Bonjour! Hostels are great places to interact with travelers from other countries. We met Laurent and Ariane at the Everglades Hostel. They’re from Montreal, Canada and speak French and English. They are, in a word, hilarious. We were pleasantly surprised to find that even though they didn’t have a car, they covered a lot of territory in the Everglades, as well as some of the attractions nearby the park. They loved the Coral Castle, as you’ll hear in the video below.
Archive for the ‘Everglades’ Category
When we told folks that we were visiting Everglades National Park in July, we heard pretty much the same thing over and over: Are you crazy?! You’re going to get eaten alive! And friends, they weren’t talking about alligators..
So, we were nervous about heading to Florida at the start of hurricane season, in the heat of summer, and in the throes of buggyness. But boy, were we surprised. Yes, there were bugs. And yes, it was hot, but we love, love, loved Everglades National Park. Take a look at why…
After much debate and upon advice from many seasoned travelers, Ben and I decided to put away the tent and opt for air-conditioning while traveling in Everglades National Park. July is considered the off-season in the Everglades — even the park ranger warned us that wildlife would be scarce and the mosquitoes, deer flies and no-see-ums would be abundant. With daytime temps hovering in the low 90s and nighttime lows in the mid 80s, we decided we could enjoy what the park had to offer more fully with plenty of nightly rest and as few bug bites as possible.
We were looking for a place to stay that would be central to both Biscayne and Everglades National Park and the town of Homestead seemed to fit that bill. When possible, we like to stay in local establishments or hostels and just our luck, we got several recommendations to try the Everglades International Hostel in Florida City, just outside of Homestead.
There are several different accommodations available at the Everglades Hostel, from getting a bunk in a dorm room to private cabins. We opted for a private room which was creatively appointed. We appreciated the chance to converse with fellow shoe-string travelers while cooking in the group kitchen, or relaxing in the Hostel’s garden area where you can cool off in the spring fed pool, watch lizards catch bugs, or lounge in shade houses. Watch the below video, where the hostel owner, Owhnn talks about her establishment and the beautiful area it serves:
More pics of the hostel:
One of the reasons to stay at the Everglades International Hostel is for their spectacular Everglades guided tour (cost: $75; guests get a $10 discount). Usually their tour season runs November through March, but we were able to sweet talk them into organizing one more for good measure. Our tour guide Graham warned us that it would be hot, buggy, and we probably wouldn’t see much wildlife, but we had high hopes. We thought at first it’d jut be the three of us, but come sunrise on the morning of our departure, we were joined by our new friends Laurent and Ariane from Canada, another couple from Barcelona, and a young guy from France.
We loaded up in the van, bleary-eyed and ready for adventure. The agenda was as follows:
1. Sunrise/roadside intro to Everglades natural history
2. Canoeing along the Noble Hammock Trail
3. Lunch at West Lake
4. Walk around Florida Bay
5. Tromp through a cypress dome
6. Hike the Anhinga trail
Graham gave a bit of natural history background, the highlights of which are that contrary to popular belief, Everglades NP is NOT a swamp. A swamp, by definition, is still or stagnant water. The water in the Everglades is constantly moving and you can see clear to the bottom. When you look out upon the glades, it almost seems like a prairie with a few mounds of trees scattered throughout. But the Everglades are really a river, a very shallow river. The glades used to run from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, which means even Miami would have been part of the ecosystem. Due to canals, dikes, levees and other development, water has been diverted from the everglades and they are in danger of running dry. The park is doing a lot to prevent that from happening, and we recommend talking to rangers about those projects once you visit.
The other really cool thing about Everglades NP is that there’s no place like it anywhere else in the world. In fact UNESCO has designated it as an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage site. The unique mix of temperate and tropical species means that you can run into raccoons and manatees. Crocodiles (tropical) and alligators (temperate). All in one spot!
Our canoe trip on the Noble Hammock trail started off great. The trail is pretty narrow and winding, so it’s best for those who are experienced at canoeing or kayaking. We got fantastic views of the red mangroves and bromeliads (air plants) and Graham gave a little history of why the trail is called Noble Hammock.
But the last quarter of the trail proved tough for Ali, who was bombarded by bees, deer flies, and mosquitoes. By the end of the trip, she had gone from wearing a t-shirt and shorts to long sleeves, pants, and mosquito headnet. A tip: make sure you bring a set of clothes to cover up with in case the bugs get bad!
As we had already seen Florida Bay and the Anhinga trail on our own prior to going on the tour, the real highlight of the day was walking through a cypress dome. A cypress dome is essentially a pocket of cypress trees that are tallest in the center and progressively get smaller towards the edges (thus: dome). Graham suggested that these domes may be the result of decades of alligator wallowing, whereby the gators flop around and dig out deep spots in the water, providing good habitat for the cypress trees, therefore, at the center of each of these domes is probably a few gators, relaxing in a deep pool (YIKES!). Graham warned us to be quiet, walk only where he walked, and to not grab onto the trees if we fell (that vine might actually be a slippery, venomous water moccasin). Ali barely breathed throughout the entire experience, but Ben really got into it. Literally. At one point on the walk he stumbled and fell chest deep into an alligator hole just 15 feet away from it’s owner. DOUBLE YIKES! But Ben is as calm as he is tall. He barely batted a ginger eyelash as he righted himself and kept moving. After that incident, we saw a few water snakes and then headed back to the van. Ali finally took a breath. Ben went back in to do a little more filming…
We highly recommend taking a tour through the Everglades that includes some type of walk through the water. Even the rangers at the Royal Palm visitor center recommend a tromp off trail to get a real sense of what the Everglades are like. There is nothing like being thigh deep in the habitat of alligators and snakes. Just make sure to watch your step!
Team East hasn’t explored this park yet. Until they do, here’s a little nature to tide you over:
The Everglades protect dozens of endangered or threatened species, including Sea Turtles, Crocodiles and West Indian Manatees.