Ever wonder what it would be like to wade in emerald green waters or stroll miles of a sandy white unspoiled beach of a deserted island with modern civilization miles away? You don't have to hop aboard a tramp steamer to head toward the islands in the Caribbean because the answer lies just a short ferry boat ride to one of Southwest Florida's barrier islands. Cayo Costa can only be accessed by water taxi or private water craft and much of this pristine island is occupied by Cayo Costa State Park. Located north of Captiva, Cayo Costa only has a smattering of residential dwellings, no roads, no powerlines or shopping centers. What it does have in abundance is the peace and serenity that this natural environment offers visitors. The interior of the park boasts six miles of hiking trails that take travelers through acres of pine forests, oak and palm hammocks and mangrove swamps where many varieties of birds and other wildlife make their homes. Among them are large herds of wild hogs which often can be seen rooting up the soft soil of the forest floor. In addition to the opportunity for sunbathing, swimming, fishing and camping, visitors to Cayo Costa also can participate in one of several programs offered by state employees covering topics as varied as sea turtles to the Calusa Indian tribes that once occupied the island.
The normal park hours are from 8 a.m. to sundown year round. If you want to stay beyond watching the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico, you can arrange to stay for the night or perhaps longer on this island. Visitors will find 35 primitive sites where you can pitch a tent, as well as six rustic cabins. The cabins, reminiscent of those found in places like the mountains of up north, have no electricity to provide heat or air conditioning. And of course the showers are cold water and are shared in the camping areas along with restrooms, picnic tables and grills for cooking. Campers should be sure to take all of the supplies they will need as the only thing provided in the cabins is drinking water.
If you do not have access to a private boat to transport you and your supplies to Cayo Costa, transportation is available from both Pine Island and Captiva.
Tropic Star of Pine Island offers ferry service to the public docks in Pelican Bay twice daily from the village of Bokeelia on Pine Island. The boat will leave passengers and their gear at the public docks. Visitors can either walk the approximately one and a half miles to the Gulf beach and camping area or hitch a ride on the tram which makes loops throughout day-time hours. Another mode of transportation offered on this island is bicycling and bikes can be rented at the ranger station for a minimal cost. Reservations are required. For more information about the times of day the ferry arrives and departs and the cost of passage call Tropic Star at (239) 283-0015 or visit their Web site at www.tropicstarcruises.com. Tropic Star also offers round trip boat rides to Cabbage Key, Boca Grande, North Captive and Usseppa Islands as well.
From Captiva Island and Sanibel, the way to get to Cayo Costa is via a half- or full-day cruises offered by Captiva Cruises at McCarthy's Marina on Andy Rosse Lane.
Half-day cruises to the southern portion of the island depart at 9 a.m. (returning at noon) and 1 p.m. (returning at 4 p.m.)
Full-day cruises depart at 10 a.m., docking at the public boat dock, and return at 4 p.m.. Captiva Cruises also offers cruises to Boca Grande. Call 239-472-5300 for reservations or more information or visit the Web site, www.captivacruises.com
For reservation information to stay at Cayo Costa State Park call 1-941-964-0375. Campers are welcome to stay at the park year-round. If you would like to plan a stay park officials recommend that for the summer months you should plan to reserve your spot at least a couple of weeks in advance. During the winter months reservations are taken 11 months in advance. The cost of a tent site is $18 per night and the rate per night for a cabin is $30.
Covering 100 acres, Cabbage Key is a lush tropical paradise complete with a historic restaurant, Inn and cottages boasting a panoramic view of Pine Island Sound. With no paved roads or automobiles, visitors will find the most popular means of transportation on Cabbage Key are bicycles and golf carts.
Here, too, the 100 acres that make up Cabbage Key are accessible only by boat, helicopter or seaplane, helping to maintain the Old Florida lifestyle for which it has become noted. Again, visitors won't find a grocery store or shops on the island so anything you may need outside of restaurant dining will have to be brought along for the journey.
Unlike some of the neighboring islands, no camping is offered at Cabbage Key. If you wish to spend a few quiet days lying on a beach with a good book you can make a reservation at the only Inn on the island. The Cabbage Key Inn was the mansion of famous mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart and was built for her in 1929. Rinehart first visited Southwest Florida at the suggestion of President Herbert Hoover and she fell in love with the quiet atmosphere that could be found on Cabbage Key and developed a passion for tarpon fishing. If you would like to spend the night at either the Inn or would like to rent a cottage, reserva
tions are recommended. To contact the Cabbage Key Inn (239) 283-2278 for reservation information.
The biggest draw to this little island, however, is a place known for its "Dollar Bill Bar" and restaurant. Visitors from all over the world have left their mark in this quaint establishment by signing dollar bills that cover the walls, ceiling, fixtures and nearly every surface that was once exposed. Seemingly poised atop a small mountain, the Dollar Bill Bar is actually situated on a Calusa Indian shell mound. In years past, the restaurant and bar was frequented by such notables as the late John F. Kennedy Jr. and Katherine Hepburn and legend has it that songwriter Jimmy Buffett was inspired by the bar to compose the song "Cheeseburger in Paradise."
While visiting Cabbage Key nature lovers will find trails taking them through stands of ancient trees, an abundance of birds and other wildlife and, of course, there is the famous fishing opportunity that Pine Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico offers anglers of all skill levels.
To get to Cabbage Key several regularly scheduled shuttle boats arrive at the island daily and can be accessed at marinas at both Captiva and Pine Island.