If you have the chance to pry yourself away from the pool bar and you have a rental car, making a day trip out to the Everglades is totally worth it. Head directly east from downtown Miami and you will soon be surrounded by swamp. Determined to see a gator, we were told to avoid the apparently-not-aptly named Alligator Alley and instead take the Tamiami Trial until we see signs for Shark Valley, a visitors’ area in the Everglades National Park. Here you can rent a bike or take a tram ride along a 2 hour loop through the ‘Glades where you can see deer, various types of wading birds, snakes, and yes, gators! We saw five, all appearing to be fast asleep precariously close to the trail. Visit between January through March for the best chance at seeing one of these ancient reptiles.
Airboat rides are advertised all along Tamiami Trail, with less appearing the further into the ‘Glades you go. We decided to make a road trip out of it and headed all the way to Everglades City in search of the stone crabs we heard were in season there. Of course we needed a snack first – and what better than to try some fried gator tail? We found this surprisingly tender treat at a restaurant on a Miccosukee Indian reservation.
Everglades City is not much to write home about unless you are crazy for stone crabs, which are sweet and delicious but not cheap and require a lot of work. Luckily we were able to sample the last 4 claws at a local diner, and then were off to fulfill our original mission: airboat ride!
Our airboat came with a resident pelican, who we were sure would fly off when the motor started. Instead one turned into five, all perched less than a foot away and looking for a handout.
In this part of the ‘Glades the airboats don’t travel through the tall swamp grass found in Shark Valley, but rather on a maze of canal passageways though the mangroves, which proved to be an incredibly beautiful, acid-trippy experience. Our captain, Wally, knew exactly where to stop to find a family of raccoons in the trees and a 10ft long gator gliding lazily through the water. This dangerous predator was a little less intimidating when gobbling up Wally’s unusual treat for him: marshmallows!