BY JOE DAVID
From November to early May, Florida is a tropical paradise of sunny days and moonlit nights. In the western area (a short distance from Fort Myers), there are two secluded islands off the Florida coast on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico that best represent such a tropical Florida paradise.
These two islands which are connected almost seamlessly have been developed over the years into luxurious and inhabitable wildlife reserves inspired by devoted environmentalists. During the November-to-May season, many winter visitors and residents flock to the two islands of Sanibel and Captiva to escape the snow in the North and enjoy some of Nature’s summertime wonders.
Surrounding Sanibel-Captiva are well-maintained beaches on the edge of a jungle of palm trees and shrubbery. In this lush wonderland of unspoiled beauty, you will sample the best of what the Sunshine State offers in relaxed splendour – including bicycling, shelling, golfing, fishing, snorkelling, bird watching, swimming, fine dining, parties, and lazy strolls on an exclusive island hideaway.
Many beautiful homes are everywhere to distract you. In Captiva, especially, they line the edge of the road and flaunt themselves with vulgar conspicuousness to anyone driving across the island. In other areas of the two islands, they are less ostentatious, hidden behind well-maintained shrubbery and palm trees.
The best way to see Sanibel-Captiva is to move about leisurely on foot or bicycle for a close-up view of the properties, many of which are painted happy island colors. Some of these properties are charming cottages and shacks; others are robustly visited shopping complexes with restaurants, gift shops, and even inns.
Eating well is an islander’s most enjoyable pastime. If you like seafood, Sanibel-Captiva offers you numerous places to dine and taste some extraordinary meals, perfectly prepared. Life adrift on the islands is mostly informal. Although wearing thongs and bikinis to dinner isn’t usually recommended, Bermuda shorts and most conservative island-type attire is generally the norm. If you have doubts about what is appropriate to wear, especially for dinner, always inquire before you arrive.
Many of the restaurants have delightful names – Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille (Sanibel and Captiva), The Timbers Restaurant and Fish Market (Sanibel), the Over Easy Café (Sanibel), Tween Waters Restaurant (Captiva), The Green Flash Restaurant (Captiva), and Sunset Grill (Sanibel). This is also true of the streets – Periwinkle Way, Lady Finger Road, and Mockingbird Drive. For serious pampering, you may want to overnight at one of the two popular resorts – the South Seas Island Resort (Captiva) or the Casa Ybel Resort (Sanibel). Besides these two resorts, there are numerous inns and Airbnb properties scattered throughout the two islands to stay.
Nearby, also in the Gulf of Mexico, is another tropical island worth a brief visit – Useppa. During your boat cruise to the island, dolphins will greet and amuse you at the boat’s edge; when you arrive at your destination, you can stroll lush garden paths lined with banyan trees to a private island club, the Collier Inn, where you can dine. For others who prefer something more romantic, take moonlight cruises and watch the day slowly fade to night, while clinking wine glasses and sharing intimate sighs with a loved one. For pricing and cruise choices, go to CaptivaCruises.com (all food and drinks are extra.)
Warning: Like so many upscale resort areas, Sanibel-Captiva attracts its share of celebrities, including a few of those notorious rags-to-riches politicians who love to spend conspicuously their ill-gotten wealth. If you should bump into one of them, you should do what many locals do – smile, greet, or snub them, and move on.
Precautions: To minimise being stung by a stingray during the off-season (April to October), you may want to learn “the stingray shuffle.” It is easy to master. All you need to do is rest your feet in ankle-high water, then without lifting your feet from the sand, shuffle them forward, one foot at time. The purpose is to disturb the sand beneath you. This should scatter any stingrays nearby. Of course, there are other annoyances (like snakes, turtles, scorpions, golfers, and alligators) to be mindful of throughout the year. As long as you are alert and attentive to the warning signs posted everywhere, you should be OK. Although feature stories occasionally make the news of someone colliding with nature’s raw realities, this should not concern you if you obey the signs and take common sense precautions.
It is especially recommended that you always view Florida’s lush gardens from outside, not inside the jungle of palm trees and wild bushes. If you don’t, curious surprises may greet you. This is particularly true in marshlands and along many of the streams. For those travelling with young children, perhaps use swimming pools for swimming. This will minimise worries about their safety.
This leads to an important concern: alligators and crocodiles! Protecting yourself from them by running zigzag, some believe, is an old and even laughable adage. Running away as fast as you can on dry land in a straight line is considered a more sensible escape. The reason reported is that alligators are rarely likely to run after you. They are primarily a problem if you disturb them in the water or at the water’s edge, which they have claimed as their domain. In such cases, they are known to respond swiftly. If you should see a pair of eyes aimed above the water in your direction, while swimming, seek safety quickly. Those eyes are attached to a huge jaw that could clamp down on you suddenly and introduce you to an alligator’s death roll before having you for a meal. More troublesome than alligators (or crocodiles) are the mosquitos. Those hard-to-see insects are everywhere, and they love the fresh, warm blood of visitors – so spray yourself frequently.
As long as you remember that visiting nature’s wonderland requires common-sense precautions, your visit to Sanibel-Captiva will bring you many memorable moments with happy endings. You can reach Sanibel-Captiva by private boat or car from the mainland. For those arriving by car, there is a $6 toll charge to cross the Sanibel Causeway.
Joe David has authored numerous articles on travel, and six books, including one on food – Gourmet Getaways, (50 Top Spots To Cook And Learn). His three novels are The Infidels, Teacher Of The Year, and The Fire Within. For more information about Joe or his writings, visit bfat.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]