Scaly, fierce, practically prehistoric: no, we’re not talking about the residents of Florida’s extensive retirement community, but about its famed alligator population. Known ’round these parts as ‘gators’, the creatures – which can grow to be up to 4.6 metres in length – have dwelled in Florida’s swamps and marshes for many years. For curious visitors to Orlando who want to see the reptiles in the wild, the region offers a number of gator-spotting opportunities, from airboat rides to alligator wrestling demonstrations. Take a look at these wild Orlando nature reserves for where to get up close (but not too close) to these not-so-gentle giants…
Kissimmee Swamp Tours
Operated in the nearby Lake Kissimmee, these airboat swamp tours take visitors out for 60- or 90-minute stretches to explore Central Florida’s third largest lake and the many kinds of wildlife that inhabit the unspoiled surroundings. Expect to catch glimpses of gators and cranes and, if you’re lucky, you might also spot a bald eagle or two.
Nighttime Everglades Airboat Tours
Florida’s famous Everglades are exciting to view during the day, but what about at night? Operating under cover of darkness, these evening tours bring visitors into the heart of the area’s 4,200 acres of swampland and up close to all of the hooting, croaking, and growling creatures that call it home. Just make sure you keep hands and legs inside the boat at all times.
Only in Florida would you see a theme park entirely devoted to the gator, but don’t think you’ll run out of things to do here: activities and sights include gator ziplining, a natural alligator breeding marsh, a gator wrestlin’ show, and a petting zoo. As a bonus, see if you can catch sight of the park’s four extremely rare albino specimens.
St. Johns River Cruises
Part of Blue Spring State Park, the St. John River is a tranquil refuge for some of Florida’s favourite critters. A quiet boat takes visitors on a languid tour of the area’s shallow waters, while guides point out turtles, gators, wading birds and manatees, which often swim alongside the boat.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
About an hour outside of Orlando and near to Florida’s Atlantic coast, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 140,000 acres of dunes, estuaries, marshes, pine woods, and other habitats that are home to over 1,500 local species. If you’re visiting, check out the wildlife drive, viewing platforms, a manatee observation deck, and boating for some prime gator watching.
Header photo: Alligators Airboat Rides © Experience Kissimmee
What are your favourite Florida wildlife experiences? Share with us in the comments below.