Sanibel’s citizens, fearing runaway development, established the Manhattan-sized island as a city-state in 1974, enacting strict conservation ordinances. You won’t find billboards, fast food joints nor street or stoplights on Florida’s premier southwest coast spot, 37 kilometers south of Fort Myers.
Cars, traveling no more than 50 kilometers per hour, yield to cyclists traversing 40 kilometers of bike trails that wind through palm shaded woodlands dotted with subtropical flora in yellows, pinks and reds that attract over 230 species of birds.
A favorite nesting spot, the J.N.Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve, named for a Pulitzer Prize winning eco-cartoonist, occupies two-thirds of the island making Sanibel the only US city to contain such a national treasure.
Here blue herons, anhingas and egrets swoop over the inland waterways in their quest for jumping fish. “With miles of tributaries, bays and estuaries, it’s quite possible to get lost in there”, says Park Ranger, Kevin Godsea.
Back on the bike trail, inns like the Song of the Sea house feng-shuied gardens that offer mangoes, pineapples, passion fruit and aromatic herbs for guests on a u-pick basis.
Further along at the Sundial Beach Resort, a wedding is in progress. The ceremonies wind down early in compliance with Sanibel’s 5 p.m. curfew and the dark skies ordinance to protect nesting loggerhead turtles.
On the ungroomed beach, visitors pick through miles of shells interspersed with what appears to be hundreds of snake skins – clay coloured, three-foot long lightning whelk egg casings packed with baby conch. Shore birds alight to feast on the live ones. Huge brown pelicans, perched in gangs of four and five, keep watch from coconut palms lining the beach-the tallest structures permitted in paradise.
For more on Sanibel Island see www.FortMyersSanibel.com
For more Florida vacations see VISITFLORIDA.COM
Air Canada operates direct flights into Fort Myers from Toronto
All photos courtesy Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau