Unspoiled Florida, Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands

Perfect for nature lovers

Beach Scene
Beach Scene | Larger

Most of South Florida's coast is dotted with hi-rise condominiums, immense hotels that block the skyline and crowded highways. Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands are different. Located on Florida's Southwest Gulf coast, this nature lover's destination is about 50 miles south of Sarasota, the nearest airport, and 30 miles north of Fort Myers and is comprised of 28 miles of sandy beaches and approximately 200 miles of nature trails.

In fact, 84 percent of the shoreline is protected preserve. On a recent vacation there with my husband, I enjoyed an escape from the hustle and bustle of typical Florida tourist attractions.

We stayed at the Palm Island Resort in Cape Haze in a beach villa on the Gulf of Mexico. Our villa had a fully equipped kitchen, with dishes and utensils, a back porch with a table and chairs and magnificent views of emerald waters, white beaches and breathtaking sunsets.

Palm Island Resort
Palm Island Resort | Larger

The resort is located on a private island. We reached the island by means of a ferry which transports about six cars at a time. Upon arrival at the Palm Island Resort, you are issued an electric golf cart that serves as your transportation to a myriad of activities from bird watching and bicycling to dining and swimming.

Bird watching
Bird watching | Larger

In Charlotte Harbor, time stands still. We enjoyed looking through a high powered lens and watching nesting birds, piping plovers, blue herons, white egrets and spotted sandpipers. Our nature guide escorted us by golf cart to locations throughout the island where we could observe the beauty of nature in its natural habitat. Along the way we encountered several species of birds, and sea turtles from loggerheads to leatherbacks.

This unspoiled area of Florida has magnificent beaches with huge shells that you won't find on many South Florida beaches.

Seashells | Larger

Charlotte Harbor has a laid back atmosphere. We just wanted to watch the sunset and relax in our beautiful villa, but after a few days we decided to venture off the island and check out some area attractions. We took a swamp buggy eco-tour at Babcock Wilderness Adventures. The guided tour lasts about 90 minutes and gave us an interesting and pleasing glimpse of nature. The tour takes passengers through a 90,000 acre ranch with its many eco systems and large quantity of pine flatwoods, fresh and saltwater marshes, palm trees and swamp plants. We also had a chance to get up close and personal with a large variety of wading birds, alligators, historic Florida Cracker Cattle, wild turkeys and wild hogs.

Babcock Wilderness Adventure
Babcock Wilderness Adventure | Larger

We also decided to try a kayaking adventure. We chose the Gasparilla Sound and Coral Creek Intracoastal Waterways. Captain Marian Schneider of Grande Tours was our guide through the mangroves in a tandem kayak. The two and a half hour kayak adventure provided another opportunity for us to get up close to nature and encounter a variety of birds, as we enjoyed the sunshine and try to keep our kayak from getting stuck in the mangroves.

Kayaking | Larger

The area has dozens of restaurants that feature fresh caught fish. Our favorite was the Fishery, the location for the movie “Out of Time” staring Denzel Washington. We loved the house seafood gumbo. This delightfully funky restaurant serves up local cuisine that is reasonably priced and memorable.

Fishery Restaurant
Fishery Restaurant | Larger

Fisherman's Village, a waterfront mall, located in Punta Gorda provided us with the opportunity to shop for souvenirs at unique stores. You won't find chain stores here, just individually owned shops with boutique items that are fun to explore like the Ruby Slipper and the Laff Out Loud store. There is a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico from the Captain's Table Restaurant at Fisherman's Village and delicious seafood. The King Fisher Fleet also offers sailings from Fisherman's Village. We hopped on for an afternoon cruise and were followed by dolphins and schools of fish during our cruise.

Harbor Sunset
Harbor Sunset | Larger

Punta Gorda also offers Gallery Walks on the third Thursday evening of the month. The evening includes art, music, shopping and food. There is a free trolley that takes participants around the area to shop, dine, enjoy the music and works of art.

But the main attraction of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands is its un-crowded roads, beautiful beaches and the opportunity to explore nature in a relaxed setting.

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