Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island

Accessible from the mainland by a toll bridge or by boat, Sanibel Island is 22 mi/35 km long and some 2 mi/3 km wide. It’s pretty and lush, although condo and hotel construction has changed the pristine, undeveloped character it used to have. With lots of resorts, restaurants and little shops, this island is definitely upscale compared with nearby Fort Myers Beach. As you enter the island, the road gets narrower and the pace slows. You very quickly want to join the cyclists, joggers and walkers on the extensive network of bike and pedestrian lanes. Likewise, as you leave Sanibel and cross over to neighboring Captiva Island, the road narrows even more, and you’ll see another noticeable upscale shift.

Most of Sanibel’s mangrove swamp shoreline along San Carlos Bay is protected within the 6,350-acre/2,570 hectare J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Across the road from the refuge is a 262-acre/106-hectare conservation center maintained by a local environmental group, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Its property along the Sanibel River includes a native-plant nursery and 4 mi/6 km of trails through marshy swales and forested ridges. Alligators, gopher tortoises, raccoons, otters and many species of birds dwell there.

Sanibel has nice white-sand beaches famous for their harvest of seashells (low tide is the best time to go). Walk along the beach for any length of time, and you’ll understand what people are referring to when they mention the “Sanibel Stoop.” You’re not allowed to take shells with live creatures inside, but there’s no limit on empty ones. If you have a chance, visit the Sanibel Lighthouse in Old Town Sanibel, which was built in 1884 and is the oldest building in town.