If you do one tour from Miami, it should be the Everglades. A sprawling stretch of wilderness between the Miami beaches and the Key West coastline, the Everglades is the country’s largest tropical wilderness. It brings in over 1 million visitors each year, which is no surprise given the park is easily one of the top highlights of any trip to Florida.
This network of wetlands and forests is home to one of America’s most fragile ecosystems, replete with the region’s trademark alligators, not to mention an astounding variety of birds and fish. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of the elusive Florida panther, of which there are less than 200 left in the wild.
From Miami, it’s fairly easy to organize a day trip to the Everglades. Most tour operators offer full or half day trips, including transport and a guide. Many of the mid range (and up) operators also throw in a meal, usually of local fare. Here are some of the best tour operators, plus at the end there’s a few details on how you can visit the Everglades on your own.
Airboats are deeply controversial in Florida. Some people say they’re easily the best way to see the Everglades, while others argue they damage the environment and scare away the animals. Either way, Gator Park Airboat Tours offers good value for money. For $20-$25, you get park entry, an airboat tour and an alligator wrestling show. Alligator wrestling might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but it can certainly be quite a show.
A slightly more expensive option than Gator Park, Buffalo Tiger’s has more of a focus on getting up close and personal with gators. They also have a pretty intriguing on site restaurant, specializing in local, indigenous cuisine. The gator nuggets are highly recommended.
The most expensive airboat option here, Airboat USA offers private tours of the Everglades. If you want to escape the crowds and have a personalized, deeper Everglades experience, then this is your answer. Their rides are usually over two hours long, and you can expect knowledgeable guides with unparalleled experience with the area.
As previously mentioned, airboats are frowned upon my many environmentalists, despite remaining an extremely popular way of seeing the Everglades. For anyone looking for a more peaceful alternative, a kayak tour can provide a much more serene experience. Kayak enthusiasts also say you’ll have a better chance of seeing native animals like dolphins and manatees. Prices are up to $150 per person though.
If you’d rather get out of the water altogether, you might want to consider a hike. Clyde Butcher’s hiking tours are highly recommended, and take visitors through the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve. Bring some solid boots – the higher, the better.
Finally, if you’d rather skip the tour totally, it’s very possible to visit the Everglades on your own. The Everglades National Park is just a stone’s throw from South Beach. To enter, you’ll need to purchase a $25 vehicle pass. Doing it yourself can mean more freedom than taking a tour, but just be aware of the environment, and respect the Everglades.