We had made reservations for the boat trips from the Everglades National Park and we had paid in advance the steep price for The Mangroves boat trip and on the next day the 10,000 Islands Boat Trip. We knew there were no refunds or cancellations, no matter the reason. If you are staying in the Everglades National Park Flamingo campground check your map because we made boat reservations thinking they were near the campground. We were not aware that the ones listed on the National Park website which we purchased are at the North Entrance to the Everglades at Everglades City, about a three-hour drive from the Flamingo campground, at the bottom of the park. However, there are other boat trips you can arrange out of Homestead, or near Flamingo RV Camp in south of the Everglades. Just be careful when booking from the National Park site lists. We found out our trips were from Everglades City and could not be changed, so we changed our camping reservations.
We highly recommend taking both boat tours: Mangroves and 10,000 Islands and also the local air-boat tours. Each is a different and unique tour. If you wish to stay in a campground nearby there are several in Chokoloskee Island or Everglades City. The 10,000 Islands tour boats hold so many and go so frequently each day that you can buy those tickets on the spot, but the Mangroves tour holds only 6 passengers and these tickets, the true Everglades experience, should be purchased ahead of time because they go in any weather except severe lightning and hurricanes.
From the dock at the National Park Museum/Office we took the 10,000 Islands Tour in pouring rain, but we enjoyed it. The overhead cover is for sun protection and does little for rain, since it blows in. The 90 minute ride is on an outboard motor boat which holds 49 passengers and goes about seven and a half miles out among the many, many mangroves small islands all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. We saw various birds braving the downpour and numerous dolphins playfully jumping up into the raindrops. It was fun, especially seeing the huge flock of white pelicans on the sandbar, huddling together with heads tucked.
At the Everglades City National Park Museum and Visitor Center we arrived 45 minutes early for our first Mangroves Boat tour. It was a good thing because, although we were told to go to the dock at the Observation Tower, there were no signs there and the tower office was closed. We asked the nearby store and restaurant, but it was still confusing to find the correct dock with many boardwalks to get through the dense mangrove forest to the water. Finally, we saw the boat arriving.
The comfortable boat has only 6 individual and padded seats. The motor can travel in low tide in only three inches of water if it attains enough speed to lift the motor above the muddy bottom. So the boat speed varies due to tides and whether in large open waters or in the very narrow canal tunnels, which are natural and created by the mangroves. David was an excellent tour guide, very considerate in taking photos of tourists at particularly good places, and able to answer all our questions. We cannot imagine how these captains keep from getting lost in the maze of mangroves surrounding the protected waters of the National Park. Sometimes they have to rescue lost tourists who cannot find their way back in rented kayaks and canoes.
David slowed or stopped the boat to identify and tell the habits of each of the different birds we saw in both the Turner River and within the National Park waterways. This is a birders’ paradise with hundreds of different species either living here or migrating through. He knew so much about each one and gave us ways to identify them in flight or in trees. This made the trip so interesting. We learned much about the mangrove jungles: Three of the world’s 50 species of mangroves live here. The black mangroves are identified by the straight up trunks and black bark. Their roots, called snorkels, grow straight upward out of the water like thousands of spikes. The white mangroves also grow straight and tall with roots like normal trees, which go into the ground and are not exposed. The red mangroves are the ones whose strange and eerie roots create the natural tunnels. The roots grow downward like vines from the upper parts of the trunk, and when they reach water they appear to make the tree walk. The lower roots grow downward like long clusters of arms balancing the tree and firmly grounding it to the soil. These make the thousands of red mangroves begin to bend over and create weird tunnels above natural brackish water channels.
The 90 minute trip through these mangrove tunnels is fascinating! Although there are thousands of mosquitoes year-round, they only bothered us when the boat stopped for photos or narration. But repellent and sun protection are absolutely necessary. The quiet outboard motor boats (instead of noisy air-boats) on these tours by private concessionaires are the only ones sponsored by the National Park. The noise pollution of the air-boats is considered to be detrimental to the wildlife, and since we heard many of them at our RV Park we know the noise is very loud, even a fairly long way away.
We saw a very large American alligator lying placidly in the only sunny spot on this cloudy day. The only other land mammals which live in this jungle are the nocturnal bobcats, “tide-turnal” raccoons (come out at low tide), and mangrove squirrel. The Everglades are the only place where both American alligators, who live in fresh or brackish water, and the American crocodiles, which live in salt or brackish water, share their habitat peacefully. There are many kinds of lizards, spiders, snakes, and crabs.
This is the stone crab capital of the world. To eat these delicious offerings is environmentally friendly because the crabbers only remove the leg with the largest claw from the stone crab and return the crab to the water. Within a short time the crab grows another claw leg and the next year the largest crab claw leg is harvested. The crabs can live healthy for many years going through this process of re-growth. I was so relieved to know no animal had sacrificed its life for us when we enjoyed our first delicious stone crab at the restaurant known as the local best of Everglades City: City Seafood. This is a modest establishment that serves terrific homemade seafood meals. You can select alligator, conch, stone crab, frog legs, and the other traditional fruits of the sea like scallops, shrimp, other crabs, many fish, all caught locally and served fresh from the day’s catch. Delicious!! We highly recommend this restaurant!