As you would imagine, the big story here is all about the natural environment and outdoor activities, from airboats rides to kayaking. There is some great history to explore (native Indian tribes have inhabited the area for thousands of years), and the wildlife is stunning, from the inevitable profusion of alligators and even crocodiles (the only place in the Americas where they co-exist) to the endangered Florida bear and panther, and a rich cross-section of birdlife that attracts birders from all over the world.
You can enjoy a broad swathe of all this at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Clewiston, one of the few towns in the Everglades themselves. Here you’ll find the superb Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, which is a graphic portrayal of the Seminole Indian tribe and its history, and the Billie Swamp Safari, with a terrific array of activities and tours to highlight the local scenery and wildlife. You can even stay overnight in one of their Chickee huts for a truly unique experience.
Everglades National Park covers more than 1.5 million acres of the region (roughly the lower 20 per cent of its full extent) and offers the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, as well as containing the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere. The Everglades themselves can be accessed from various points close to Miami and Fort Lauderdale (to the east), Naples (to the west), highways 27 and 29 from the north, and right across the southern extent of motorway I-75, which is known as Alligator Alley. In truth, I-75 can be a dull drive, but the more southerly route, Highway 41, part of the Tamiami Trail, is much more interesting, with a number of notable stopping points, including Ochopee Post Office (the smallest post office in the US), HP Williams Roadside Park, the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center, Miccosukee Indian Village and the Shark Valley Visitor Center, which has some great tours of the area, including a 15-mile tram trail and observation tower.
In the Keys, Pennekamp Coral Reef is a huge attraction, and you can explore by boat and/or snorkel and diving tours, as well as kayaking around the coast’s mangrove swamps. Key Largo hosts an annual Humphrey Bogart Festival each October, while Islamorada boasts the famous Theater By The Sea, with great animal exhibits, boat rides and a swim-with-dolphins experience. For more Keys history, don’t miss the Shipwreck Treasure Museum in Key West, as well as the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
If there’s one other must-do attraction in the Keys, it is sunset-watching, which is practically the local sport. Most locations will feature some kind of sundown ceremony, but this is at its best in Key West, where Mallory Square is the party-style epi-centre of the daily festival.