Grassy expanses on a horizon to clear blue nothing, amphibious reptiles lying languidly in the heat of the mid-day sun, birds gliding lazily on a tree-to-tree mission, mangrove forests lapped by the shores of a turquoise blue ocean.
All this and more can be found in The Everglades, Florida. This isn’t a cheap part of the world to travel in, but it’s possible to enjoy the state’s best natural attractions, washed down with a sweet mojito and a slice of Key Lime pie, without breaking the bank. Here’s your guide to seeing The Everglades on a flashpacker budget.
Introducing The Everglades
It’s hard to believe The Everglades (entrance fee $10, valid for seven consecutive days) were once considered a swampy nuisance. Fortunately, an appreciation for this mammoth haven and home for numerous bird species and the other wildlife has prevailed; although the pressures of a Miami-and-surrounds population that’s growing by 800 people every day makes the balancing act of environment vs development ever tougher.
The Everglades span almost the whole area to the west and south-west of Miami. The urban sprawl of the city is in evidence as you drive to the Glades either west on the Tamiami Trail, or south on US 1. Mile upon mile of malls, car dealerships, Starbucks and more pave the way for an hour or more, until …
Peace. Grasslands and waterways finally take over from concrete and supermarkets.
Activities in The Everglades on a flashpacker budget
Feel the wind in your hair as you hire a bike ($9 p/hr) to take you around all – or part – of the 15-mile Shark Valley Loop Rd, accessed via US 41 (Tamiami Trail), west of Miami.
Marvel at the alligators, basking at the side of the trail, mere footsteps from your pedals.
Gaze in awe at the majesty of the birds that perch on seemingly every other tree branch; and laugh at those that cheekily turn away from you as you seek to capture their image for digital posterity.
In the south-west part of the park (accessed from near Homestead) drive the road to Flamingo, and stop to take the numerous short trails en-route. Spot wildlife, go under the “hammock” woodland areas, witness nature in action – this is a place where snake-eating birds could appear on a tree at any moment.
Get out your camera, your inner ornithologist, or both.
If you fancy a little more adventure (and to part with more money), whizz though the waters on an Air Boat tour (outside the park boundaries), paddle through the backwaters on a kayak, or get your swamp thing on with an organised trek IN the glades.
Getting around The Everglades
OK so there’s no getting around this. You’re going to need to rent a car (around $150 p/w for a compact). Fortunately petrol (gas) is super-super cheap at around $2.30-$2.70 per gallon.
Where to stay in The Everglades on a flashpacker budget
A useful stop-off near the south-west entrance of the park is Homestead, which has some AirBnB properties.
Homestead is also home to the Coral Castle Museum (entrance including tour $16), a bizarre collection of honed coral rock that was a labour of love for creator Ed Leedskalnin over a period of 20 years.
Top tips for The Everglades on a flashpacker budget
- Hire only a small (compact) car. A compact won’t cost much less than the next size/s up, but the fuel economy will be a lot better.
- Stay in accommodation in less fashionable towns (Homestead rather than Miami), with access to at least a fridge, such as AirBnB.
- Stock up on breakfast and picnic supplies for lunch at any of the supermarkets on the highway.
- Make the most of the knowledgeable rangers and the information housed in the Visitor Centers. They can help you get the best value for your almost-free National Park experience.