Nearly all of this park’s 181,500 acres are underwater, so come prepared to explore via glass-bottomed boat tours, canoe or—better yet—snorkelling or scuba diving. Get an introduction to the park’s ecosystems and wildlife at the visitors’ center, built in the style of the area’s pioneer homes. Of interest are the ecologically important mangrove forest, the abundant birdlife and, of course, the dazzling coral reef filled with brilliantly colored fish, sea turtles and other marine life. Wildlife-lovers should take a boat trip to the neighboring keys, full of nesting birds, subtropical forests and nature trails. Note that due to damage caused to the dock by Hurricane Sandy, boat tours had been temporarily suspended at time of writing; call to confirm schedule before visiting.
Airboats are flat-bottomed skiffs powered by a great big fan at the back. They’re loud and environmentally dubious, but a heap of fun. Rides depart every 20 minutes throughout the day, last around 40 minutes and cost $22 per person or $11 for children under 12. Under-sevens go for free.
Not officially part of the Everglades park, this is a distilled version of the Florida wilderness, complete with 2,000 alligators, airboat rides, local and exotic snakes, and a couple of Florida panthers pacing their cages. An observation deck gives a sweep of the landscape, while an airboat ride gives you a real feel of the Everglades. Alligator wrestling (11am, 2pm, 5pm) and feeding (noon, 3pm) thrill the kids.
From April to September, Florida beaches host the largest gathering of nesting sea turtles in the United States. Their numbers have diminished over the years because of the demand for meat, eggs and leather, and due to the loss of their habitat. Since 1980, thousands of endangered sea turtles have been hatched and released through this programme. The release takes place in the evenings; call for specific times.