Starved to see a sunset and in need of a little road trip, I decided too kick off 2012 with a camping trip on the West Coast of Florida. As most hidden jewels, I stumbled across this beach camper’s paradise through word of mouth from like minded locals. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans. The same can be said about Floridians. And, yes, there are native Floridians. If they are nature seekers, they know of and have been to Cayo Costa.
On New Year’s Day morning, packed with tent, mandatory hammock, snacks, hot dogs for grilling, and plenty of adult refreshments, I headed out across the Everglades on Alligator Alley with my PIC. It was an early start to at sunrise when most in Miami would be just rolling home from what I like to call Amateur’s night out.
As getting to Cayo Costa can only be done by boat, whether private boat or on ferry, I chose to go with the Tropic Star. I parked at Bokeelia Marina on Pine Island, which allows overnight and extended stay parking for campers. From the marina to Cayo Costa is an hour ferry ride with ample space for all camping gear and provisions. Sit back, relax, and keep you eyes pealed for wildlife. You are bound to witness dolphins, which are thick with mullets running the Intercoastal waters. As a FYI, I witnessed over a dozen on our round-trip with the ferry.
At the docks, you are greeted by the Cayo Costa State Park rangers who escort campers to the office for paying entrance fees, purchasing ice, and grabbing firewood. For you city dwellers, be aware that there are no motorized vehicles on the island nor electricity. It is as close to going back to nature as a quick road trip can provide from the South Florida mecca. However, if your feet can’t take you there on Cayo Costa, there are small windy sand/dirt roads for bicycles, ATVs, and one shuttle from the dock to the campsite for hauling equipment and provisions.
Packed efficiently, set up of camp was before noon. It was a small tent site with a grill, picnic table, and ample trees for hanging a hammock. By noon, it was exploring time on the beach covered in shells of all types. As a shell addict since searching the sandbars of the Upper Mississippi as a child, I spent much of the trip bent over finding the sea’s treasures, including sand dollars, conchs, drift wood, and more. With all hands full of shells by late afternoon, it was time to return to camp to prepare a fire and a happy hour walk around the lagoon over to the Gulf to glimpse the beautiful sunset (pictured above).
Although this trip was only a 2 day/1 night stay, others appeared to be staying for a week or more. I would recommend a longer stay than an overnight as it does take time to arrive at this remote park. I would like to return for a longer stay to explore more both on land and in kayak.
I give Cayo Costa two thumbs ups. For a beach camping enthusiast, it really has it all: beautiful beach, shells, lagoons, mangroves, bird colonies, dolphins, sunsets, etc.
Would you like to discover this hidden gem?