Serene, ruggedly charming and brimming with coastal charm, the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel have all the hallmarks of a legendary outdoorsy trip. Your one conundrum, though, is sorting out the great from the good when it comes to swoon-worthy beaches.
“Some of our best beaches — found on North Captiva Island, Big Hickory Preserve and Cayo Costa State Park — are only accessible by boat, so you won’t find any high-rise hotels. Just pristine shorelines, with white sand and super-clear waters,” says captain John Simoneau, a local tour guide and a Florida native.
“Heading out on a boat tour is an absolute must. When you’re out on the water, you can truly see what a special place this is. The natural beauty is spectacular. Island-hopping gives you the freedom and mobility to get up close to the places the wildlife calls home.”
Sanibel Island is top of his to-do list, from padding about on sensational beaches — some of the most dazzling in Florida — to paddling along its thick web of mangrove forest, home to the roseate spoonbill, manatees, dolphins, alligators, sea otters, pelicans and more. “It’s also the shelling capital of the world,” he says, where the tides of the Gulf of Mexico wash up hundreds of shells each day.
Sanibel’s hippie little sister, Captiva, is also an intriguing pitstop. “As legend has it, Captiva Island’s name was conceived in the 18th century after the pirate José Gaspar built a prison here to hold beautiful women captive for ransom,” Simoneau explains. But today there’s nothing sinister about this island; it’s become a sunny haven for artists and the allure of its barefoot-chic attitude is hard to resist. To escape the throngs, however, venture to North Captiva, ripped from its mother island by a hurricane in 1912. Here it’s all pretty beaches, shimmering seas and laid-back beachy vibes. “This is a small island with dirt roads that’s only accessible by boat or plane,” he says. Life moves to a contented, chilled-beat and it’s all about taking it slow: dig your heels in the sand along its knockout coastline, and wander along trails dotted with cacti and bougainvillea.
Also on his must-see list is Lovers Key. “The name says it all: it’s remote, romantic and peaceful,” explains Simoneau. Then there’s Cayo Costa State Park. “This is a true nature lover’s paradise, with golden beaches stretching for nine miles, intriguing natural trails and an abundance of wildlife. The sheer variety of birds here’s astounding, from bald eagles and osprey to pink spoonbills and pelicans.”
Kids will relish a trip here, too: “Pleasure-seeking families should head out an island-hopping trip, discovering beautiful and remote beaches, and looking for dolphins and manatees along the way,” says Simoneau. “You can swim, snorkel and go shelling on some of the best beaches in Florida.”
Beach Buddy Tours specialises in private sailing excursions to remote beaches in search of wildlife and shells.