Florida boasts glittering sweeps of sand, abundant sunshine, and theme parks designed to dazzle. But the Sunshine State is also a place for animal lovers to rejoice in the great outdoors.
Check out these five not-to-be-missed experiences.
Imagine tiptoeing out to the shore on a starry evening to observe a mother Loggerhead sea turtle laying her eggs. Thanks to the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, you can enjoy this experience during June and July on a Turtle Walk in Brevard County, the largest sea turtle nesting area in the Western Hemisphere. Call 321-676-1701 during May to make reservations. MacArthur Beach Park in North Palm Beach and the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton offer similar experiences.
Your whole gang can go horseback riding on the beach in Florida, a rarity in the United States. You can saddle up with Kelly Seahorse Ranch on Amelia Island, a laid back Northeast Florida destination with miles of rolling dunes and pristine seashore, as well as with Beach Tours on Horseback on Fort Pierce, or with Two Bit Stables on Cape San Blas on Florida’s Forgotten Coast in northwest Florida.
Who knew? You can try a camel safari at Giraffe Ranch in Dade City, as well as at its sister property, Safari Wilderness Ranch in Lakeland. These are the only full-on camel back safaris in the United States. You can get close to exotic wildlife from Africa and Asia as well as hand feed Lemurs. If you’re not feeling quite as adventurous, you can opt for a tour in a special customized vehicle.
To say manatees are huge is not an overstatement. They’re as long as 13 feet and weigh up to 3500 pounds. And in Citrus County, you can snorkel with them -- in the wild. Located on Florida’s central west coast, Crystal River is the only place in North America where you can legally enjoy this epic adventure. You must go out with a guide and follow strict rules to insure the manatees aren’t harassed or endangered. Learn more here.
Watch dolphins play on an eco-tour via Wave Runner in Fort Myers Beach. This adventure combines a rip-roaring ride through the Gulf of Mexico with the utterly peaceful times experience of bobbing silently on a little watercraft watching the delightful antics of dolphins – often, only a few feet away. I’ve enjoyed this adventure (twice) with Holiday Water Sports in Fort Myers Beach, but other companies offer similar adventures.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA