“So you want to know a secret local place in the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel? Here goes. Bunche Beach at low tide… but don’t tell anyone.” And wildlife biologist Pete Corradino definitely knows his stuff. Born and raised just west of the Everglades in Venice, Florida, he grew up at a primate sanctuary operated by his parents. This solidified his love for animals and for natural history, and today he owns Everglades Day Safari, taking travellers into the vast wetlands, putting on a show of the region’s immense and fragile beauty.
“There’s no shortage of wild experiences to be had in the Everglades, with over four million acres and eight different ecosystems. We’re talking alligators, crocodiles, wood storks, frigate birds, dolphins, manatee and so many other species of wildlife,” he says. “And this is the first place I’d take a visitor.” Book one of his tours and you’ll walk beneath the canopy of towering bald cypress trees, cruise into the Ten Thousand Islands mangrove forest in Everglades National Park — Florida’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site — drive through the pine savannas and cypress forests of Big Cypress National Preserve, and soar through sawgrass prairies and pond apple forests on an unforgettable airboat ride.
For some of the best vantage points and outstanding natural bounty, Corradino returns to Bunche Beach — a wild curve of sand on San Carlos Bay with achingly inviting waters and thick mangrove forests. Locals are in-the-know about this beach so it’s not completely secluded. But arrive at sunrise and you’ll be hit with a feeling of reverie, as though you’ve washed up somewhere not too many tourists have ventured before. You’ll have to set your alarm unspeakably early, but all will be forgiven when you dig your toes in the sand for a soul-stirring sunrise among its staggering birdlife wading in the shallows.
“I like to walk in the Wild Turkey Strand Preserve,” says Corradino. It’s a 3,137-acre preserve with a boardwalk trail looping through swamps, marshes and flatwoods. Here, enormous and fearsome alligators float like logs, and weird-looking iguanas bake in the midday sun. “But there’s also good walking in Harns Marsh – this is in my top five places to bring visitors.”
“For utter seclusion, I’d say Cayo Costa State Park is your best bet… but only at night.” Catch a ride to this pristine barrier island park aboard a private boat or ferry – the only way to access it – and play shipwrecked for the night, settling into one of the cabins or beneath canvas. The stars will brightly blink back at you from your sand-bound spot. This is a place of serene pleasures, or it can be a place to do absolutely nothing. Swap travel tales with other campers; explore the enticing seas, watching as manatees rub their noses against your kayak and dolphins drift by; and gaze at birds, soaring towards the blue horizon with beating wings.
Pete Corradino owns and operates Everglades Day Safari which offers full-day ecosafaris departing from the Greater Fort Myers area on a daily basis.