Photograph by Steven Martine, National Geographic Travel
All 67 Florida counties are home to alligators, whose numbers are estimated to be about 1.3 million statewide. While gators are common sights near man-made lakes and canals, understanding the vital link between these primordial predators and the state's aquatic ecosystem requires a trip into the wild. Take a guided cruise to closely—and safely—learn about and observe alligators in their natural habitat.
Everglades Day Safari, Davie
Multiple alligator sightings are a given on every Everglades Day Safari, says Pete Corradino, wildlife biologist and Everglades Day Safari director of operations. The outfitter's full-day tours through Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park include an airboat ride, pontoon boat cruise, van tour, and nature walk—all led by a biologist or naturalist guide. "Nature is unpredictable, but we can guarantee you'll see alligators: basking, swimming, or submerged on the airboat ride; lazily hanging about the swamp on the nature walk through a bald cypress forest; and, on the van tour, soaking up rays on the roadside."
Myakka River State Park, Sarasota
Hundreds of alligators live in the Myakka—Florida's only state-designated Wild and Scenic River—and its two shallow lakes, the Upper and the Lower Myakka. The Upper Myakka also is home to North America's two largest airboats, the 70-passenger Gator Gal and Myakka Maiden. Hop aboard an airboat for a wildlife tour to see the park's alligators, anhingas, and sandhill cranes. Tours are offered three times daily from June 1 to December 15, and four times daily the rest of the year. The guides driving each wood-framed flatboat are expert gator spotters, but you can maximize your sightings by choosing a tour time based on the temperature. Since alligators use the water to control their body temperature, you'll see more of them in the water in the afternoon on warmer days and in the morning on cooler days.
When to Go: Alligators can be seen year-round, but mating season typically occurs during April and May, and nesting season is June through September.
Safety Tip: Alligators can be present in any fresh or brackish bodies of water. Do not swim outside of designated swimming areas, and avoid swimming between dusk and dawn, when alligators are most active.
Practical Tip: It is illegal to feed or harass alligators in Florida. Keep your distance, and dispose of trash and food scraps in garbage cans.
What to Read Before You Go: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's free pamphlet, "A Guide to Living With Alligators", includes important alligator safety tips.
Fun Fact: Florida is one of the places where you can find both American alligators and saltwater crocodiles, which are separate species. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the snout. The alligator has a round or U-shaped nose, whereas the crocodile usually has a narrower, V-shaped or triangular one.
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