“There’s more like 14,000 or 16,000 islands,” said our guide, as he scanned the water ahead for signs of dolphins or manatees. We were on a Ten Thousand Islands cruise out of Everglades Gulf Coast Visitor Center, and it was obvious that were it not for the marked channel, it would be very easy to get lost.
Where the waters of Big Cypress and the Everglades meet the Gulf Coast, the Ten Thousand Islands are a maze of mangrove forest: the second largest mangrove forest in the world, bested only by Bangladesh.
Our cruise – on which we as Floridians were a rarity, most visitors were from Europe – took 45 minutes from the docks in Everglades City out to the barrier islands of the Gulf of Mexico and another 45 minutes to return. The captain made sure that when dolphins were spotted, everyone got a good look at them.
But it was the shoreline that intrigued us. Indian Key, where the channel markers reached the Gulf, had a beautiful arc of a beach that boaters were enjoying. A narrow isthmus connected two nearby mangrove islands where we saw manatees.
Neither of us had ventured into these waters in Everglades National Park before, so a tour was a good introduction. It requires navigational savvy to tackle by kayak. Depths are shallow, so larger boats must stick with the marked channels.
If you go
Everglades National Park Boat Tours depart from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center several times a day. Buy tickets in person at the gift shop or in advance online. They also rent kayaks for paddles into the mangrove forest.
The center is located at the south end of Everglades City.