Bird Lovers Sanibel Island Vacation on a Budget

in Trip Locations, Trip Planning

Nature lovers looking to escape the Northern Hemisphere’s chilly conditions should consider following the birds and flying south. Sanibel Island, located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is one of America’s best places for a spot of bird watching. During the spring, some 250 bird species, including little blue herons, anhingas, and roseate spoonbills, call Sanibel Island their home. And by following our advice, it’s surprisingly affordable to admire these feathered creatures.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is the most popular place for bird watching on Sanibel Island. You might think that would make it crowded, but as the refuge spans some 6, 400 acres it’s easy to claim a private patch of bird watching turf. The Wildlife Drive, which is the sanctuary’s primary road, is open from 7:30 am to thirty minutes before sunset every day but Friday. The animals deserve to live away from prying human eyes one day of the week, don’t they? We love to visit during low tide, as it allows you to observe the shorebirds feeding on the worms and crustaceans that live on the exposed mud flats. Entry to Wildlife Drive costs just $5, which is very affordable for a full-day’s entertainment in the great outdoors. If you’ve got cash to spare, you could join one of Tarpon Bay Explorers’ guided tours. The company will take you through the national park by tram, canoe, kayak, or pontoon boat. In addition to the birdlife, tour participants often see manatees, dolphins, and alligators.

The historic Sanibel Island Lighthouse and its nearby beach are also perfect for bird watching. On the shore you’ll see pelicans and other wading birds; look up to find nesting ospreys perched in the trees. If you’ve got little ones in tow, make sure you bring their bathers. They’ll enjoy splashing about in the clear, calm water while you take in the scenery. Visit early in the morning to see the most migrating birds and score an easy parking space. Parking is cheap for a short stay at $2 an hour.

The wetlands at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Nature Center and Center Tract Preserve, Sanibel Gardens Preserve, the Sanibel Island’s other beaches also provide opportunities for eagle-eyed bird watchers.

When spring hits, Sanibel Island enjoys a flurry of tourists. They start to drop away by the time May rolls around, so that’s the best time for frugal travelers to make their journey. You can often enjoy rooms for half the price then, and the climate is surprisingly pleasant. Visit early in the month to avoid summer heat and mosquito plagues.

For the best deal, look for accommodation that’s situated several streets back from the beach. You’ll find the cheapest hotel prices come without those coastal views. We love the pet-friendly rooms of Driftwood Inn, the resort stylings of The Palm View, and the old world charm and free bike rentals at Sandpiper Inn. All these affordable hotels are conveniently located on Donax Street.

If you love to eat in, stock up on groceries before you reach Sanibel Island. Food and other essentials are much cheaper in nearby Fort Myers than on the island. If you want to add some atmosphere to your dining experience, pack a picnic and enjoy enviable water views!

If restaurant meals are more your style, you can save money by dining at some of the island’s favorite local haunts. Sports nuts will love the pub grub at Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille, the island’s most popular sports bar. The sandwiches at the Rosie’s Cafe & Grill are great for a cheap feed, but the island eatery also offers more substantial fare. The cheesy nautical theme makes a night out at the Lazy Flamingo lots of fun.

A tri-colored heron at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida

A tri-colored heron at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida

So with your vacation strategy planned, how should you get there? Southwest Florida International Airport is the closest to Sanibel Island. Budget airlines including AirTran Airways, Spirit, and Southwest Airlines all service this terminal. Cut-price rental companies Alamo Rent-A-Car, Budget, and Thrifty can help you get from the airport to your accommodation.

So what are you waiting for? A bird lovers’ spring break in Sanibel Island could cost far less than you thought!

[Image Source: Andrea Westmoreland/Flickr]

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