Everglades National Park -USA
This park is the only large subtropical area in the US. It is made up of vast areas of sweet water, sea water and swamps. The park also has mangrove forests. Many animals live in the Everglades, including sea snakes, crocodiles, alligators, and manatees. It serves as a nesting ground for many different species of birds, especially colourful water birds, some of them endangered. This national park is a million and a half acres in size (half of them are water). The Everglades are actually a wide and shallow slow-flowing river. The best way to see this park is by foot on the wooden walkways, by boat and from overlooks.
There is no other place in the world with such a fragile and complex ecosystem as the Everglades. The park is open all year, but the best time to visit is during the winter months. Most tourists visit between December and April.
A couple of informative websites about the Everglades:
Park location and transportation
The Everglades are in
the south of the state of Florida. The nearest
international airports to the park are Miami’s airport
and Fort Myers’ airport. There is no public transport in
the park, so you can visit it on an organised tour that
starts in one of the nearby cities or by private
vehicle. The cities nearest to the park’s main entrance
are Florida City and Homestead. From the main park
entrance to Flamingo Visitor Centre and Campground at
the southwest end of the park runs an inner road called
SR 9336 which is 61km long.
U.S. Route 41 (also known as Tamiami Trail) leads to the other end of the park, where there are two separate areas with no southern entrance: Shark Valley and Everglades City. As half of the park is made up of water, another popular way to get around is by boat or canoe. You can rent a boat and sail around the park according to maps detailing the different waterways or join an organised boat tour (details about this later in the article).
A map of the park and its surrounding area:
The weather in the park is nice and pleasant between the months of December and April, though some nights may be quite cold. The summer months, on the other hand, are very hot and humid, with an average temperature of 31 degrees Celsius and humidity over 90%. Summer afternoons are often rainy and stormy. There are also lots of mosquitoes in the summer.
Lodging and Food
There is only one hotel inside the park. It is in Flamingo and its name is Flamingo Lodge. The hotel has 103 rooms and 24 additional cottages with kitchens. Flamingo also has a visitor centre, marina, restaurant, coffee shop and grocery store. The lodge is open year round but the restaurant and coffee shop are only open in the winter months. The nearby cities: Florida City, Homestead, Everglades City, and Chokoloskee have many hotels and motels at decent prices. You will also find plenty of stores and restaurants in these cities which are cheaper than those inside the park.
Things to See in the Park
The park is made up of five areas differing from each other in flora and fauna. Each area has its own visitor centre. Often, hiking trails start at these visitor centres.
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Centre
The biggest and newest visitor centre is at the main entrance of the park. It is called Ernest F. Coe Visitor Centre. It is open from 8AM to 5PM. This visitor centre has plenty of information, educational displays and videos. No hiking trails start here, however.
Royal Palm Visitor Centre
This visitor centre is 6.5 kilometres west of the main park entrance. It is open daily from 8AM to 4:15PM. Two hiking trails start at this visitor centre: Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo. Anhinga is a trail of raised wooden platforms which goes over a swamp full of alligators. The Gumbo Limbo Trail passes through thick tropical vegetation in a rather dark path.
Flamingo visitor Centre
61 kilometres southwest of the main entrance, at the southernmost point of the park. This visitor centre is open only between the months of November and April, from 7:30AM to 5PM. The centre displays the history of the park and information about activities available in the area. Next to it is a souvenir shop, a restaurant, a marina and a hotel. 1-2 hour guided boat tours are available from the marina. You can also rent boats or canoes from the marina for independent sailing.
Gulf Coast Visitor Centre
Located in Everglades City in the northwest corner of the park. The visitor centre is open from 7:30AM to 5PM from November to April and from 8:30AM to 5PM from May to October. The centre itself has information and interesting displays. It serves as a starting point for tours of the Ten Thousand Islands, which are a maze of mangrove islands and waterways where manatees, dolphins, water birds and many other animals live. 45-minute and hour-long boat rides leave on tours of this area several times a day.
Shark Valley Visitor Centre
This visitor centre is is located near the Tamiami Trail on the northern border of the park. Entry to this area is 8 dollars per car. The centre is open every day from 8:30AM to 5:15PM. It lies in the heart of the River of Grass, which stretches 160 kilometres from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. Several short hiking trails start near the visitor centre. I recommend going on a tram tour along a 24 kilometre road that isn’t open to private vehicles. This tour is an excellent opportunity to see alligators and endangered wild animals. The tour includes a 20-minute stop at an overlook at the southern end of the valley. Tours take place every day between 9AM to 3PM. In the winter months I recommend booking at least a week ahead of time.
Another interesting area without its own visitor centre is Chekika, 29 kilometres northwest of Homestead. Entry into this area costs 8 dollars for a car. This is a 640 acre area with raised walkways and waterways with over 100 kinds of birds. It is suitable for walking or cycling.
Other recommended park areas:
A three and a half metre tall overlook, 20 kilometres away from the entrance. From it you can see a beautiful, seemingly endless view of green grass.
Mahogany Hammock Trail
A trail of raised wooden platforms winding through mahogany trees and tropical vegetation. It is 31 kilometres from the main road entrance to the park. All along the trail are small signs indicating the names of plants.
A network of raised platforms winding through a forest of mangroves 49 kilometres away from the West Lake entrance to the park. The trail was devastated by a hurricane in 1960. A tour of the place demonstrates the destructive power of hurricanes.