Work is exhausting, you need a break, and you have some vacation time coming to you. You decide you want a nice, relaxing beach vacation: nothing to do but lie on a beach lounger with a drink in your hand.
After some googling, you hit on a place you’ve never heard of before: Marco Island, Florida, south of Naples. For you, it’s not too hard to get to, and it looks wonderful. With a long, white-sand beach facing west, you could watch the sun set every day. The hotels here have everything you’d enjoy for this vacation: sun, sand, perhaps a spa and/or a pool.
Perfect. You book it, and you’re on your way.
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The first couple of days on Marco Island are magical. You drift from your room to the restaurant to the pool to the spa to the beach and back again. You read the book you brought from start to finish. In the evening, you drink a cocktail (or several), relishing the beauty of the sunset.
The main beach in Marco Island is Marco Island Beach: the long strip of sand facing west, where most of the hotels are located.
If you want a slight change of scenery, go further north of Marco Island Beach to Tigertail Beach. It’s likely to be less crowded and its calm water makes it very child-friendly.
When you’ve had enough of the beach
If you’re like me, though, by Day 3 you start feeling restless. All of this lazing around has been great, but you’re ready for something else. At the same time, you don’t want to do anything too strenuous, or to have to drive a long way.
Maybe you didn’t know it when you booked, but Marco Island is the biggest of the “Ten Thousand Islands” that range along the west coast of Florida. Most are uninhabited; some are as small as a clump of mangroves. A lot of the area is protected as part of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge or Everglades National Park.
What this all means is that you can have your relaxing, luxurious, lazing-on-the-beach holiday, and also explore the nature and wildlife of the region.
Things to do on Marco Island
There are quite a few things to see on Marco Island. Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:
Marco Island Historical Museum
The Calusa Indians were the first to live on Marco Island, and this museum is the place to learn about them and all of the settlers who came later. Besides a permanent exhibition, the museum also has a recreated Calusa village.
Marco Island Historical Museum: 180 South Heathwood Drive, Marco Island. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-16:00. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Admission is free. Website.
Otter Mound Preserve
This small nature reserve is a tropical hardwood hammock, quite a rare habitat, it’s slightly higher ground, so it didn’t flood, which means it’s the kind of land that got cleared first for humans. The name “Otter” isn’t connected to the animal; it has to do with a man who lived there starting in the 1940s whose name was Ernest Otter. The remains of his walls and terraces made of seashells are still visible.
It’s a good place for birdwatching and you might see other animals like tortoise, opossum or armadillo, among others.
Otter Mound Preserve: 1831 Addison Court, Marco Island. Open daily during daylight. There is a dirt trail that is shady with informational signs about nature and history of the area. No facilities and not wheelchair accessible. Bring binoculars and bug spray! Admission free.
Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation
Doesn’t that name make you think that Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation is some weird attraction at an amusement park? It’s not. It’s the ruin of an actual plantation house, dating to the late 19th century. Technically on a separate island called Key Marco, it’s inside a gated community which, rumor has it, is now charging a $10 fee to enter. If you’re allowed, take a walk around the site and look out for turtles!
Captain Horr’s Pineapple Plantation: Blue Hill Creek Drive at Highland Point, Marco Island. $10 vehicle charge.
Marco Island Center for the Arts
Marco Island Center of the Arts is a community space used as an art gallery but also for adult and child art education. The exhibitions change often; check out their website for current exhibits or just go there and be surprised! This is more an art gallery than a museum, so if you particularly like a work of art, you might be able to buy it!
Marco Island Center for the Arts: 1010 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island. Open Monday-Friday 9:00-16:00. Closed on weekends. Website.
Activities to do on Marco Island
There are also plenty of more active things to do on Marco Island. Since it’s just one island in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, you might want to go see some of the other little islands.
Boat trips among the islands
There are lots of boat trips on offer in Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge and down into the Everglades, but only a selection leave from Marco Island, while many more would require a drive to, for example, Naples. Most involve some combination of wildlife viewing and shelling on smaller islands. Here are some that leave from Marco Island:
- On this two-hour tour, you’ll learn about the area and possibly see various creatures like manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and a whole range of birds. They only take 6 people per tour, and the tour is guided by a Florida Master Naturalist.
- On this Craigcat tour, you ride a private two-person motorized catamaran among the islands, looking for some wildlife to photograph. You aren’t on your own, though: there’s a guide boat as well.
- This shelling and sightseeing boat tour looks at mangrove ecosystems and includes searching for various marine life as well as a stop for shelling on an island beach.
- On this three-hour boat tour, you’ll look for wildlife and also stop on a barrier island for shelling and swimming.
For a more active tour, try one of these:
- This pedal-kayak tour stops at small islands to look for seashells while you also keep an eye out for wildlife like manatees, dolphins and lots of birds.
- Choose a kayak or paddleboard for this tour through the mangroves.
What to bring to Marco Island
Besides your usual packing list, don’t forget these essentials!
- Binoculars for wildlife sighting; you might get to see dolphins, birds, and, if you’re lucky, a manatee or an alligator!
- A camera
- Sunscreen: Remember to reapply it often!
- Bug spray: This is a must everywhere in Florida.
- Water: Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.
- Sunglasses: The sun glares as it reflects off the water.
Please, if you have visited the area, add your observations below!