Adventures in the Swamp

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At Billie Swamp Safari on South Florida's Seminole Reservation, life hasn't changed much in 150 years. Close your eyes for a minute and it's easy to imagine you're back in a time when 'cracker' cowboys herded cattle through the scrub and painted warriors ruled the swamps. Take a swamp buggy tour or airboat ride.

Driving through the swamp near Big Cypress on a Saturday afternoon is prime time for parental lessons.

"Listen guys," I told my kids. "Stay close to daddy and keep an eye out for snakes, alligators and bears."

"Bears?" my four-year-old daughter asked. "Scary bears?"

No, I explained, only nice bears. "But I can't vouch for the gators."


Billie Swamp Safari

Out here at Billie Swamp Safari on South Florida's Seminole Reservation, life hasn't changed much in 150 years. Close your eyes for a minute and it's easy to imagine you're back in a time when "cracker" cowboys herded cattle through the scrub and painted warriors ruled the swamps.

It's wild. It's dangerous. Well, maybe not dangerous, but it's still fun to pretend.

"When will we see the bears?" my six-year-old asked as we pulled into the parking lot of one of the best-kept secrets of Old Florida.

"Soon," I said. "But we are going to have to go into the swamps."

I told my kids that after the Indian Wars of the mid 1800s, the Seminole Tribe sought refuge in an area the U.S. troops thought was uninhabitable. The Seminoles, the only Native American tribe never to formally surrender, knew better.

Big Cypress, the gateway to the Everglades, was a veritable paradise, rich in fish and game. For more than 100 years, few outsiders ventured inside the land of swamps and scrub. Then the Seminole Tribe decided to share the natural wonders of Big Cypress with the rest of the world.


Secrets of the Swamp

Billie Swamp Safari offers daily tours through 2,200 acres of the reservation's wildest land, home to a variety of native and non-native species, including the reclusive Florida panther, as well as an assortment of animals most folks consider exotic, including the legendary American bison.

On the standard safari tour, visitors sit in a specially designed swamp buggy that gives them an elevated view of the terrain. On our trip, the buggy stopped in a shallow creek to let a herd of water buffalo pass.

"We will have to sit here for minute," our guide announced. "After all, this is their home."

A few minutes later, we watched as white-tailed deer scampered for cover. A wild boar, rooting for insects, kept feeding, oblivious to our presence. Nearby, in another pool, a pair of alligators sunned themselves on the bank.

"Okay guys," I told the kids as we exited the buggy. "Now it's time for snakes."


More Adventures in the Wild

The Herpetarium is a dark and cool, air-conditioned theater, just like snakes like it. We took our seats in the front row and my daughter giggled with delight as the snake handler held out a three-foot-long king snake.

"Don't worry," I told her. "It won't eat much…just a finger or two." My son laughed – I had played the same trick on him when he was her age.

By now, my son was itching to go for an airboat ride. I was up for the heart-pounding adrenalin rush of literally flying across the water of the Safari's swamps and sloughs.

But my daughter, still gasping from her close encounter with the snake, wanted to do some more exploring. The boardwalk nature trail carried us through a cypress dome, a rare treat since such places are usually only accessible by canoe.

By now, it was getting late and the winter sun had already begun to sink below the treetops – time for a late lunch or early dinner at the Swamp Water Café. It had been a while since I had eaten any of the local frog legs (reportedly the best in the world). My kids, as usual, wanted chicken fingers. But I slipped them a piece of gator tail instead. I could see by the smiles on their faces that they enjoyed the sweet, chewy meat.

"That's alligator," I said as they finished.

"Well it's good," my son answered. "Tastes just like chicken."


Night in the Swamp

After dinner, we stopped by the chickees, the native-style huts where adventurous souls rest for the night. The chickees are simple but comfortable (there's also the Big Cypress RV Resort & Campgrounds and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum nearby). No trip is complete without a night in the swamp, and we decided to stay.

That night we sat by the campfire, taking in the wild beauty of the swamp and listening to stories about the proud, unconquered people who call Big Cypress home.

For more information on planning a family adventure at Billie Swamp Safari, call 800-949-6101 or visit swampsafari.com


Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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