When the swamp buggy headed straight for the canal, it startled everyone in the high, bouncing vehicle, including me. Airboats zip down these canals and I didn’t think our driver, Kat, could power that swamp monster through the muck and keep us afloat, but she did.
Location: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation
Fees: Varies by activity, starting at $25 per person. Chickees $40 and up.
Open: 9-6 daily, closed major holidays
At Billie Swamp Safari, it’s an immersion into the Big Cypress Swamp, ancestral home of the Seminole Tribe since the 1800s, but with a twist, focused on nature. The grounds include numerous animal displays, focused on native wildlife, including a Herpetarium with Florida snakes and some of the biggest alligators you’ll see, and the Swamp Critters Show showcases more cuddly critters like armadillo, baby alligators, and snapping turtles.
Winding along trails through the dense forest and floodplain swamps along the swamp buggy tour, you’ll see Asian water buffalo and ostriches, and other exotic animals as well as feral hogs, raccoons, alligators, and hundreds of wading birds. Along the way, your tour guide will fill you in on the flora and fauna of Big Cypress, the history of the Seminole, and interesting tidbits tied to the land, such as the best places for Florida panthers to take a perch.
The rambling swamp buggy ride with its bumps and bounces is a counterpoint to the popular airboat tours, where you glide at high speed through the swamp with stops at key points, especially where it’s possible to get up close to an alligator.
A nature trail follows a boardwalk through a pop ash swamp. What’s especially fun, however, is that you can stay overnight (see Campgrounds) in an authentic chickee, the Seminole version of a grass hut, and sit around a campfire listening to storytellers. It’s a very different and authentic experience, one that will leave you with an appreciation of the Seminole and the habitats of the Big Cypress Swamp.