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The Wildlife of Florida: Manatees, Coral Reefs and the Everglades

At the present time EcoQuest Travel does not have a trip to Florida scheduled. The following itinerary is an example of trips we have conducted in the past and is similar to trips we intend to offer in the future. Please keep in mind that EcoQuest Travel offers many different itineraries to this biologically diverse state – the trip listed below is just one example. If you are interested in Florida as a destination please contact us for further information.

The Wildlife of Florida

Manatees, Coral Reefs and the Everglades

11 – Day Itinerary

Day 1 – Saturday, April 4: Raleigh to Tampa and on to Homosassa Springs, Florida

We will depart from Raleigh/Durham International Airport this morning in route to Tampa, Florida. Please arrive at the airport no later than one and a half hours prior to our scheduled departure time. Upon arrival in Tampa we will pick up our vans and drive north to Crystal River. Once in Crystal River we will head to the dive shop to be fitted for our wetsuits for tomorrow’s snorkeling. After checking in at the dive shop we will head to Homosassa Springs and check in at our accommodations at the Bella Oasis Hotel. After a long day of travel we have dinner at the Peking Garden Restaurant before settling into our rooms for the night. (D)

Day 2 – Sunday, April 5: Manatees of the Crystal River and Drift Snorkel the Rainbow River

We will be up early this morning and after breakfast we will begin a full day of snorkeling! We will travel to the boat dock where we will meet our boat and guide. This morning we will have the rare privilege of snorkeling with manatees. These totally aquatic mammals are endangered and during the winter and early spring months they migrate inland in search of warmer waters. Because of this we will be able to spend the morning snorkeling with these gentle giants in the sparklingly clear waters of either the Homosassa or Crystal River. After our morning with the manatees we will travel inland to the Rainbow River where we will enjoy a picnic lunch. After lunch we will experience another unique snorkeling opportunity as we drift snorkel the Rainbow River. This is one of North Florida’s many spring-fed rivers and we will be dropped off at the springs (the origin of the river) and drift downstream to our boat. During this journey we should see abundant wildlife such as large-mouth bass, alligator and long-nose gar, Florida softshell turtles, Florida red-belly turtles, Suwannee River and Peninsula cooters, water snakes and perhaps alligators. After a full day we will have dinner at a local restaurant this evening before returning to the Bella Oasis Hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 3 – Monday, April 6: Homosassa to Myakka and on to Sanibel Island and Ding Darling NWR

Today we will have an early breakfast before traveling south from Homosassa Springs to Myakka State Park. Myakka is one of Florida’s largest and most diverse natural areas. The high diversity in the Park owes its existence to the varied habitat types found within its borders including wetlands, lakes, prairies, hammocks and pinelands. Wildlife is abundant and we should see alligators, white-tailed deer, armadillos and perhaps feral pigs. Sandhill cranes stalk the prairies, black-bellied whistling-ducks and mottled ducks are found on the ponds and several species of herons and egrets hunt along the lakeshore. We will also be on the lookout for the snail-eating limpkin which is quite rare elsewhere, but seen regularly at Myakka. Reptiles and amphibians are abundant and with luck we could see several species of snake and lizards. We will spend several hours exploring Myakka’s trails, waterways and its canopy walkway. We will also have a picnic lunch before we depart for Fort Myers. Once in Fort Myers we will have dinner and settle into our hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Tuesday, April 7: Sanibel Island and Ding Darling NWR

After an early breakfast we will depart for the island of Sanibel to explore Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge encompasses over 6,000 acres of varied habitat including sea grass beds, mud flats, mangroves, freshwater ponds and hardwood hammocks. It is home to 238 species of birds including roseate spoonbills, mangrove cuckoos, mottled ducks and many other species of wading birds and waterfowl. It also contains over 50 species of reptile and amphibians and 32 mammal species. Among the reptiles are alligators, eastern indigo snakes, Florida box turtles, dusky pigmy rattlesnakes and ornate diamondback terrapins. We will drive through refuge and hike some of the refuge trails in search of wildlife. In the evening we will return to Fort Myers and drive south to our accommodations at the Best Western Naples Plaza. Dinner tonight will be Italian/pizza at Giovanni – a great restaurant in Naples. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Wednesday, April 8: Corkscrew National Cypress Swamp Sanctuary

This morning, after an early breakfast at our hotel, we will check out and travel to Corkscrew National Cypress Swamp Sanctuary. This sanctuary, run by the National Audubon Society, protects the largest remaining stand of bald cypress in North America. It is also a critical nesting area for wood storks and an important roosting site for swallow-tailed kites. We will arrive just as the sanctuary opens so that we have a better chance to see some of the sanctuary’s rarer denizens such as black bear, bobcat and if we are really lucky a Florida panther. The elevated boardwalk through the swamp is famous and will certainly provide great views, and photographic opportunities, of the sanctuary’s more common birds like barred owl, purple gallinule, yellow-crowned night herons, anhingas and painted buntings. Alligators, turtles, lizards, frogs and many species of snakes are also abundant. After a full morning of exploration we will have lunch before driving through the Fakahatchee Strand of the Big Cypress Swamp Preserve on our way across Florida. We will also skirt the Everglades as we travel east to Homestead and our overnight accommodations at the Travel Lodge Florida City. Tonight we will eat at El Toro Taco Family restaurant – famous for its authentic Mexican cuisine. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Thursday, April 9: Everglades National Park

After an early breakfast we will depart for Everglades National Park. The Everglades was designated a National Park in 1947 and covers over 1.5 million acres of the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. It is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world and protects several critical habitats and their associated species of animals and plants. We will take the road all the way to Flamingo on Florida Bay stopping along the way to hike some of the many trails. Among the many animals we could spot along the way are otter, alligators, cottonmouths, deer, black bear and everglades rat snakes. Once we arrive at Flamingo we will search for American crocodiles in the many lakes and mangrove channels. This will be our best chance to see crocodiles, as they are quite common in this part of the park, but highly endangered and difficult to observe elsewhere. After a full day in the Everglades we will travel south to the Florida Keys and our accommodation for the next two nights – the Amoray Dive Resort. We should arrive in time to watch the sun sink beneath Florida Bay before eating dinner at the Buzzard’s Roost. (B,L,D)

Day 7 – Friday, April 10: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Once again we will be up early as our catamaran departs for the coral reefs of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. John Pennekamp SP protects the only coral reef in the continental US and covers an underwater area of 178 square miles. The coral reefs begin 3 miles off shore, so we will sail out to them for two hours of snorkeling. Marine life is extremely abundant on the reef and with luck we could snorkel with sea turtles as well as the huge diversity of fish. We will swim among parrotfish, grunts, tangs, angelfish, moray eels, stingrays, barracuda and many other species. If we are really lucky we could see nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays and perhaps the resident bottlenose dolphins will come investigate us. We will be out on the reef until around 12:30 pm and after lunch we will relax for the afternoon before having a fantastic seafood dinner at the famous Fish House Restaurant in Key Largo. We will overnight once again at Amoray Dive Resort. (B,L,D)

Day 8 – Saturday, April 11: Key Largo to Key West

This morning we will depart for Key West and the end of US 1 at the southern most point in the continental US. The drive to Key West will take place on the spectacular Overseas Highway. This highway runs through many of the tiny islands that make up the Florida Keys and across many fantastic bridges above the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico including the famous seven-mile bridge. Once we arrive in Key West we will check into our accommodations at the Days Inn Key West and should have some relaxation time prior to dinner at El Siboney – a famous Cuban eatery in Key West. (B,L,D)

Day 9 – Sunday, April 12: Key West to the Dry Tortugas

This morning we will be off on the adventure of a lifetime as we take a float plane journey 70 miles south/southwest of Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park. The journey itself will be part of the adventure as we fly low over the crystal clear waters. We could see dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and shipwrecks as we wing our way to the US’s most remote National Park. Once we arrive we will land on the water and taxi to Garden Key. Garden Key is home to historic Fort Jefferson which is a massive six-sided structure composed of 16 million red bricks. Construction on the Fort began in 1846 and was never really finished although the outside walls were completed in 1862. During and after the Civil War Fort Jefferson was used as a prison for mostly military prisoners. The most famous of its prisoners was Dr. Mudd who was jailed for treason for setting John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg after he assassinated President Lincoln. After we tour Fort Jefferson we will have the remainder of the day to look for birds and snorkel. The clear shallow waters of the Dry Tortugas offer some of the best snorkeling in North America and we will spend a couple hours exploring the coral reefs. We will also do some birding as the island attracts many migrant birds. The adjacent island of Bush Key is also famous for the thousands of nesting birds that gather each spring. In particular we will be looking for rare black noddy terns among the more common sooty terns, brown noddies, roseate terns, double-crested cormorants and brown pelicans. After a full day on the island we will fly back to Key West for dinner at The Good Life Restaurant and overnight once again at the Days Inn Key West. (B,L,D)

Day 10 – Monday, April 13: Key West to Archbold Biological Station and on to Tampa

We will depart early this morning for the Central Florida sand ridge area and Archbold Biological Station. We should reach this area in the morning and will spend part of the afternoon exploring the area near the Station. Archbold contains upland sand ridge habitat, a habitat that we have not explored yet. This is an endangered habitat and contains many endangered or threatened species as a result, including gopher tortoise, indigo snake, eastern diamondback rattlesnake and Florida scrub jays. After a few hours to explore the area we will depart for Tampa and our overnight accommodations. Once in Tampa we will have dinner at Benjarong Thai restaurant before settling into the Ramada Inn Tampa with time to pack for the journey home. (B,L,D)

Day 11 – Tuesday, April 14: Tampa, Florida back to Raleigh

We will have breakfast at our hotel before departing for airport and our flights back to Raleigh. (B)

* Please note that EcoQuest Travel will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.