Flamingo tours offer unique sight-seeing
FLAMINGO, Fla.— The Everglades National Park saw 1.1 million visitors pass through its gates last year. Of those 1.1 million people, 40,000 made their way to the boat tours in Flamingo, making it the park’s best-kept secret.
Located 38 miles within the park’s south entrance, Flamingo offers a selection of boat tours that run both seasonally and year-round. In operation since the 1970s and running continuously for approximately 12 years, the tours are run by Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
The tours of Florida Bay and the backcountry go out up to four times daily, weather and tide permitting.
For those who want to see more of the open water, the 95-seat Bald Eagle is a 90-minute trip around Florida Bay. An imposing yet relatively quiet boat, the Bald Eagle is white and has rows of benches from front to back, with a blue tarp covering a majority of the seats.
It costs $12 for adults and $7 for children. Featuring more of the history of the islands, the tour guide relates the story of the start of Flamingo from its inception in 1893.
Named by Duncan Brady, a Key West resident, the town earned its namesake because flocks of flamingos used to fly into the area from the Bahamas and Cuba, although very few can be found now.
When Everglades National Park was established on Dec. 6, 1947, residents of Flamingo and the surrounding islands in the bay were forced to relocate. Stories like this, along with facts about wildlife and the surrounding islands, are told by the naturalist on-board throughout the hour and a half cruise.
“During the busy season, the Bald Eagle at sunset is the most popular,” said Lee.
“Dolphins like to engage the boats in play if they’re in the mood,” said Louise Tuggle, in charge of reservations for the tours. “You also see sharks, sea turtles, birds from South America, and sometimes birds flying out to the Keys to roost.”
Pete Larsen, a tourist from Ontario, Canada, had visited the Everglades before.
“I liked being on the open water and just relaxing,” he said. “I got some good pictures of a dolphin and some ospreys, and I got a decent tan out of it too.”
However, the bay tour is more dependent on the rise and fall of the tide. At times, tours later in the day may possibly be cancelled if the conditions are not right.
While many tourists opt to take airboat rides through the Everglades, the backcountry tour on the Pelican offers a nice alternative.
A smaller version of the Bald Eagle, the boat seats 45 people, and costs $18 for adults and $10 for children. The two-hour tour through the mangroves is guided by a naturalist, and patrons often can see crocodiles, alligators, dolphins and bald eagles up close.
“I’ve done both airboat rides and the backcountry tour,” said Helen Simon, visiting from Inverness, Fla. “Personally, I prefer the tour. It’s peaceful, certainly not as loud, and we saw just as many animals as we would’ve on an airboat.”
“Our busiest season is October through April, but the backcountry tour is always popular, year-round,” said Manny Lee, the marina manager.
“The Pelican tour gives you more of an idea of the flavor of the Everglades,” said Tuggle. “You never know what you’re going to see.”
Another tour that is available only from December to April is the Windfall, a one-and-a-half hour sailing tour of the bay. A 57-foot schooner, it is black with red sails, and carries 28 people.
It only runs twice daily, during the afternoon and sunset, and comes fully equipped with a cooler on-board for food and drinks. The daytime tour costs $18 for adults and $9 for children, while the sunset tour is $20 per person.
Visitors to the area vary with the seasons. Most summer visitors are Europeans, while the winter has a majority of Americans, Lee noted.
“It’s possible to hear five different languages in a single day around here sometimes,” said Lee.
Regardless of which tour visitors choose, they don’t leave disappointed.
“This isn’t civilization,” said Tuggle. “It’s the edge of civilization.”
For more information or to make reservations, call 239-695-3101, ext. 322, or visit the Web at http://www.flamingolodge.com.