Away from the glitz of Miami and the theme parks of Orlando, Florida is a state bursting with natural beauty. You can experience the untouched beauty in places like The Charlotte Harbor Gulf Island Coast.
Often you’ll hear, Americans from the New York side gravitate towards the Atlantic side of Florida. The populace from the Midwest and centre of the country tend to travel to the Gulf side of Florida. In places like Punta Gorda and Englewood Beach, you’ll experience genuine American hospitality in a laid-back environment. There are memorable outdoor experiences you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Babcock Ranch Eco Tours
For those seeking to observe the flora and fauna of Florida, you should consider taking part in Babcock Ranch Eco Tours. Their swamp buggy eco-tour will take you through a working cattle ranch as well as through dramatic swamp lands. Throughout the 90-minute tour, you might spot majestic osprey, soft-shell turtles and wild turkeys. You are almost guaranteed to see alligators.
You get to travel through four different ecosystems. There are surprises along the way including petting a baby alligator and getting out of the buggy for a stroll through the Telegraph Cypress Swamp on a raised platform.
The Sean Connery film, Just Cause was famously filmed on the ranch and they even donated a hunting shack to the organisation.
If you are in the mood for a bite afterwards, they do have the Gator Shack restaurant. You won’t be surprised to hear they serve gator bites and wraps on their menu.
Alligator Creek Preserve
If you are looking for a relaxing nature preserve to spot wildlife that is also free of charge, do check out Alligator Creek Preserve. There are four plus miles of nature trails inside the preserve, but it is also next to the 45,000-plus acre Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.
They have recently rebuilt a sheltered alligator dock for you to spot the lounging reptiles. They have commercial-grade viewfinders that are coin-free to help you spot the fauna.
They are a non-profit organisation and their chief focus is educational activities for the local school children as well as raising environmental awareness and preservation for the local surroundings.
Peace River Wildlife Center
Travelling through various parts of Florida, you’ll realise their preference is not to build zoos but wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres. At Peace River, they have an adorable collection of animal friends.
Their iconic ambassador is Luna the white Eastern Screech Owl. He is leucistic rather than albino. That means he lacks the cells that make pigments throughout his body. As they are heavily reliant on camouflage to protect themselves from larger predators, Luna stays permanently at the rescue centre for his protection.
Due to a shortage of space, they currently mainly house rescued birds. However, they are currently fundraising for a brand-new education centre in downtown Punta Gorda. With the increased capacity, they are hoping to be able to support more rescued mammals and reptiles in the coming years.
They run very strong education and awareness campaigns including responsible fishing and awareness of invasive species.
Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens
Having only opened in 2017, this botanical garden is one of the most impressive you’ll encounter in the United States. This 30-acre waterfront haven consists of five ecosystems including marshlands, wetlands, mangroves, uplands and tidal basins.
They have over 4,500 plants, trees and bamboo blended in with Florida’s natural landscape. They’ve created one of the largest botanical and sculptural gardens in Florida. Highlights include a rainbow eucalyptus. You’ll need to walk up and observe the bark to see why it has the rainbow moniker.
Their cycad garden is also worth visiting. These prehistoric plants appeared on Earth before the age of the dinosaurs. Most species are in decline around the world with four species on the edge of extinction. They are hugely valuable and have been known to be a target for opportunistic thieves.
A significant part of the experience is also about art appreciation. They have some outstanding sculptures on loan at the site. The ones to highlight include Next Summer and Bibi on the Ball. Both are from Carole Feuerman. The hyper-realistic style means you need to observe the sculptures up close, where you might spot individual eyelashes or veins on the elegant legs.
Kayaking through Englewood
If you are looking for something more active. I suggest a kayaking tour with SUP Englewood. If Punta Gorda is all about the flora and fauna, then Englewood is all about embracing the Florida coastline.
They run kayaking tours in various locations, but I would recommend the Don Pedro Island State Park tour. Their knowledgeable guides will give you the best practice for ethical paddling. You’ll be able to get up close with dolphins and manatees. You might spot fascinating shellfish like conch and crabs or hear majestic coastal birds like herons and ospreys.
You can paddle through scenic mangroves or take a short walk on Don Pedro Island to observe the pristine beauty of this barrier island.
An unspoilt beach haven
Experience an uncrowded side of Florida with the pure, wide, white sandy beaches of Englewood. There is a scenic 900ft boardwalk that crosses over the beach vegetation if you want to observe the shoreline from a distance.
You’ll find all the amenities you need such as water stations, restrooms and shower facilities, but it never feels commercialised. There are no vendors to approach you selling tourist gifts. The few bars and restaurants in the area are within walking distance but not right on the beach.
You are allowed to fish on the shoreline. You can walk for miles on end with pure sand on your feet whilst admiring the captivating Floridian coastline.
For those who think Florida is overcrowded and commercialised, think again. A visit to Punta Gorda and Englewood Beach will show you what the real, pure Florida has to offer.
Punta Gorda and Englewood Beach is Florida’s best-kept secret of a charming natural paradise located on the idyllic Southwest Gulf Coast.
This coastal community surrounding the state’s second-largest harbor sits conveniently between Tampa and Naples. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have daily direct flights to Tampa.
For more information on the region, please visit –