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8 Exciting Reasons To Visit Florida

If you’ve had enough of Florida‘s crowded beaches and tourist traps, try some of these breathtaking hidden attractions to give you reason to visit Florida. Whether you’re coming face to face with alligators, or taking a dip in Biscayne’s crystal clear waters, these travel tips will encourage you to never look at F-L-A the same way.

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Reasons to Visit Florida: Biscayne National Park

Reasons to Visit Florida: Biscayne National Park

One of the best reasons to visit Florida is this oceanic expanse of 173,000 acres encompasses most of Biscayne Bay, the Keys and living coral reefs south of Miami. It’s one of the largest marine preserves in the United States. The waters are turquoise and crystal clear, making it ideal for fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving and marine gazing in general.

The most obvious way to explore this watery paradise is by boat. Visitors can launch their own at one of the adjacent county marinas or take one of the tours available from the visitors center. A three-hour excursion in a glass-bottomed boat gives you a marvelously colorful view of the reefs and grassy meadows, as well as lobsters, turtles, sponges and exotic tropical fish lurking there. For an even better view, you may wish to try snorkeling.

To savour the special appeal of a subtropical island, you can take an excursion boat to one of the park’s islands seven miles offshore. Elliott Key offers an opportunity to stroll through a tropical hardwood forest and along the rocky shoreline, while Boca Chita Key harkens back to a time when the area was millionaire Mark Honeywell’s personal retreat. His private lighthouse affords one of the park’s best views.

(Photo: Courtesy of dgeichert/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Reasons to Visit Florida: Paynes Prairie Preserve

Reasons to Visit Florida: Paynes Prairie Preserve

Here’s a lesser known reason to visit Florida, but certainly not to be forgotten for those who take the time. In 1970 some 18,000 acres here were purchased by the state, and preservation of the prairie and its historic function as a habitat for wildlife was thus assured. A program is now in operation to perpetuate the ecosystem that naturalist William Bartram once observed and recorded. American buffalo have been reintroduced, and efforts are being made to breed native scrub cattle similar to the Andalusian stock first brought to Florida by Spanish settlers.

A fine panoramic view of the prairie can be enjoyed from a 50-foot observation tower. The birding is superb. A list of 241 species seen here is available at the visitors center. Also listed are 27 mammals, 41 reptiles and 20 amphibians native to the area. An audiovisual program explains the purpose and scope of the activity here, and Indian artifacts are on display. The region was inhabited as early as 10,000 B.C.

A recreation area at Lake Wauberg and Sawgrass Pond is popular among visitors for picnicking, kayaking, boating and fishing. In addition, the preserve has several miles of riding trails. On Saturdays from November through April, buffalo and other wildlife are best seen during guided observation walks.

(Photo: Courtesy of ggallice/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Ideas for Florida Vacations: Big Cat Rescue

Ideas for Florida Vacations: Big Cat Rescue

Another great idea for your Florida vacation answers the questions: What happens to a magnificent tiger or leopard that has been abused or abandoned or even retired from a career in showbiz? If it is very lucky, it will find a home at Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue, the largest accredited sanctuary of its kind in the world. The 45-acre site provides safe shelter for almost 150 lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, lynx, snow leopards, ocelots and other varieties of exotic cats to recover and heal in a natural environment.

A non-profit organization, Big Cat Rescue makes it clear that it’s not a zoo; the welfare of the animals is paramount, so visits are by guided tour only (no pets allowed). On the tour you can watch tigers swimming in the lake and bobcats draped in the trees overhead. Short of going on an African safari, there’s no better way to see, photograph and learn about these endangered animals, now living out their lives as nature intended.

(Photo: Courtesy of BigCatRescue/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Florida Vacation Ideas: Everglades National Park

Florida Vacation Ideas: Everglades National Park

Another idea for your Florida visit: Flamingo, on the shore of Florida Bay, is the centre for sightseeing in the southern sector of the primeval Everglades. Visitors have their choice of foot trails, canoe trails, and privately operated cruises to take in the beauty of this area.

Of the trails suitable for families and children, Snake Bight Trail (four miles round-trip) is the most popular. You can walk it or bike it. The trail unwinds beneath the umbrella of a hardwood forest inhabited by hundreds of species of birds and butterflies, from white-crowned pigeons to zebra longwings.

The park is host to a diverse array of wildlife, including manatees and turtles. It is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side. On the Rowdy Bend, Bear Lake and Christian Point trails, you can see other facets of this unique ecological system.

In winter two cruises ply the local waterways, one of them into scenic Florida Bay, where at low tide you can expect to see brown pelicans, egrets, herons and other large birds scouting the shoreline for food. (The flamingo, however, is rarely seen.) For those more intrigued by the inland waterways and plant life, a pontoon boat makes sorties into the Everglades wilderness.

(Photo: Courtesy of Sarah and Jason/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Florida Escape Excuses: Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge

Florida Escape Excuses: Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge

As if you needed another excuse to visit Florida, but here’s a great one: The history of Merritt Island extends from prehistoric times to the space age. Inhabited by Native Americans since about 7000 B.C., the island in recent years has rocketed to renown as the site of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, with which the refuge and seashore share a border.

The unspoiled seashore spans 24 miles between Apollo and Palyalinda beaches. You may hike this distance, stopping to swim and beachcomb. Other possibilities are shellfishing, crabbing and surf casting for pompano, bluefish and other species. Boating, canoeing and fishing are also enjoyed at the adjacent Mosquito Lagoon. (Bring insect repellent.)

The refuge can be explored by car along two nature drives or by foot via five hiking trails. Either way, the range of wildlife is stunning. Many of the 310 bird species that have been observed here make their nests on the refuge, including great blue and green herons, snowy egrets, anhingas and black skimmers and pie-billed grebes.

The refuge is also home to 19 endangered species, most notably the Southern bald eagle and manatee. Porpoises and whales are occasionally glimpsed offshore, and large tracks of sea turtles are frequently seen on the sands.

(Photo: Courtesy of irmiller/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Florida Escape Excuses: American Orchid Society Botanical Garden

Florida Escape Excuses: American Orchid Society Botanical Garden

What other excuse do you need to visit Florida? Well, what do you associate with the word “orchid”? If “purple” and “prom night” are about all that come to mind, then you’re in for something amazing at the national headquarters of the American Orchid Society. Wander through 31/2 acres of outdoor gardens filled with orchids growing as they do in the wild. Explore every corner of a 4,000-square-foot exhibit greenhouse that has its own waterfall. No one knows exactly how many orchid species grow worldwide (estimates range up to 35,000), but there are thousands of unexpected variations in size, shape, fragrance and colour included in the Society’s lush collection and special displays. Just one visit and you’ll see these exotic beauties with new eyes.

(Photo: Courtesy of Archman8/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Why You Should Visit Florida: Amelia Island

Why You Should Visit Florida: Amelia Island

Why should you visit Florida? Well, maybe for these 13 miles of beautiful beaches, lush forests and a unique, colorful history. Amelia Island is the perfect spot for collecting seashells, riding mountain bikes or taking a quick trip back in time. In spite of its turbulent past and the waves of industrialization and modernization surrounding it, the island remains a quaint and authentic Victorian seaport village. It’s also productive: Nearly 80 percent of Florida’s Atlantic white shrimp are harvested here.

In the mid-1930s the founders of Afro-American Life Insurance bought 200 acres on the island’s southern end. Known as American Beach, this property became an oceanfront haven for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Today American Beach is the first stop on Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.

While basking in the island’s distinctive past and character, visitors can swim, sail, kayak or even go horseback riding on the beach – one of only a handful of places in the United States where this exhilarating activity is permitted. Kelly Seahorse Ranch provides horses and expert guidance. Sightseers can also take a river cruise through the Intracoastal Waterway past Cumberland Island, where wild horses play. Along the way, amid the salty marshes, guests just might get to meet an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.

(Photo: Courtesy of Michael-Kappel/Flickr Creative Commons)

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Why Visit Florida? Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Why Visit Florida? Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Extending over an 11,000-acre wilderness of pine flatwoods, wet prairie, swampland and typical hardwood hammocks, this haven for wildlife and native plants may be enjoyed on foot by means of an incredibly beautiful 21/4-mile-long boardwalk overhung by Spanish moss.

Among the many sights to be savoured are lettuce lakes, cypress knees, floating tussocks, water hemlock, strangler fig, ferns and lilies, brilliant hibiscus, royal palms and various epiphytes (plants such as the tree-growing butterfly, cigar, and clamshell orchids that grow on other plants).

Cardinals, red-shouldered hawks and rare birds known as limpkins make their homes here, and the country’s largest colony of wood storks also take up residence. In addition, there are the familiar alligators, Florida water snakes, mosquito fish and turtles.

A 34-page field guide describing what you’ll see on the self-guiding boardwalk tour can be purchased. A 14-minute audio-visual introduction to the sights and sounds of Corkscrew is held at Swamp Theater in the new Blair Center. The sanctuary is managed by the National Audubon Society.

(Photo: Courtesy of zrim/Flickr Creative Commons)