Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows – Helen Keller
If you are in Fort Myers, exploring the city, no doubt you will hear about Sanibel Island. Reputed to be one of the most charming islands in Florida, Sanibel is frequently visited by tourists, and locals alike.
Sanibel is located in southwest of Fort Myers, an island facing the Gulf of Mexico. It is a popular tourist destination, known for its shell beaches, ocean views, and wildlife refuges. More than half of the island is made up of wild refuges, the largest one being the 21 km2 J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Sanibel Island is a barrier island, reason it is very famous for a large accumulation of shells. Many people come to these beaches to gather shells, and they are often seen bending down as they look for them, posture known as ‘Sanibel Stoop’.
You can spend the whole day at the beach, as the island is gifted with sandy beaches along pretty much all its length of 28 kms (including Captiva Island). What is not to love about the beautiful and awe-inspiring seaside? Who hasn’t stood by the water’s edge and marveled at the sound of the waves washing up the shore? Who hasn’t watched the playful or fighting seagulls yet, or walked few miles up and down a peaceful beach? That’s all yours, if you would be there.
What began as a sandbar is now Sanibel, an island bordered with mangrove trees, shallow bays, and white sandy beaches located off the southwest coast of Florida. For over 2,000 years the Calusa Indians made the lush island their home. After Calusa displacement, years later, the island was opened for tourism once the construction of a causeway in 1963 was done. Jay Norwood Darling was instrumental in the effort to block the sale of a parcel of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel Island. What he did afterwards is history.
About J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Ding Darling is well known for the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States, and birdwatching opportunities. Famous for spectacular migratory bird population, the refuge is home to over 245 species of birds. Common sights are brown pelicans, terns, sandpipers, egrets, white ibis. There is a population of American alligators on the island, but we haven’t encountered any along our walks, this time.
Established in 1945 by president Harry S. Truman, the refuge purpose was to protect endangered and threatened species, providing a safe habitat for migratory birds as well as other wildlife. In 1967 the refuge was renamed in honor of Jay Norwood Darling, a renowned pioneer conservationist, who was instrumental in its founding.
If you are looking for a quieter experience off the beaten path, then Bailey Tract may be for you.
Why Bailey Tract
The Bailey family was among Sanibel’s earliest pioneers. To protect this island paradise, J. N. “Ding” Darling purchased one acre from Frank P. Bailey with his own money in the early 1950s to dig an artesian well for wildlife management. An additional 99 acres was purchased with Duck Stamp funds. To honor the Bailey’s support in protecting these marvelous marshes, this area was named simply as the Bailey Tract.
As the traffic is getting busy early afternoons, you might want to stop and grab a bite at one of the many restaurants along the main road. We had some fun admiring the Island Cow’s autograph collection inside, and enjoying some food outside.
Once the worst of the traffic passed, we were ready to return home. Time to bid farewell to the lovely Sanibel!
Tip(s) of the day:
*Make sure you’re getting a free Guide-map from a local box, or download one interactive maps on your cell phone;
*Get your camera ready, and fully charged if you are a birdwatcher, plenty of opportunities to take photos either on the beach, along the roads, or the trails;
*Comfortable footwear is recommended for longer trails, and lots of water and sunscreen for your walks;
*Take all the patience with you while driving around, as there is only one two-lane bridge connecting the island with the mainland. Be prepared for long waits, as this is one of the most popular places, not only for tourists, but for locals as well;
*The best time to visit Florida is between March and May. The weather is still similar with the one over the winter, but it is not as busy and pricy as in the winter time (November to February).
~ visited in February 2022
If you like Sanibel Island, then you might like another top-rated island from Florida: Key West.