Since I was seven months old, my family has been venturing to South Florida year after year for quick family vacations and precious beach time. It’s a special part of the country for me. It’s where I learned to swim, where I made childhood friends in summer camps, where I was attacked by seagulls for my ice cream … ( no, really ). Over the years, I have seen the majority of the region – Miami, Naples, Captiva, Sanibel and Marco Island – but somehow, had never been to the Everglades.
The day after Christmas this year, my parents, brother and I decided enough was enough and booked a mangrove tour with Captain Jack’s Airboat Tours.
If you’re not familiar with the Everglades itself, it’s a 1.5 million acre wetland in South Florida, a region populated by mangroves, marshes, flat woods and an abundance of incredible wildlife. Animals like manatees, turtles, panthers and alligators roam, and beautiful birds like the Osprey and Great Blue Heron soar. It’s one of the more unique places in the United States and Captain Jack’s turned out to be one of the best & most exhilarating ways to explore it.
The tour begins from Captain Jack’s dock. Minutes after departing, the boat idles through an open body of water, an area of the Everglades in which manatee sightings are common. Manatees are huge animals and it’s surreal seeing such a large ( but peaceful ) animal swim just feet away from your boat.
Soon after, the airboat enters the mangroves. Reaching speeds of 35 mph, the ride is bumpy, windy and exhilarating. Ear plugs in and sunglasses on, the boat whips through twisting mangrove tunnels and across open waters.
During moments of slower speed and silence, the tour guide stops to give explanations about the surrounding nature and its history. One of the most memorable facts I learned on our tour was about alligator eggs. Did you know that when alligators lay their eggs in a pile under the water, the eggs on top that receive the most sunlight develop into males, while the eggs shrouded in darkness on the bottom develop into females?
During the tour, seeing unique wildlife is a guarantee. The most memorable moment came when our boat passed closely by the mangroves, attracting a raccoon who climbed down a branch close to us for a treat.
After getting over my initial fear of being attacked and infected with rabies ( dramatic? ), I loved the experience of seeing a raccoon up close. They are a lot more cute than I had envisioned!
We also saw an alligator! Most likely to make an appearance during the warmer months of the year, we were lucky to see a seven foot long one in the middle December. He swam slowly through the water, floating right up to our boat for the perfect photo opp.
The best way to understand the exhilarating experience of riding on an airboat is to see the tour for yourself.
Here’s a video of our airboat speeding through the mangroves:
Have you visited the Florida Everglades? Would you explore the area on an airboat?
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