“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.
It’s the second largest mangrove forest in the world, bested only by Bangladesh.
In this vast nursery of sea life, “land” is what gathers around the prop roots of red mangroves.
Or it’s marl that been dredged up to form berms where a kayaker or boater can set foot on a few square feet.
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 Gulf of Mexico.
After we reached the barrier islands, it was 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.
The delight of the trip was this tiny atoll, capped with what was called the “Bonsai” mangrove.
We arrived at the perfect time and tide to frame this unusual rock formation.
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.
A vast wet wilderness, the Ten Thousand Islands one of Florida’s least explored and most magnificent treasures.
About the Tour
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.
See our video of the Ten Thousand Islands
See our photos of the Ten Thousand Islands
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
East of Naples, the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park offers a peek into a notable natural landmark, a stand of virgin cypress.
It’s the Amazon of North America, home of the ghost orchid. Protecting more than 85,000 acres, Fakahatchee Strand is Florida’s largest state preserve and most certainly our wildest.
It was meant to be a national park, the largest natural hammock of royal palms in the United States, set aside by developer Barron Collier during his push to create the Tamiami Trail across the Everglades. The Federal government wasn’t interested, so the state of Florida stepped in and created Collier-Seminole State Park, which opened in 1947.