Things to do in the Florida Everglades

As concierge of the Setai Hotel on Miami Beach, Nina Eberlijn leads a hectic, albeit glamorous life – one that makes her appreciate the stillness and profound peace of the extraordinary Florida Everglades all the more

It was environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas who dubbed the Florida Everglades, a World Heritage Site and national park, the River of Grass. In this subtropical reserve the only sounds you might hear are a frog’s burp, a baby alligator calling its mother, or the wind in the trees.

It is a vast landscape, consisting of tall sawgrass and water. The dominant colours are a soft pale green to a deep brown. When the wind pushes across the sawgrass, it rolls, slowly, sluggishly, endlessly. There is no dry land and the mangrove islands that dot the scenery are few and far between. Above the sawgrass, big puffy clouds pile up high against an immense blue sky. The clouds and their fierce tropical thunderstorms are everything to the Florida Everglades. The Indians called it Pa-hay-okee – grassy water.

The water in the Everglades comes from these tropical thunderstorms and Lake Okeechobee in the north. It moves slowly, passes the sawgrass, the tall royal palm trees, the hundred-year-old cypress trees and the ponds in between, before it ends up in Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Here the mangroves, with their oily green leaves and labyrinth of tangled roots, collect the sweet water while holding back the salty sea.

For many years, the swamps were considered wastelands – a worthless morass that needed to be tamed and drained in the name of progress. Today, we know that the survival of our state and our quality of living depends on the survival of the Everglades.

When you visit, look out for alligators, white ibis, the fantastic pink roseate spoonbill or an anhinga with his black and white striped back and turquoise green eyes. In the distance you’ll hear frogs, and then suddenly a turtle will stick its head out of the water. Maybe one day you will come across the elusive ghost orchid in a deep swamp full of age-old cypress trees. The Florida panther, that rarest of creatures, is still on my personal wish list.

Nina’s insider tips for best Everglades activities

1. Take an airboat ride

Thrill as it climbs the sawgrass, hear the roar of the engine and feel the g-force as it zooms away. Group or private airboat tours are offered at Gator ParkCoopertown, the Miccosukee Indian Village and Everglades Alligator Farm.

2. Enjoy a river safari

Travel from Fort Lauderdale to Everglades Holiday Park through the incredible ecosystem of the Everglades. Your expert guide will navigate you through wetlands and point out various species of wildlife in their natural habitat.

Cardmembers can book direct

3. Visit an Everglades National Park Visitor Center

At the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center you will find the Anhinga Trail, an excellent walk for bird watching. From the Center itself, drive on to the Flamingo Visitor Center, where you can rent a canoe or kayak to explore Florida’s mangroves. The Shark Valley Visitor Center along the Tamiami Trail, offers tram tours and bicycle rentals. From here, you can ‘tram’ or bike the 15-mile road (built by an oil company that hoped to drill in the Everglades) to its observation tower.

Find out more and book

4. Visit the Big Cypress Gallery

Drive west along the Tamiami Trail to Clyde Butcher’s gallery to see his large format black and white photographs of the Florida Everglades. Or join him on one of his mud walks through the swamp, another way of getting up close and personal with the ‘Glades.

Find out more and book

Nina Eberlijn is the executive editor of the Quintessential Concierge blog

Photo by Jupiterimages

Hotel Offers

Worldwide deals and discounts for American Express Cardmembers