Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
If a tropical vacation is what your client is looking for, if they want to leave all of their cares (and phones) at home and pack up their T-shirts and flip-flops, then heading to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel on the Gulf of Mexico is the perfect spot to relax and unplug. Here visitors may explore and be inspired by the many barrier islands of this Southwest Florida island paradise by land or by boat.
Island hopping by land
Few destinations have such an abundance of sandy beach coastline, much of it undisturbed by modern intrusions. With a subtropical climate, a 590-mile shoreline and the warm waters of the Gulf, this area has all the components for a fantasy island vacation. Each island has a character of its own and makes for an island hopping vacation that includes sunsets, shelling, great dining and picnicking, water sports, boating, biking and exploring. Best known are Sanibel and Captiva islands, connected to the mainland by an alluring three-mile causeway. Sanibel and Captiva are connected to each other by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bridge at Blind Pass.
Cross the magical Sanibel Causeway and all worries vanish. Sanibel is known worldwide for its shelling and the associated posture referred to as the “Sanibel Stoop.” Some shellers attach flashlights to their heads, in an effort to be first in the daily search for top picks of the more than 400 varieties of shells found on the beaches or at high or low tide. For most visitors, however, shelling is merely a delightful excuse to enjoy hours of sun along some of the best shoreline in North America.
Don’t miss: The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to many exotic species of birds and plants. A four-mile drive, with access to walking and canoe/kayak trails, offers abundant opportunities for naturalists to witness a raccoon washing up before breakfast, an alligator snatching a quick bite or long-legged wading birds stalking its prey.
The main attraction on Captiva: none. And that is the attraction! The natural beauty of the island is the draw. It was here that Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, wrote her best-selling book, “Gift from the Sea.” More remote than Sanibel, the island offers a laid-back pace, several great restaurants, sunset views and beautiful beaches for wandering.
Don’t Miss: The best sunset views can be found at the Mucky Duck at the north end of Captiva on picturesque Andy Rosse Lane. This popular hangout with locals and visitors is never short of cold beer and fresh seafood. Wrap up your visit with dinner and dessert at the eclectic and delicious Bubble Room – you have to see it to believe it!
Estero Island, Fort Myers Beach
Estero Island, home of Fort Myers Beach, has been long recognized as one of the “world’s safest beaches” because of its gently sloping shoreline. The sand is particularly soft and white, like powdered sugar. During the winter, Estero Bay is home to an extensive shrimp and fishing fleet. Visitors find every imaginable water toy, from windsurfer to catamaran and parasail. Numerous marinas operate boating and fishing charters. Local restaurants benefit from the catch, which generally includes red snapper and grouper.
Don’t miss: Lovers Key State Park, just south of Fort Myers Beach. This is one of the area’s most pristine parks. Walk the boardwalk over tidal lagoons to a sandy, white beach with sea oats. Hike the nature trail, paddle a lagoon and get married under the gazebo.
Step back in time on Pine Island to reminisce a period when fishing reigned as the area’s largest industry. Accessible by land via “the fishingest bridge in the USA” at Matlacha [Mat-la-shay], the island is 17 miles long with Pine Island Sound on one side and an aquatic preserve on the other.
Don’t miss: A stroll through Matlacha. This colorful Mayberry-like fishing village is filled with galleries of painters and sculptors.
Accessible by boat and car via causeway, this island’s charming turn-of-the-century harbor town, Boca Grande, was founded by the wealthy DuPont family in the late 1800s. This sleepy southern town comes with small shops, cozy restaurants, waterside accommodations and beautiful beaches.
Don’t miss: The restored Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum, built in 1890, and visit the famous Boca Grande Railroad Depot, the Loose Caboose Restaurant and an ice cream parlor, the structure was the last depot for the Charlotte Harbor & Northern Railway.
For more information, visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com