By Dalia Colon

I’m fresh off my very first Everglades trip, and I picked up a few pointers along the way. You may find them useful, too.

1. Enter on the Gulf Coast Side

To enter Everglades National Park from Homestead costs $10 per vehicle. But on the Gulf Coast side, there’s no entry fee.

2. Make it Like Home 

My husband and I usually eat dinner around 9 p.m. -- so I was shocked to discover that the tiny grocery store in Everglades City, Right Choice Supermarket, closes at 7 p.m. Plan accordingly. For a late-night pick-me-up, head to Sweet Mayberry’s Cafe and Gifts, a charming-yet-trendy spot that sells coffee beverages, gelato, pastries and local art.

3. Time it Right 

More time management advice: Boat tours can range from an hour-long airboat ride to a half-day kayaking trip. When booking your tour, be sure to ask how long you’ll be on the water.

4. Bring Your Own Goodies

If you’ll be communing with nature for longer than a few hours, you’ll want sustenance. Many boat tours allow you to bring your own food (and adult beverages). Or for a price, some restaurants or hotels will provide a box lunch. Island Cafe and Ivey House B&B both offer that option.

5. Freebies Galore 

Find the free. Stop by the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for a rundown of what you can do without spending a dime. For starters, drive along dusty Turner River Road in Big Cypress National Preserve. Gators galore.