Florida Wilds: from Gulf to Glades

Florida Wilds: from Gulf to Glades

About this trip

Florida’s resplendent wilderness offers visitors moments of excitement and serenity in equal measure. The thrill of spotting a surfacing manatee or swooping heron is set against the gentle sound of waves lapping at shorelines, sawgrass rustling in the breeze, and sunshine dappling through old growth cypress canopy. Soak up these experiences as you journey from Florida’s Gulf coast down to the crown jewel of its natural kingdom: Everglades National Park. You’ll enjoy beachfront accommodations, excursions by boat to look for marine and bird life, and hiking trails through oak hammock, cypress forest, and, of course, classic Florida swamp. Along the way, meet with organizations and individuals serving as stewards of the land, from wildlife rehabilitators to sea turtle and coral researchers, and learn about the preservation of biological wealth at the federally-protected Everglades.

Highlights

  • Go behind the scenes at Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation for a glimpse into the coral and sea turtle research conducted there.
  • Explore the Everglades National Park and learn about the ecological importance of this sprawling wetland and its nine distinct ecosystems.
  • Kayak around coastal mangrove islands at dawn, with the hopes of spotting manatees, river otters, and bottle-nosed dolphins.
  • Seek out signature Florida avifauna like Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, herons, ibis, and the Florida Burrowing Owl.
  • Take a private tour of the preserve and gardens at Patch of Heaven Sanctuary and learn about their ongoing conservation initiatives.
11 Travelers

$4,375

Land Cost

Group size

Book 10 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

16 Travelers

$4,175

Land Cost

Group size

Book 15 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

Pass-A-Grille

Day 1

Upon arrival at the Tampa International Airport, proceed to the baggage claim area on the ground level. After collecting your luggage, proceed to the Super Shuttle office at the north side to check in for your pre-arranged shared shuttle transfer to the hotel. The hotel is located beachfront on Pass-a-Grille Beach, tucked away on a peninsula only one to two blocks wide and a few miles long. Enjoy time at leisure before meeting for late afternoon birding and sunset on the beach, followed by dinner at The Hurricane Restaurant, al fresco if desired.

Dinner included
Overnight at Coconut Inn

Pass-A-Grille

Day 2

Today venture north along the coast for a visit to the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary, a rescue and rehabilitation facility for injured birds. Continue across the Bay to the Florida Aquarium, where you'll have a special guided tour. Learn how the water and land in peninsular Florida contribute to the health of the coral reef system in the Keys, and test your birding and flora identification skills in the Wetlands Trail area. After lunch on your own at the Aquarium, return across the Bay to St. Petersburg - this time by sea, on the Cross Bay Ferry! Dock at Downtown Waterfront District, then have time on your own to explore this vibrant cultural area. Peruse the antiques and fine art shops, take a stroll by the marina, or drop in to visit the world-famous Salvador Dalí Museum, the Chihuly Museum, or the Museum of Fine Arts. Please note: for those interested in visiting the Dali or Chihuly Museums, you will need to pre-purchase tickets online.

 

Breakfast- included
Overnight at Coconut Inn

Captiva Island

Day 3

After early morning beachcombing and breakfast, check out and head to the Center for Conservation, a research facility of the Florida Aquarium held in public-private partnership with other local agencies. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the campus, which includes laboratories for coral and sea turtle research, and interact with the scientists working there. Have lunch at Circles Waterfront at Land's End Marina before continuing southward, stopping en route for a walk through the canopy at Myakka River State Park. Suspended 25 feet off the ground, the Myakka Canopy Walkway allows visitors the rare opportunity to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. You may also wish to walk one of the several trails winding through the park, or ascend the 74-foot observation tower. Continue the day's journey and arrive at your beachfront hotel on Captiva Island. You'll have time to get settled before gathering for an orientation, followed by dinner at Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Tween Waters Island Resort

Captiva Island

Day 4

Start the day early at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Named for the man who ensured the federal protection of this land from development, the refuge is home to pristine habitats and wildlife, particularly migratory birds and alligators. Wind along the "wildlife drive," stopping to bird along the way - some 245 species can be seen in the refuge. After your time at Ding Darling, head over to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, a veterinary teaching hospital and education center that treats nearly 3,500 wildlife patients each year. After a quick stop for snacks and beverages, we'll spend the afternoon at sea with New Wave Eco Charters. Led by Captain Steve and marine biologist Stefanie, New Wave specializes in private birding and marine life tours around Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Your outing can be tailored around desired target species; you are almost sure to see dolphins, manatees, herons, egrets, pelicans, terns, gulls, Bald Eagles, and Ospreys. Enjoy exploring the barrier islands, searching for seashells at several beach stops, and learning about the local ecosystem. Enjoy a casual dinner this evening with Steve and Stefanie at RC Otters, right in the heart of downtown Captiva Island.

Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Tween Waters Island Resort

Everglades City area

Day 5

This morning, visit Cape Coral, known for having one of the largest populations of Burrowing Owls in Florida. Burrowing Owls are the only owl species that nests underground, and Florida's are distinct in that they dig their own burrows (rather than using abandoned burrows). Next, we'll begin the journey southward, stopping first at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Here, we'll explore the 2.5-mile boardwalk through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, marsh, and the largest old growth bald cypress forest in North America. Watch out for Barred Owls, Red-shouldered Hawks, Wood Storks, and many wading birds in the shallow swamp waters. We'll venture further into the Everglades ecosystem at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, dubbed "the Amazon of North America." The Fakahatchee is notable in particular for its flora; it's the only place in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms grow together, and its 44 native orchids and 14 native bromeliad species make it North America's "orchid capital." The preserve also supports abundant wildlife, including the Florida panther and Florida black bear, although they are rarely seen. Finally, arrive at your accommodation, check in and have some time to relax before dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Port of Islands

Homestead

Day 6

This morning transfer approximately 15 minutes to Chokoloskee Island, situated within Everglades National Park. Board a comfortable transport boat to get into the Park's core and very near to the wildlife. Next board stable, very comfortable kayaks to get close to the wildlife. America’s Everglades are a unique, vast multi-million acre flooded wonderland. The Naturalist Guide will lead a comfortable, leisurely paddle in an ecosystem that can only be accessed by paddle craft. You may encounter river otters, alligators, bromeliads, orchids, bald cypress, wading and songbirds, turtles, raptors, and mangroves. Learn about the Everglades ecosystems, its history and culture. Protected from winds and tides, these mangrove tunnels are a surreal experience, especially at daybreak and sunset when wildlife is most active. Unlike the tunnels in other parts of Florida that are just a couple hundred of feet long, these are up to a mile long and the last remaining contiguous, interconnecting mangrove tunnels connecting the fresh and saltwater in Florida. Transfer back to the hotel for breakfast. Check-out and travel into the heart of Everglades National Park, stopping at Shark Valley Visitor Center. Along the trails here, you'll have excellent opportunities to see all the wading birds that this national park is famous for, including Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, White and Glossy Ibises, and the uncommon Great White Heron. Also watch for Short-tailed Hawks, plus Snail, White-tailed, and Swallow-tailed Kites. A boxed lunch will be provided today. Later this afternoon, continue to Homestead and check in at the hotel, conveniently situated for an early entrance at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center tomorrow. This evening, attend a lecture on Everglades restoration. Dinner will be at a local restaurant.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton

Homestead

Day 7

Early this morning, following breakfast at the hotel, we'll head out into Everglades National Park, beginning at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, and working our way to the Flamingo Visitor Center at the south end of the park. We'll stop for wildlife viewing at Anhinga Trail, and visit the Royal Palm Visitor Center. This afternoon, embark on a 90-minute boat tour through the bay and mangrove estuary, with your naturalist guide detailing the plant and animal life found here. Say farewell to the Everglades, and continue to the hotel for time to freshen up before visiting Patch of Heaven Sanctuary in Miami, a non-profit nature preserve and garden. Executive Director Fred Hubbard and Director of Horticulture Roberto Del Cid will give you a behind-the-scenes tour of the property, sharing their conservation history and current projects at "the patch." Refreshing beverages and appetizers will be available as you stroll through the beautiful grounds with your hosts, with opportunities for conservation photography. After your time at "the patch," we'll return to our hotel and then gather together for a celebratory farewell dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton

Depart

Day 8

This morning you will be transferred to the Miami Airport for your flight(s) home.

Breakfast- included