Are you planning a trip to Florida, particularly Miami? The great news is that you can visit the Everglades National Park on a day trip from Miami and take a fun airboat tour to see the incredible wildlife unique to this swampy ecosystem, including alligators, turtles, frogs and an abundance of birdlife.
The Everglades National Park covers an area of over 1.5 million acres of wetlands, is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Wetland of International Importance and an International Biosphere Reserve, and is the third largest national park in the USA, making it a must-visit destination in Florida.
In this post, I share my experience of an Everglades Airboat Tour, plus some useful information to help you plan your trip.
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Useful information about the Everglades National Park
Getting to the Everglades from Miami
The drive will take approximately one hour from Miami, leaving the city on Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail).
Booking an Everglades Safari Park airboat tour
I used Everglades Safari Park for my airboat tour; however, several airboat companies offer similar packages.
Pre-booking Everglades airboat tour tickets is advisable, but be aware there are no refunds if they are cancelled. If you have a US National Parks pass, you will receive a discount on the ticket price.
On average, the airboat tour will last around 40 minutes, followed by an educational wildlife show to learn about the alligators. There is also a jungle trail, an observation platform, and an on-site restaurant, the only one in the Everglades National Park.
Two to three hours is enough time to experience these activities and will leave you the remainder of the day to explore other areas in the Everglades before returning to the city attractions in Miami.
Organised airboat tours in the Everglades
If you prefer to join an organised tour, here are some options:
Best time of year to visit the Everglades
The Everglades have a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: dry and wet. The dry season lasts from December to April, with lower humidity and temperatures ranging from 53°F to 77°F.
I visited in April, and the weather was warm but not overbearing. We were still advised to wear sunscreen and mozzie repellant as the season was turning from spring to summer, so there was a good chance that the biting critters had arrived. Thankfully we didn’t experience any.
From May to November, the rainy season arrives, with temperatures often reaching 90°F. The humidity is high, and it rains most of the day, attracting many mosquitos, so not the best time to take a tour.
Best time of day to see the Everglades’ alligators
As the daytime temperatures can get unbearably hot, it is best to visit the Everglades in the early morning or late afternoon. The alligators will be more active, so you will have a better chance of spotting them swimming in the river or walking around.
What to expect during an Everglade airboat tour
Firstly an Everglades airboat ride is noisy. The fan on the boat that propels it through the water is powerful and makes a lot of noise. Because of this, you will be given earplugs during your tour to cushion the sound.
There will be around 20 people on the airboat with you.
The tour will last around 40 minutes, during which you will be taken at different speeds through the wetlands to experience the ecosystem and observe the wildlife.
When the airboat goes fast, it’s a little bit like a ride at Universal Studios as it zips through the marshes.
The difference between alligators and crocodiles
Alligators are dark, blackish-grey, with a broader, U-shaped snout and native to the Southern United States (like the Florida Everglades!) and China. Alligators prefer fresh water as they do not have the glands in their mouth that crocodiles do that expel saltwater.
When an alligator’s mouth is shut, you won’t see any teeth, but when a crocodile’s mouth is shut, you will see a fourth tooth protruding from the side.
Crocodiles are olive green or light brown, with a more pointed, V-shaped snout. Crocodiles prefer to live in saltwater or brackish water, a combination of saltwater and freshwater. Crocodile habitats are in Africa, Australia, India, Central America, and the Pacific.
Both species can be dangerous; however, alligators are usually much less aggressive than crocodiles, who almost always react aggressively.
Alligators can grow between 11 to 15 feet for males and 8 to 10 feet for females and live on a diet of fish, birds, reptiles, small mammals, and even small alligators. Male crocodiles can reach more than 7m long and weigh 1,000kg.
When you see your first alligator, you get a real adrenaline rush, especially if you haven’t seen one before in its natural environment.
They aren’t easy to spot because they partially submerge themselves with just a pair of eyes peeking out of the water, so they often look like tree branches or rocks.
The airboat captain’s expertise is critical in spotting alligators, and once they have been located, the airboat is pulled in close, allowing visitors to spend time at each sighting and take photographs.
Can you see the alligator camouflaged by grass and lily pads in this photograph?
It took my eyes a minute to see his blackish-grey body poking out of the water after the airboat captain pointed it out.
And it’s not only alligators that you’ll see on your Everglades airboat tour.
Many other reptiles co-habit the Everglades, including snakes, lizards and turtles. This turtle was enjoying the sunshine on an overturned tree branch.
The tour will take you along the Everglades river, known by locals as the “river of grass”, and out to the grasslands, where your captain will give you information about the environment and wildlife in the Everglades.
Back on land
Back on terra firma, don’t be surprised to see alligators lying on the grass around the park. It’s quite unnerving to see one so close to the general public, but it seems it is a regular occurrence.
This huge male alligator seemed oblivious to the visitors around him taking photographs. And then he started to move, which certainly made everyone back away quickly.
He sauntered to the water’s edge and slid underneath before resurfacing and gliding along, maybe to find a quieter spot away from the paparazzi!
I kept my distance and caught these images with a zoom lens. Remember, they are wild animals and not petting zoo attractions as some visitors seemed to think!
An educational wildlife show is part of the airboat tour and teaches visitors about the behaviour of alligators, feeding patterns, breeding etc.
It only lasts for around 25 minutes but is interesting and worth seeing. There was also an option to hold a baby alligator and have a photo taken, although it doesn’t seem the best way to treat a juvenile given opinions surrounding animal handling and conservation.
A bird lovers paradise
Whether or not you are a twitcher, you will also enjoy seeing the birds in the Everglades. On my trip, we saw many different species, including an eagle.
Keep an eye out during the jungle trail for birds in the trees above the boardwalk.
Final Thoughts on an airboat tour in the Everglades
If you want to experience a different side of Florida away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks and cities, then an Everglades National Park trip will be a complete contrast.
This is one of the best day trips from Miami and will allow you to immerse yourself in North America’s largest subtropical wilderness.
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