.
  • Snakes like to hide in piles of leaves. Thus, you should never poke around there with your bare hands and use a long tool, instead. The same goes for stacks of wood in your garden.

What to do in Case of a Snake Bite

If you follow the precautions listed above, snake bites are extremely unlikely. This is also shown by the statistics: Every year, about 8,000 people in the USA are bitten. However, most of these cases are caused by carelessness – for example, when people try to remove a snake with their bare hands. With an average of 1–5 deaths per year (2015–2919), the mortality rate is extremely low.

Despite this, you should not take any chances if you are bitten:

Regardless of the type of snake, you need to be taken to the emergency room immediately to get an antidote. Do not try to tie, suck out or cut open the wound. Since the venom spreads quickly in the body, these measures have no effect, but can do more harm than good. Instead, you should remain calm and wait for help.

If another person has been bitten, you can do the following things:

  • Immediately call an ambulance or take the person to the hospital if this is not possible.
  • Try to calm the victim. Stress, anxiety and movements cause the venom to spread faster. Therefore, the person should remain as calm as possible.
  • In case of a bite to the limbs, you should remove or cut off any constrictive clothing or jewelry before the swelling sets in.
  • You can sterilize the wound and cover it with a clean bandage.
  • If it is safely possible, try to identify the snake. This will allow the doctor to find the appropriate antidote more quickly.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

How many snakes are there in Florida?

While the exact number cannot be given, Florida is home to more snakes than any other state in the southwestern US. In total, 44–50 species of snakes populate the entire Sunshine State and even the islands off its coast.

Are Florida black snakes venomous?

Most of the time, these are black racers – a common but harmless species. However, adult cottonmouths can also have a dark coloration. This species injects a powerful venom that can be deadly to humans.

Which is the most dangerous snake in Florida?

This title goes to the eastern coral snake, a species easily recognizable by its red-black-yellow coloration. Her venom can kill people within 36 hours if the bite is not treated. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are also dangerous, as this species injects huge quantities of venom.

Which snakes live in the Everglades?

The vast wetlands of the Everglades are home to 23 different snake species. However, only four of them are venomous: the eastern coral snake, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the dusky pigmy rattlesnake and the cottonmouth.

How did pythons end up in Florida?

Pythons are originally from Southeast Asia. In the 1990s, they were introduced to Florida as pets. Many of these snakes got released or were able to escape. Today, this invasive species is considered a pest, especially in the Everglades: Their numbers are estimated at up to 100,000 animals.

Some people get cold shivers even thinking of them, others are fascinated by these perfectly adapted carnivores – spiders. The eight-legged animals populate the entire state. And they are not only found in the wild.

Spiders also feel comfortable in houses, cellars and garages. You can hardly blame them, because there, they find protection, food and warmth. Encounters with humans cannot always be avoided and sometimes have serious consequences.

In this article, we will present the dangerous spiders of the Sunshine State and how to deal with them. You will also learn how you can avoid accidents and what to do in case of a spider bite.

Spiders in Florida – important Facts

Spiders are highly complex animals that can look back on 400 million years of evolution and have diversified into many groups. Here are the most important facts about these crawlers:

Characteristics and Size

Like all spiders, the species found in Florida can be identified by the following characteristics: eight legs, a bipartite body with a thin link in between, two chelicerae (jaws) and up to eight eyes.

Their size ranges from tiny jumping spiders and orb-weavers to the wolf spider, which can grow as large as a grapefruit. Even more impressive in size are giant crab spiders and tarantulas.

Did you know? Female spiders are usually much larger than the males. This can result in the latter serving as an involuntary snack after the mating act.

Behavior and Hunting

Florida’s spiders differ not only in size, but also in their behavior.

Most spiders build webs in order to catch insects and other small animals. So-called funnel weavers also prefer to hunt with minimal effort. These species remain motionless in front of their caves. When pray approaches, they pounce at it with lightning-fast reflexes.

However, there are also more active hunters among the arachnids. Jumping spiders, which populate Florida’s forests and meadows, use their camouflage, speed and jumping power to kill prey. Unlike most spiders, they do not build webs, although some species such as the green spider use a safety thread when jumping.


As we already mentioned, mating is not a harmless undertaking for male spiders. Some species perform a certain ritual or bring the female a “gift” in the form of a fly in order not to become food themselves. Others weave the female firmly into her own net as a precaution.

If the mating act was successful, the female builds a cocoon in which she lays her eggs. Depending on the species, several hundred young will hatch. Some spiders leave their children alone after birth; others provide food and protection; still other species go even further and let themselves get eaten by the offspring to ensure their survival.

Dangerous Spiders in Florida

Even though deadly encounters are rare, the following types of spiders in Florida can be dangerous for humans:

Black Widow (latrodectus)

  • Size: 0.08–0.6 inches; legspan: 0.5–1.3 inches
  • Features: shimmering black color, red dots on the abdomen
  • Distribution: entire state

This black and red spider builds her webs at ground level and feeds mainly on insects and other spiders. She prefers piles of stones, deadwood and abandoned animal caves, but can also be found in barns, garages, cellars and sheds, where she finds perfect hide-outs.

Although Black Widows are not considered aggressive, they can bite if they feel threatened. At first, this bite is not very painful. After 1–3 hours, however, the pain intensifies. Cramps, dizziness, nausea and high blood pressure may occur. The good news: If bites are treated in time, the death rate is less than 1%. Only the females can bite. Black “Widowers”, on the other hand, are harmless to humans.

Brown recluse spider (loxosceles reclusa)

  • Size: 0.2–0.8 inches; legspan: about 1 inch
  • Characteristics: light to dark brown color; dark line behind the head
  • Distribution: Alachua, Bay, Duval, Jefferson and Leon County

Florida´s brown recluse spider is rarely found in the wild. Instead, she prefers dark, dry corners in garages, sheds, basements, piles of wood or under stones. This spider has also been found in shoes and work gloves.

When threatened, she may bite, which is not particularly painful at first. However, since the spider “liquefies” prey with her venom, tissue destruction and increasing pain can occur – sometimes in conjunction with nausea, convulsions and headaches. In the worst case, the bite can lead to a sepsis. Deaths, however, are rare among healthy adults.

Brown violin spider (loxosceles rufescens)

  • Size: 0.3–0.4 inches; legspan: up to 0.8 inches.
  • Features: gray to yellow-brown abdomen
  • Distribution: Dade, Orange, Escambia and Osceola County

As its other name “Mediterranean recluse spider” suggests, this species does not come from Florida, but from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. For laymen, it is hardly distinguishable from the brown recluse spider, and their behavior is similar. This spider likes dark, damp places where she can avoid people and hunt for cockroaches and silverfish.

Her bite is not only painful, but also leads to slow-growing necrosis and inflammation. However, accidents are rare, as this spider species leads a well-hidden life – for example, in deep tunnels or shafts. So far, only one death by the brown violin spider has been confirmed.

Chilean recluse spider (loxosceles laeta)

  • Size: 0.2–0.6 inches / 1.1–2 inches with legs
  • Features: white to light-gray abdomen; yellow, brown or reddish-brown legs
  • Distribution: Polk County

Originally from South America, this recluse spider is considered the largest and most dangerous subspecies. So far, however, she has rarely been found in Florida.

Her bite is accompanied by severe, stabbing pain and leads to tissue destruction around the bite site within hours. In the worst case, death can occur due to liver failure. Although no antiserum is known, the death rate is only 3–4%.

In addition, the Chilean recluse spider, like her relatives, lives rather withdrawn. She prefers dark, hard-to-reach places and only bites when she is pushed into a corner or in danger of being crushed.

Other Species of Spiders in Florida

The following spider species often scare vacationers due to their size or painful bite. However, they are largely harmless:

Mexican red rump (tliltocatl vagans)

  • Size: 2–2.7 inches, legspan: up to 5 inches
  • Features: black coloration, reddish hair on the abdomen and legs
  • Distribution: South Florida, especially St. Lucie County

This member of the tarantula family originally comes from Central America and is a rare sight in Florida. Despite their imposing size, Mexican red rumps inject only small amounts of venom and are no more dangerous to humans than bees or wasps.

One piece of advice, though: Like other tarantulas, this species has harpoon-like bristles that can trigger an itchy rash. Therefore, you should never touch it.

Researchers have only recently discovered a new spider species related to tarantulas: The Pine Rockland trapdoor spider lives in the Everglades, where it ambushes prey from the safety of her burrow. For humans, this species is harmless.

Wolf spider (lycosidae)

  • Size: up to palm-sized (with legs)
  • Features: brown color with a dark pattern on the top of the abdomen
  • Distribution: all of Florida

Due to her imposing size, the wolf spider can frighten people quite a bit. However, encounters are rare, as this species is constantly on the move and prefers to stay away from humans. Only when it is pushed into a corner – for example in cellars or cupboards – does it bite. This is painful, but rarely critical for healthy adults.

Crab spiders (thomisidae)

  • Size: usually 0.2–0.4 inches, varying legspan
  • Features: long, angled front legs, similar to crabs
  • Distribution: all of Florida

Crab spiders prefer to stay outdoors, where they sit well camouflaged on flowers or foliage, waiting for prey. They are less common in buildings. However, you should be careful when bringing potted plants inside. Since crab spiders lay their eggs on leaves, this is a way for the crawlers to get into the house.

Their bite, although not dangerous to healthy adults, is quite painful. Victims compare the feeling to a hammer blow to the finger – accompanied by discoloration and swelling, which usually subside after a few hours.

Spiders in Florida – Tips and Precautions

The following tips and precautions can help you avoid dangerous encounters with spiders:

  • If you are hiking on well-developed trails in Florida, you hardly have to worry about spiders. On strolls through the undergrowth, however, long clothes are recommended to ward off any venomous crawlers.
  • Most spiders in Florida prefer dark and secluded places. Therefore, you should regularly clean hard-to-reach nooks and crannies with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Spiders can enter houses through the smallest crevices. If you are unable to seal them off, there is an alternative: Regularly spray the openings with peppermint or eucalyptus oil. Spiders do not like these scents at all.
  • Spiders often seek shelter from the heat under stones and in piles of wood or leaves. Thus, when you go to work there, you should wear gloves.
  • Be careful, though: Spiders could hide in old work gloves that have not been used for a long time. Therefore, empty out the glove before you put it on. The same goes for shoes that are

What to do in Case of a Spider Bite

You were bitten by a spider? First of all, do not panic! For people without pre-existing conditions or allergies, a bite is rarely fatal. Nevertheless, you should take certain measures to be on the safe side:

  • As with snake bites, do not try to remove the venom by cutting open the wound. Otherwise, you risk an infection.
  • For the same reason, you should not scratch the wound. Cold packs are a better way to relieve itching and swelling.
  • In addition, you can use a so-called anti-itch pen to alleviate the symptoms. This device has a hot tip, which is applied to the bite site. The heat causes the protein compounds of the venom to clump together, rendering it less effective.
  • Wash out the wound with soap water to prevent infections and use an antiseptic cream if blisters form.
  • The bites of small spider species are often confused with mosquito or bee stings. Therefore, pay attention to the following symptoms:

increasing pain and itching, swelling or discoloration of the bite site, nausea, dizziness or headaches.

If these symptoms arise, you should see a doctor immediately.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Which is the largest spider in Florida?

This title goes to the giant crab spider. With a legspan of up to 12 inches, it can grow as big as a dinner plate. Despite its imposing size, though, the bite of a giant crab spider is harmless to most humans.

Which spiders in Florida are particularly dangerous?

Black widows, brown recluse spiders, brown violin spiders and Chilean recluse spiders inject a powerful venom that can be potentially deadly. However, these spiders lead rather secluded lives, and deaths are extremely rare.

What do spiders in Florida eat?

Spiders feed mainly on insects and other spiders. However, larger species also hunt mammals, amphibians, snakes, and even birds.

Do all spiders in Florida build a web?

No. Unlike species that lure prey into a web or funnel, jumping spiders are proactive hunters. They only use their glands to secure themselves with a thread before jumping.

Immortalized by the heroes Crush and Squirt from “Finding Nemo”, turtles have long ranked among the most popular animals – and among the most successful: These reptiles with the iconic shell have conquered numerous habitats: from rivers, lakes and swamps to the open oceans.

In many places, turtles can only be seen in captivity – not so in Florida. The Sunshine State is home to numerous species on water and on land. Not only adult specimen can be spotted here. Every year, thousands of females lay their eggs on Florida´s beaches – a remarkable sight for everybody lucky enough to behold it.

In this article, you will learn what makes Florida’s turtles so special, where to best see them in the wild, and which zoos and aquariums harbor the iconic animals. In addition, we will shed light on the perfect travel time for turtle lovers.

Turtles Facts

The turtle family is far from a homogenous group. Instead, scientists have identified a whopping 350 species that differ significantly in physique, behavior and habitat. Here are some of the most important facts about turtles:

Turtles in Florida - Turtles Facts


Turtles have been populating our planet for 220 million years, which makes them one of the oldest vertebrates. It is believed that tortoises emerged much earlier than their aquatic brethren. The largest turtle ever found measured a whole 13 feet, and its skeleton has been dated to 70 million years before our time.

Did you know? Prehistoric turtles used to have clearly visible teeth – unlike today´s species that process their food with beak-like jaws.

Species and Habitats

More than 30 species of turtles call the Sunshine State their home. Most of them are aquatic and live in fresh or salt water. These species include loggerhead, leatherback, and green sea turtles that are found offshore — as well as the swamp-dwelling Florida red-bellied turtle. In addition, there are several species of tortoises in Florida: including the box turtle, the snapping turtle and the gopher tortoise that weighs up to 12 pounds.


  • The most characteristic feature of turtles is their shell, which is firmly attached to the skeleton, grows with the animal and offers protection from predators.
  • Turtles have sharp eyes, with which they can distinguish colors much better than humans.
  • Their sense of smell is well developed, too. This way, they cannot only detect food and mates over long distances. Sea turtles also use smells for orientation. In addition, these aquatic nomads cover thousands of miles and navigate with the help of the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • Hearing, on the other hand, is not a strength of turtles. They react mostly to dull noises such as approaching steps.
  • Turtles are famous for their long lifespan. 75 years or more is not uncommon for wild specimens, and the oldest turtle ever found was estimated to be 176 years old.
  • Despite their slow appearance, turtles are anything but stupid: They have a good memory, problem-solving skills, and can even be trained to a certain extent.


Most turtle species are not picky about their food. Small animals such as snails, insects, crabs and jellyfish are just as much part of their diet as plants, algae and fruits. Tortoises are known for their vegetarian lifestyle, while freshwater and sea turtles do not disdain meat and carrion.

Turtles in Florida - Diet

Mating, Breeding Season and Baby Turtles

Turtles are loners that come together only for mating. After the male has fertilized the female, all turtles – including aquatic species – must come on land in order to lay their eggs.

While tortoises pile up a mound for this purpose, sea turtles always lay their eggs on the same beach where they hatched themselves. To reach their birthplaces, the animals can travel thousands of miles. After about 2 to 3 months, the young turtles hatch and instinctively make their way from the beach into the water.

At this point, the little turtles are completely on their own – and they have many predators: from raccoons, birds and crabs to large fish. Not surprisingly, only one in 1000 sea turtles reaches adulthood.

Turtles in Florida - Mating, Breeding Season and Baby Turtles

Endangerment and Protection

All 6 species of Florida´s sea turtles as well as the gopher tortoise are considered endangered or even threatened with extinction. This is not only due to the pollution of coastal waters. In recent times, more and more beaches and swamp areas have been claimed by humans, so the animals cannot lay their eggs anymore. For this reason, all turtle nests in Florida are protected today, and the capture of wild turtles is strictly regulated.

Turtles in Florida - Endangerment and Protection

Turtle Watching in Florida – the best Places

A long coastline, countless bodies of water and a warm climate make Florida the perfect place to spot turtles in the USA.

In Captivity

If you do not want to go on hiking or boat trips, we recommend the following places to see turtles in captivity.

Rescue Centers

Turtles are exposed to many dangers. Luckily, there are facilities in Florida where injured specimens are nursed back to health. One of them is the Turtle Hospital in Marathon (Florida Keys).

The hospital is open to visitors. On a guided tour, you will get close to the turtles swimming in their pools and learn more about the efforts of the conservationists. A definite highlight for visitors is the moment when turtles are released back into the wild.

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach also takes care of injured specimens. In addition, important research is done here – no wonder, as the center overlooks one of the most important turtle beaches in Florida. During the summer months, tours to the nests are offered, and in winter, you can learn more about the veterinarians´ work.

Turtles in Flordia - Rescue Centers

Zoos and Aquariums

Turtles are a major attraction at the following zoos and aquariums in Florida:

  • At Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, you can see North American species and feed giant tortoises.
  • The Florida Aquarium in Tampa is home to Madagascar turtles and green sea turtles that you can snorkel with in a tank.
  • The Miami Seaquarium operates a rescue center for injured sea turtles.
  • Naples Zoo is home to three species of turtles: gopher tortoises, leopard tortoises and the colorful red-dotted tortoise.
  • Sea World, Orlando offers a special animal encounter: Here, you can climb into an underwater cage to feed turtles, rays and sharks.
  • At Disney World, the armored reptiles populate the aquarium “The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot”, where you can admire them while snorkeling in the tank.
  • At the Fort Myers Butterfly Estates, colorful pollinators are the main attraction. However, the ponds of this greenhouse also feature a number of turtles.
Turtles in Florida - Zoos and Aquariums

In the Wild

Turtles and tortoises can also be observed in the wild – be it in Florida´s wetlands, on the coast or in coral reefs. While adult turtles stay here all year round, the best time to see young ones is the summer, when the females return to lay their eggs.

Melbourne Beach

This city on Florida´s east coast is one of the best places to spot sea turtles. With recent conservation attempts bearing fruit, loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles now come here in increasing numbers to lay their eggs.

A particularly worth-while spot for observations is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge that stretches between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso. Guided tours to turtle nests are also offered by the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Indialantic, Florida.

Vero Beach

This turtle-watching hotspot is also located on the east coast of Florida. There, animal rights activists of the NGO Coastal Connections mark nests that you can visit as part of a tour. You also have the chance to watch rescued turtles getting released back into the wild.

Disney’s Vero Beach Resort has a special offer in store: On nocturnal tours with night vision goggles, participants can observe young turtles hatching from their nests. Sightings are guaranteed since the resort staff keeps a close eye on the development of the nests.

Turtles in Florida - Vero Beach

Fort Lauderdale

Both the Museum of Discovery & Science and the Anne Kolb Nature Center offer turtle watching tours. On these tours, knowledgeable guides will take you to nests where you can watch baby turtles hatch – an unforgettable experience, especially for young visitors. In addition, you will learn a lot of interesting facts about these animals.

Florida Keys

If you want to go snorkeling with five different species of turtles, there is hardly a better place than the Florida Keys.

Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote marine reserve that you can only reach by boat or as part of a tour, is particularly worth-while. Here, you can observe hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles, even outside the breeding season. The same is true for the Key West Reef, where adult turtles can be seen all year round.

Turtles in Florida - Floida Keys


If you want to see an abundance of turtles, Everglades National Park is the perfect place for you. Here, freshwater species such as snapping turtles, striped mud turtles and chicken turtles swim in the swampy water that you can explore on an airboat or kayak tour. Further south, the “River of Grass” merges into brackish water, and finally into seawater – a refuge for leatherback and hawksbill turtles.

General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

The Florida gopher tortoise populates all parts of the Sunshine State. For the best chances to observe this species, however, you should head for the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail stretching from Polk City to Mabel in the north. The animals prefer to stay along the path, where they feast on fresh grass. With a bit of luck, you can even see their nests and offspring between August and November.

Turtles in Florida - General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Many of Florida’s 142 reptile species live in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary with its extended boardwalk – including the eastern and western mud turtle, as well as the Florida softshell turtle with its iconic long neck. Since these cold-blooded animals need to warm up, they can often be seen sunbathing on the shores.

Cabbage Key

Even if you wouldn’t suspect it at first glance, the small island of Cabbage Key is a refuge for Florida gopher turtles. Nobody really knows how long the reptiles have been living there or where they came from. Today, however, they belong firmly to this island off Florida´s west coast. Here, they spend most of their time feeding on leaves and grass – utterly unimpressed by curious tourists.

Turtles in Florida - Cabbage Key

Other places where you can observe free-living turtles include:

  • North Jetty Beach, Casey Key
  • Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel Island
  • Venice Beach, Venice
  • Babcock Ranch Nature Reserve, Lee County
  • Coastal strip of the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, Fort Lauderdale.

FAQ – frequently asked Questions

What types of turtles live in Florida?

The Sunshine State is estimated to feature 30 different species. Most of them are freshwater turtles and land-dwelling tortoises, while 6 aquatic species can be found off the coast.

What do turtles eat in Florida?

Florida’s sea turtles eat mainly algae, seaweed, mussels and mollusks, while tortoises live on a plant-based diet. Freshwater species such as the snapping turtle are omnivores. Their diet includes small fish, amphibians and reptiles, but also carrion.

How old do Florida chicken turtles get?

This characteristically striped species usually lives for 30–40 years, but longer life expectancies are also possible.

When do turtles hatch in Florida?

Sea turtles lay their eggs on Florida’s beaches between March and October. About two months later, the young animals hatch. However, this is only a rough guideline, so you might also see small turtles in February or November.

Where can I swim with turtles in Florida?

In addition to dive sites in the Florida Keys, several animal parks offer encounters with turtles: among them, Tampa’s Florida Aquarium, Disney World, and SeaWorld in Orlando.

They have no brain or heart, can only swim slowly and are helplessly exposed to the ocean currents – yet they rank among the most successful animals our planet has ever seen: jellyfish.

While scientists are fascinated by these boneless creatures, most beachgoers do not take kindly to jellyfish. Especially in summer, the animals populate the entire Florida coast. Then, the chances of getting stung are high.

Yet how dangerous are jellyfish really? How can you prevent painful encounters, and what should you do in case of an emergency? We will give you the answers in this article, while also revealing more about the most common jellyfish species in Florida.

Jellyfish – important Facts

Despite their rather simple design, jellyfish form an extremely diverse group of marine animals. Here are the most important facts about jellyfish:


Jellyfish are among the oldest animal species and have been populating our planet for 600 million years. During this time, their physique has hardly changed, as fossils show. The animals have conquered a wide range of habitats: from cold oceans such as the North Sea to tropical waters. While most species swim near the surface, jellyfish are also found in the deep sea.

Characteristics and Size

Jellyfish are invertebrates. Their bodies consist of a gelatinous umbrella with an opening for feeding and excretion on the bottom. Depending on the species, short or long tentacles extend from the body. These are equipped with nettle cells that deliver venomous stings when touched.

The size of jellyfish ranges from less than finger-sized species to the Japanese Nomura´s jellyfish: true giants that can grow up to 6.5 ft in diameter and weigh 440 lbs.

Behavior and Diet

Jellyfish move through the water by contracting and expanding their umbrella muscles. This method of transportation relies on the recoil principle and is extremely energy-efficient. However, it is also slow, and jellyfish are exposed to the ocean currents. In coastal waters, the animals often wash up on beaches. Some species, such as the Portuguese man-o´-war, do not move actively, but use their gelatinous sails to float on the ocean surface.

In any case, their behavior makes fast movements superfluous, as most jellyfish catch prey with their tentacles. These are almost invisible, can be several feet long and feature venomous stinging cells. Depending on the species, jellyfish feed on plankton, fish, eggs, crabs or other jellyfish.


Jellyfish not only have a highly complex life cycle. The animals can also reproduce both sexually and asexually. Free-swimming female jellyfish produce eggs that are fertilized by the males – usually without physical contact. Emerging from the eggs are polyps that anchor themselves firmly to the seabed or rocks. Once the polyps have reached a certain size, they emit small jellyfish without the help of a sexual partner. Thus, the reproductive cycle begins again.

Distribution in Florida

Jellyfish are found in all coastal waters of Florida. Particularly affected, however, are the Atlantic coast and the northwestern Gulf Coast, also known as the Florida Panhandle. In the warm waters around the Florida Keys, the animals are also native. Slightly fewer jellyfish populate the southern Gulf Coast from Tampa to Marco Island.

Jellyfish Season in Florida

Jellyfish can be found off the coast of Florida all year round. However, there are times when the animals appear more frequently. Jellyfish Season usually lasts from May to October, and peaks in August or September.

Recently, marine biologists have registered an increase in the jellyfish population. With warmer seawater, the number of microorganisms such as plankton increases, and with it the food for jellyfish. This could lead to the Jellyfish Season starting earlier in the future.

Jellyfish in Florida – common Species

Jellyfish are found in all coastal waters of Florida. Particularly affected, however, are the Atlantic coast and the northwestern Gulf Coast, also known as the Florida Panhandle. In the warm waters around the Florida Keys, the animals are also native. Slightly fewer jellyfish populate the southern Gulf Coast from Tampa to Marco Island.

Moon jellyfish (aurelia aurita)

This jellyfish species lives in all oceans – preferably near the coast, where there are moderate currents. Its flat 8–12” umbrella is slightly curved and has a white to yellowish coloration. Moon jellyfish mainly feed on plankton. They only have short tentacles, are non-venomous and do not pose a threat to humans.

Cannonball jellyfish (stomolophus meleagris)

This dome-shaped jellyfish with light brown or bluish coloration can grow up to 10” and does not have long tentacles. Nevertheless, its body is covered in sting cells, which is why you should never touch dead specimens. On contact, the sting cells cause a burning pain and redness of the skin. They can also lead to the so-called Irukandji syndrome, which manifests itself in the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the back, abdomen and extremities
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Perceptual disorders and feelings of anxiety.

In the worst case, death from pulmonary edema or cerebral hemorrhages can occur.

Atlantic sea nettle (chrysaora quinquecirrha)

Sea nettles can be easily identified by their 10–16” umbrellas with brown stripes. They populate the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, where they hunt small animals and other jellyfish with their venomous sting cells. Upon contact, these stingers cause a painful rash that usually lasts for 20 minutes. Deaths, however, are extremely rare.

Box jellyfish (chiropsalmus quadrumanus)

This jellyfish has an umbrella that measures up to 12” in size, is almost transparent and box-shaped – hence the name. Extending from the body are up to 13 ft long tentacles, with which the jellyfish kills its prey. The animals are difficult to spot due to their camouflage. Fortunately, the species found in Florida is less venomous than its Australian relatives. The bad news: Getting stung still causes severe pain and can lead to cardiac arrhythmias as well as respiratory problems.

Portuguese man-o´-war (physalia physalis)

Strictly speaking, this bizarre-looking animal is not a jellyfish, but consists of several symbiotic organisms. A most striking feature is the gelatinous, blue sail used for moving on the ocean surface. Underneath, up to 33 ft long tentacles extend from the body. These tentacles cause severe pain when touched. However, deaths are rare in healthy adults.

The Portuguese man-o´-war is mostly found in calm, warm waters – around the Florida Keys, for example. Especially in the winter months, you should exercise caution there, and do not go swimming near blue, gelatinous bodies in the water.

By-the-wind-sailor (velella velella)

Jellyfish are found in all coastal waters of Florida. Particularly affected, however, are the Atlantic coast and the northwestern Gulf Coast, also known as the Florida Panhandle. In the warm waters around the Florida Keys, the animals are also native. Slightly fewer jellyfish populate the southern Gulf Coast from Tampa to Marco Island.

Jellyfish in Florida – Tips and Precautions

Encounters with jellyfish can be extremely painful and, for certain people, even fatal. In order to avoid this experience, you should heed the following tips and precautions:

  • Pay attention to the official warnings. If there are signs on a beach that warn of jellyfish, you should be careful in the water. This is especially true for remote beaches without lifeguards.
  • On guarded beaches, you should pay attention to the purple flag, which signals dangerous animals in the water.
  • Stranded jellyfish are a sure sign that there are more specimens in the water. Especially when the wind blows inland, the animals are often driven into shallow areas.
  • The stinging cells of jellyfish can remain active long after the animal’s death. This is why you should never touch them with your bare hands.
  • Important for divers: Do not touch your face with diving gloves after stepping back on land. Otherwise, sting cells remaining on the glove could get in contact with your skin.

Jellyfish Stings – Symptoms and Treatment

Getting stung by poisonous jellyfish can be very painful. Victims compare the feeling to a continuous line of bee stings. After a few hours, the pain usually subsides, and a strong itching sensation remains.

To alleviate the symptoms, you should take the following measures:

  • Wash the wound with salt water – but not with fresh water, as this can prompt remaining sting cells to release more venom.
  • Treating jellyfish stings with urine is a widespread but unfounded myth. Instead, experts recommend mild acids such as vinegar in combination with warm water.
  • Afterwards, remove the visible sting cells with tweezers. You can also take a flat item (e. g. credit card) to carefully scrape off the skin.
  • To alleviate the itching, you can apply common insect bite remedies such as benadryl or cortisone.

How to deal with severe Jellyfish Sting

The symptoms of a jellyfish sting can also be more severe: for example, if large areas of the body are affected. Then, the unbearable pain could impair your ability to swim. You must get out of the water immediately or reach out to other people for help.

Follow this rule of thumb: If the combined streaks caused by the jellyfish are longer than 19 ft (6.5–13 ft for children), these life-threatening symptoms may occur:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Shock
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Heart failure.

The person must be taken to the hospital immediately.

Watching luminous Jellyfish in Florida

Encounters with jellyfish are mostly involuntary and painful. However, some tourists travel to Florida to see a particular kind: the rib jellyfish. This species has no poisonous sting cells. Instead, it scares off predators with the help of bioluminescence.

In the winter months, you can see this spectacular lightshow in the Indian River Lagoon near Orlando. There, rib jellyfish populate a mangrove lagoon, and guided kayak tours are offered. With a bit of luck, you can also see the jellyfish while wading in shallow water – e. g. at Kelly Park East, Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

When is Jellyfish Season in Florida?

Jellyfish find a lot of food in warm sea water. This is why the summer months are the main season for these animals. Since most tourists also travel to Florida´s beaches in the summer, many accidents occur during this time.

Can you touch moon jellyfish?

Feeding on plankton, this 8–12”, white-yellowish species does not feature long tentacles. Their sting cells are not large enough to pierce human skin. Therefore, you can touch moon jellyfish with no problem.

Are there Portuguese man-o´-war in Florida?

Yes. These jellyfish relatives with the striking blue sail live off Florida´s coast. Sometimes, they are also washed up on beaches. Since the sting cells of the Portuguese man-o´-war remain active long after death, you should never touch these animals.

Are jellyfish in Florida dangerous?

The stings of venomous species can be extremely painful. However, for healthy adults, they are rarely deadly unless large areas of the body are affected. The most dangerous species are box jellyfish and cannonball jellyfish.

Are there poisonous jellyfish in Florida?

Florida is home to both non-venomous and venomous jellyfish. The latter include, among others, Atlantic sea nettles, box jellyfish, by-the-wind-sailors and cannonball jellyfish.