Big Cypress Adventure

By: Terry Tomalin

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See the Everglades Swamp Safari-style at Big Cypress Reservation.

This article is brought to you by the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation.

The Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, nestled in the heart of the Everglades, offers travelers a chance to experience a Florida that hasn't changed much in 100 years.

Rich in both cultural and natural history, Big Cypress is a destination for the whole family. With museums, nature tours and even such popular, cutting-edge sports as motocross, there's no shortage of things to do.

The terrain is rough and wild, and to most folks it feels downright inhospitable, but you can see the Everglades in style aboard an airboat or swamp buggy. The area is home to a variety of endangered and threatened species. If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the reclusive Florida panther.

Living History of a Tribe

Most school children have heard of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the "unconquered" Indian tribe in the United States. But unlike history books, Big Cypress offers young and old a chance to see firsthand what life was like for these proud people long before Florida became known for high-rise condominiums and crowded tourist attractions.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, which in the language of the Seminoles means "a place to learn," shows through exciting exhibits, rare artifacts and cultural displays how these early Floridians once live and flourished in the Everglades.

Visitors should take a few moments to watch the museum film We Seminoles, which tells the nation's story in the words of the real people who fought to preserve their sacred way of life and stay in Florida.

Afterward, venture outside on a one-mile raised boardwalk that snakes its way through a 60-acre cypress dome. This self-guided tour offers an up-close look at native flora and fauna, providing an insider's view of the Everglades.

The trail will take you to a recreated Seminole village, which depicts life at the turn of the century. Watch and talk with village elders as they make sweet grass baskets, beaded necklaces and wood carvings, the same way their ancestors did more than 100 years ago.

Natural Wonders

Every year, visitors from all over the world come to the Everglades to see the fabled River of Grass. But before the water reaches this national treasure, it must flow through Big Cypress, home to Billie Swamp Safari.

For years, people drove through the reservation hoping to catch a glimpse of an authentic chickee hut or some other sign of Seminole culture, so the Seminoles created a wilderness park in the heart of the Big Cypress Reservation.

This 2,200-acre haven for wildlife offers a variety of outdoor opportunities, including airboat and swamp buggy rides. Daily tours venture deep into reservation wetlands, hardwood hammocks and sloughs.

During a typical tour, visitors see deer, water buffalo, bison and wild hogs, as well as a variety of birdlife, including bald eagles and the crested cara cara. Local waters are full of alligators and snakes, and it's not uncommon to find footprints left by the elusive Florida panther.

But don't worry. The swamp buggies, custom-built and high off the ground, keep you a safe distance from the critters. Adventurous souls can set off on foot and walk along the cypress dome boardwalk nature trail or take the swamp buggy tour and explore Sam Jones Camp, named after the medicine man who led local warriors during the Second Seminole War.

Afterward, be sure to stop by the herpetarium, where you can get up close and personal with the true rulers of the swamp and watch a little gator wrestling and a snake show (call ahead for times and reservations).

Creature Comforts and More

All this fun is going to make you hungry, so stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner and enjoy some gator tail or frog legs at the Swamp Water Café, a milkshake or french fries at the Sweet Tooth Café or a Cuban sandwich at Big Cypress Landing. Then settle down for the night in an authentic thatched chickee.

If you're looking for a little more action, head over to the Big Cypress Motocross Park. It doesn't matter if you ride a pit bike, pee wee, mini, big bike or quad, the experience is like no other in Florida.

And when you're done, kick back at the Big Cypress Campground and RV Resort. This full-service facility has all the amenities of home just an hour's drive from Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Naples.

After a good night's rest, don't be surprised if you want to get up and do it all again.

To plan your own getaway to Big Cypress Reservation, call 800-683-7800 or visit www.seminoletribe.com.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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