Accessible from the mainland by toll bridge or shuttle boat, Sanibel Island, Florida, 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 its once pristine, undeveloped character. With lots of full-service resorts, restaurants and shopping, this island is definitely upscale compared to nearby Fort Myers Beach.
As you arrive on the island, the road immediately narrows, prices inflate and the pace of life slows to a comfortable crawl. Across the island, cars are a secondary form of transportion, and you soon see more cyclists, joggers and pedestrians than motorists. There is an extensive network of bike and pedestrian pathways. Likewise, as you depart Sanibel and cross over to neighboring Captiva Island, the road narrows even more, and even higher prices should be accounted for.
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.
For more information on Sanibel Island, call 239-472-1080. http://www.sanibel-captiva.org.
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