Everglades Airboat Tours & Other Wild Rides
Take a tour on the wild side at Big Cypress Preserve near Naples on Florida’s Paradise Coast.
There are essentially two ways to tour the Everglades on Florida’s Paradise Coast. One is relatively fast while the other is slower, but both are exhilarating in their own right. The fast approach is an airboat ride, which lasts between 30 to 45 minutes. The slower version is a swamp buggy tour, which can run from three to four hours.
Let’s have a look at each of these experiences, which take place in Big Cypress National Preserve, the western section of the Everglades that’s part of the Paradise Coast.
Airboat Tours in the Everglades
In these thrill-a-minute jaunts, you ride as part of a group — usually six to a dozen people, depending on the size of the boat. The captain sits up high in the back, with a giant fan behind him that powers the watercraft. In some cases, you’ll be provided headphones, so the captain can communicate with you over the whir of the fan-motor.
An airboat can gracefully glide over grasslands, weave around mangrove islets, scoot through narrow canopies, and jet up to 40 miles per hour on straightways of open water. The craft tilts slightly on turns, adding to the thrill. Captains usually stop at least once to visit with a gator.
The reptiles often slink towards the boat so you can get a closer look. (But don’t worry, while these creatures are docile in most circumstances, your captain will make sure they’re safely out of reach.) As the ride goes on, the captain points out highlights of the unique ecosystems found in Big Cypress. No two ways about it: An airboat ride is an absolute blast.
Here are several options for airboat rides, all within an hour’s drive of downtown Naples: Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides (it’s the closest to downtown Naples, just 18 miles away); Captain Jack’s Airboat Tours; Jungle Erv’s Airboat Tours; Everglades City Airboat Tours; Speedy’s Airboat Tours; Down South Airboat Tours; Captain’ Mitch’s Airboat Tours; Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours; Everglades River of Grass Adventures.
Swamp Buggy Tours in the Everglades Backcountry
You’ve never seen anything like a swamp buggy before, much less ridden in one! Each of these vehicles is different, custom-made. You can’t drive one off the lot at the swamp buggy dealership. And they’re not pretty — they’re beasts.
Swamp buggies have large aircraft or tractor tires, enabling them to make their way through terrain that’s marshy, muddy, sandy, grassy and watery — everything you’ll find in Big Cypress. You’ll ride up high on an open-air platform in a padded seat, usually with a canopy on top for shade.
A swamp buggy tour will take you into the Everglades backcountry at a far slower pace than an airboat, while offering more frequent stops. Look for an amazing array of wildlife — among them colorful birds, deer, black bears, snakes, alligators and, if you’re really lucky, the reclusive Florida panther. But operators are quick to point out that there are no guarantees that you’ll see all, or even most, of these species. A lot depends on the time of year, and whether it’s the wet or dry season.
The vehicle traverses large tracts of open grassland and trudges along unpaved roads, where you’re apt to encounter hunting camps, native chickee huts, thickets of trees and other plant life. A Big Cypress swamp buggy trek is not a plush (or even refined) experience. The driver/guides can be real characters — colorful, authentic, funny, and with a wealth of knowledge that they’re happy to pass along as they take you into a world few get to see.
Here are the three primary operators in Big Cypress: Captain Steve’s Swamp Buggy Adventures; C&G’s Big Cypress Swamp Buggy Tours; Big Cypress National Preserve Institute.