Off the Beaten Track in Fort Myers

By: Joanne Hunt

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A two-hour drive from Miami, Fort Myers in South West Florida is bursting with hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Its unique eco-systems mean you don’t have to venture far to be at one with nature. Here are my top picks for some ecological exploring.

Unspoiled beaches
With over 100 barrier islands, the beaches of Sanibel and Fort Myers offer unique access to nature. Sanibel and Captiva Islands have some of the best shelling in the world. The secluded outer islands of Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key, North Captiva andBoca Grande are only accessible by boat, and the only way to travel round them is on foot, by bicycle of golf cart. If you’re short on time Adventures in Paradise run organised island-hopping tours – fishing, walking, camping, walking, shelling and biking trails. Great for families, Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island has estuaries and lush mangrove forests you can kayak.

Wildlife watching
Get up and close to nature at the JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge  which has one of the largest mangrove wildernesses in the country. It’s a mecca for birdwatchers, with over 230 bird species, and also encompasses Tarpon Bay. Babcock Wilderness Adventures run 90-minute buggy tours through the Babcock Ranch and Telegraph Cypress Swamp, where you can see rare panthers and wild alligators.Manatee Park is one of the best places in the US to spot wild manatees.

Kayaking

Paddling along the water trails of Fort Myers by kayak or canoe is a great way to experience mangroves and islands that are otherwise inaccessible. The Great Calusa Blueway  follows the path of the early settlers and is home to over 200 miles of paddle trails. Caloosahatchee Regional Park has miles of pine and oak forests and cypress swamp, ideal terrain for horseback riding and hiking and you can fish or paddle the pristine waters of the Caloosahatchee River.

Archaeological sites
The fascinating shell mounds and ridges of Mound Key  rise 30 feet above Estero Bay and are thought to been created by the Calusa Indians around 2,000 years ago.

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