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Travel destinations, beaches and attractions and things to do in Florida. Documented by RESIDENTS of Florida.

Cayo Costa Island Florida – Once Forgotten – Stunning Beach Today

In the 1800s, Cayo Costa was the home of Cuban ranchos. No, not like the cattle ranches seen in movies, but fish processing camps that dried and salted fish for shipment to Cuba and other places.

Boats from all over the Gulf would come to pick up the salted fish. Most went to Cuba and Mexico. By the early 1900’s evidence of the “rachos” was all but gone.

Cayo Costa Island Florida was, and continues to be, the home of great fishing grounds with inshore fish species in Pine Island Sound to the east and bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the west with exceptional fishing offshore.

Where is Cayo Costa

Although just 25 miles west of Ft. Myers, Cayo Costa remains a hidden treasure only accessible by water.

Because of the remote location, you won’t be fighting crowds on the island.

Cayo Costa is due west of Ft. Myers along with other islands in a chain of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The most common way to access Cayo Costa is a ferry or personal boat. There are a few people who kayak to the island from other islands nearby.

To get to the ferry station, you need to be on another island called Pine Island

There is only one way on and off Pine Island using  Route 78 from either Route 41, Tamiami Trail, or I-75.

Once you reach the island the ferry terminal is on the north part of the island at a little town called Bokeelia.

 Cayo Costa is a Great Getaway

Cayo Costa today is a state park that encompasses most of the island and is accessible only by boat, helicopter or kayak. 

Most people take the ferry or water taxi from Pine Island. The trip is an adventure in itself!

things you need when flying

If you want a real experience on a remote island in Florida, Cayo Costa is the place to go. You can make it a day trip or explore how you can stay on the island.

The limited access means Cayo Costa is rather remote and primitive. 

Even the campgrounds and the few cabins on the island, managed by the state of Florida, have limited facilities.

If you go to this island, you must bring what you need!

The Beaches of Cayo Costa Florida 

The beaches of Cayo Costa are the proverbial pearl in the oyster. Primitive surroundings, but sandy white beaches unmatched anywhere – and they are without the radio blaring, suntanned, frisbee-throwing crowd seen on public beaches.

A few boaters know of the island’s beaches and a small number of people are willing to take a ferry to the island. Crowds are rare!

Without the crowds, you are more likely to see some other beachgoers like sea turtles, dolphins playing, and a raccoon or two scavenging. 

A perfect place for a secluded holiday, romantic getaway or family rustic vacation!

Things To Do on Cayo Costa Island

 If fishing, snorkeling, swimming, hiking, bird watching and collecting shells aren’t enough, you may be on the wrong island!

To add to the list of things to do:

  • Try strolling the beach at night. The skys on an island like Cayo Costa open up to an amazing light show you wont forget. 
  • Also there are kayak rentals. Exploring the beach shoreline by kayak will lead to discoveries of sights in the clear waters you would never imagine!
  • And, of course, lounging on this remote untouched beach may be everyone’s favorite thing to do.

 

There are some facilities on the island like bathrooms and showers. 

However you wont find big clubhouses, restaurants and service center. There are some pinic places and some fire rings. 

Be sure to read our list of things to bring, even on a day trip.

cayo costa 2
White Sandy Beaches Surround Cayo Costa
Forests Maintained by Florida Parks System
Forests Line the Center of Cayo Costa
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Cabins Are Primitive but Functional
Cayo Costa Park 4
State Docking Facilities
cayo costa island florida - ferry map
Cayo Costa Island Florida ferry map.
cayo costa island florida - remote beach
Remote beaches like this one leaves the world on Cayo Costa to you and the birds!
cayo costa island Florida - foilage
There is relief from the bright sun in dense foilage around the island.

The History of Cayo Costa Island Florida

The island has a rich history that spans thousands of years, from prehistoric Native American settlements to modern conservation efforts. 

Here’s an overview of Cayo Costa’s history: 

  • Prehistoric Periods

  Calusa Indians: The Calusa Indians, an indigenous people who inhabited Southwest Florida, were the first known inhabitants of Cayo Costa. They established fishing villages and shell mounds on the island, relying on the abundant marine resources.

  • Spanish Exploration

 16th Century: Spanish explorers, including Ponce de León, likely explored the region, interacting with the Calusa people. The Spanish influence increased in Florida during the 16th century.

  •  Island’s Name

  19th Century: The name “Cayo Costa” is of Spanish origin, with “Cayo” meaning “key” or “small island” in Spanish. The island’s name reflects its Spanish heritage.

  •  Pioneer Settlements

  19th Century: In the 1800s, pioneers settled on Cayo Costa, engaging in fishing, farming, and cattle ranching. The island’s remote location made it challenging for residents, and hurricanes occasionally devastated the area.

  •  Use during World War II

20th Century: During World War II, Cayo Costa was briefly used by the U.S. military as a training ground. The military activities left some remnants on the island.

  •  State Acquisition and Park Development

Late 20th Century: The State of Florida acquired Cayo Costa in the 1960s as part of the state’s commitment to preserving natural areas. In 1976, Cayo Costa State Park was established, and the island was opened to the public.

  •  Conservation and Ecotourism

Late 20th Century – Present: Cayo Costa State Park has been managed for conservation and ecotourism purposes. Visitors can explore the island’s pristine beaches, pine forests, and mangrove swamps. The park is known for its biodiversity, including various bird species and marine life.

  •  Hurricane Impacts

Various Times: Cayo Costa, like many coastal areas in Florida, has experienced the impacts of hurricanes over the years. These storms have shaped the island’s landscape and influenced its ecology.

  •  Modern Era

21st Century: Cayo Costa continues to be a popular destination for nature enthusiasts, campers, and beachgoers. The state park management focuses on preserving the island’s natural beauty and educating visitors about its ecological significance. 

Cayo Costa Island’s history is a blend of Native American heritage, pioneer settlement, military use, and its current status as a protected state park emphasizing conservation and recreation. The island stands as a testament to the ongoing efforts to balance human enjoyment with the preservation of natural ecosystems.

What Wildlife and Plants Are ON Cayo Costa Island

Cayo Costa Island is home to a diverse range of wildlife. The island’s natural habitats, including beaches, mangrove swamps, pine forests, and dunes, provide a rich environment for various species. Here are some of the notable wildlife you may encounter on Cayo Costa:
 
Birds
   – Cayo Costa is a haven for birdwatchers. You can find a variety of shorebirds, wading birds, and migratory species. Common sightings include ospreys, bald eagles, brown pelicans, ibises, herons, egrets, and seagulls.
 
Sea Turtles
   – The island’s beaches are important nesting grounds for sea turtles, including loggerhead, green, and occasionally Kemp’s ridley turtles. During the nesting season, you may see turtle nests marked by conservation efforts to protect these endangered species.
 
Manatees and Dolphins
   – The surrounding waters of Cayo Costa are inhabited by manatees and dolphins. Manatees can often be seen in the shallow coastal areas, while dolphins are frequently spotted playing in the Gulf.
 
Gopher Tortoises
   – Gopher tortoises, a threatened species in Florida, inhabit the island’s interior scrub areas. These tortoises create burrows that provide shelter for various other animals.
 
Raccoons and Marsh Rabbits
   – The island’s terrestrial habitats are home to raccoons and marsh rabbits. These mammals are adapted to the coastal environment and can be encountered in wooded areas.
 
Snakes and Lizards
   – Various snake species, including the Eastern Indigo Snake, and lizard species inhabit the island. Visitors may come across non-venomous snakes like the black racer and several lizard species.
 
Insects and Butterflies
   – The diverse ecosystems on Cayo Costa support a wide array of insects and butterflies. Dragonflies, butterflies, and other pollinators contribute to the island’s ecological balance.
 
Marine Life
   – The Gulf waters surrounding Cayo Costa are teeming with marine life. Snorkelers and divers may encounter a variety of fish, including snapper, grouper, and colorful reef species. Shell collectors will find a variety of shells along the beaches.
 
Plant Life
   – The island’s vegetation includes native coastal plants, pine trees, and mangroves. Sea oats and other dune vegetation contribute to the stability of the island’s sandy shores.
 
When visiting Cayo Costa, it’s important to respect the natural environment and adhere to park regulations to help preserve the diverse wildlife and ecosystems on the island.

 

Some Final Thoughts About Cayo Costa

This is a Florida adventure like few others. The ferry ride is worth the trip, let alone the exploration of a remote island. This day trip in Florida is not for everyone.
 

If you are naturally curious, love the outdoors and Mother Nature, this is the trip for you.

For more details on Cayo Costa Island in Florida, you can see the visit  this website. For ferry information check this website. For more information about the park amenities, the Florida State Parks site is here.

The effort to visit the island of Cayo Costa is rewarding!

 

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