Get up close and personal with a Gater, visit an injured turtle or be amazed by hundreds of beautiful butterflies… Just a few ways to get closer to wildlife in Florida.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Take a magical stroll through the colourful Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory and witness the beauty of hundreds of exotic butterflies, along with tropical flowers, birds and waterfalls in this lush and welcoming indoor landscape. With 50 to 60 different butterfly species represented at any given time, this is a fascinating introduction to the diversity of this branch of the insect world. You can also learn more about the lifecycle, feeding and migratory patterns of the striking Monarch butterfly in the excellent Learning Centre, and get a close-up look at caterpillars as they munch away on their host plants and prepare to start their transformation into butterflies. There’s also a gift shop and art gallery, where you can pick up souvenirs and original butterfly art by artist Sam Trophia.
The Turtle Hospital
Situated near the city of Marathon in the midst of the Florida Keys, The Turtle Hospital is a small, non-profit institution that does amazing work in rescuing and caring for sick and injured sea turtles. This advanced medical and rehabilitation facility occupies a former motel building where staff can stay onsite to look after their current patients, as well the hospital’s permanent residents – those turtles who are too badly injured to be released into the wild. You can visit the facility for a 90-minute educational tour that includes an intro to the wonderful world of sea turtles, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how the hospital operates and a chance to meet some of the turtles. Keep an eye on their news updates, as well – you may even get the chance to see a recovered turtle released into the wild!
River Ventures Manatee Experience
Get up close and personal with these gentle aquatic mammals on a three-hour River Ventures Manatee Experience, a unique opportunity to snorkel with manatees in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. These slow-moving creatures are widely loved for their friendly, curious nature, and it’s a truly unforgettable experience to be able to view them in their natural habitat. As manatees are endangered, you’ll be given a full briefing before the tour on the best ways to interact with them, and a guide will accompany you at all times to make sure both you and the manatees are comfortable. Masks, snorkels, fins and wetsuits are provided, or you can bring your own gear. No previous snorkelling experience is required, and you can also opt to watch from the boat if you prefer not to get wet. You’re sure to fall in love with these intelligent, inquisitive creatures!
The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
The Catty Shack Ranch is a non-profit wildlife sanctuary dedicated to providing a comfortable, stimulating and permanent home for a whole range of big cats that have been rescued from difficult situations. A staff of dedicated volunteers and onsite veterinarians look after a stunning collection of lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, leopards and more, all under the guidance of experienced animal trainer Curt LoGiudice. You can visit on selected days for a guided tour with one of their volunteers, who will introduce you to the facility’s furry residents, their habitat, food and personal histories – just check the website for the current schedule of upcoming tours. Visit during the daytime to see the cats peacefully sleeping, or sign up for an evening feeding tour to see them lively and ready to roar!
Gator Park Airboat Tours
Embark on an airboat adventure through the fascinating Florida Everglades, an expansive area of natural wetlands which is home to over 200,000 alligators, along with many species of rare and endangered birds, fish, mammals and reptiles.Gator Park Airboat Tours depart every 20 to 30 minutes and take you on an exciting journey through this rich habitat, where you can get up close and personal with the area’s residents – from those famous gators, right through to great blue herons, white ibises, and ospreys, as well as turtles, white-tailed deer and even the Florida panther. Your knowledgeable guide will help you spot the different species and capture amazing photos of the wildlife amongst the tall grass and shallow waters – and after your tour you can even catch the wildlife show, which features traditional alligator wrestling and the chance for you to hold a baby gator.