Fort Myers is a laid back, tropical city in Southern Florida. Quieter, smaller and much less well known than the sprawling cities of Tampa, Miami or Orlando, it is a place to relax in the sunshine among the surroundings of beautiful coastline.
The beaches and numerous islands nearby offer excellent opportunities for day trips, while inland and further along the coast are huge areas of natural, preserved state forests, swamps and the world renowned Florida Everglades.
The area around Fort Myers has something for everyone.
Those that love the outdoors have a wild playground on their doorstep, with huge reserves of biodiverse ecosystems unique to southern Florida.
There are swamps and waterways to explore by boat, crocodiles and alligators to spot along the rivers – even the rare and endangered Florida Panther can be seen in some places – while out in the Gulf of Mexico reefs and marine life are just a short journey away.
After hiking or boating in the tropical wetlands, there are hundreds of islands with pristine white sand beaches to relax at, all within striking distance of Fort Myers. Sit back, cocktail in hand and watch the world go by.
Here are the best day trips from Fort Myers:
1 . Everglades National Park
Fort Myers is the perfect gateway to explore the biodiverse Everglades National Park, a huge area of tropical wetlands and forest at the southern tip of Florida.
The area is enormous, and is home to a variety of critically endangered species, such as crocodiles, panthers and manatees.
It is such a unique preserve that it’s been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the 1.5 million acres of land makes for a nearly endless abundance of areas to go exploring in.
The wetlands offer countless opportunities for hiking, kayaking and wildlife spotting, but the best way to really experience the Everglades is on the water, by taking a boat trip or jumping on board one of the distinctive and famous airboats to cruise along the waterways.
The Everglades really is the best option for a day trip from Fort Myers, and there’s so much to see in this huge, wild wetland that you might just keep coming back day after day too.
Available tour: Everglades Day Safari from Fort Myers
2. Big Cypress National Preserve
Not as far south as the Everglades, and therefore closer to Fort Myers, is the equally impressive but slightly less well known Big Cypress National Preserve.
This protected area actually borders the Everglades, and is one immense swathe of swampland that is incredibly vital to the ecosystem of the entire region.
It’s an inland, freshwater location, and distinct from the Everglades because it is a region that was originally gifted as a sanctuary to native American people, some of whom still occupy areas of the land today.
There are plenty of hiking trails, boardwalks and wildlife tours to take you deep into this uniquely preserved ecosystem.
3. 10,000 Islands
South of Fort Myers and north of the Everglades is 10,000 Islands.
The name is slightly misleading: there aren’t actually 10,000 islands, just a few hundred, but that’s still far too many to be able to explore fully on a short jaunt.
Most of the islands are uninhabited, making this area a true wilderness waiting to be explored.
Head out in a kayak for a more serene, laid back look at those hidden bays and secret beaches, hire a boat to squeeze in as much island hopping as possible, or get aquatic and go on a snorkeling adventure around this pristine island chain.
4. Marco Island
Marco Island is the largest island of the 10,000 Islands chain, and home to hotels, high-rise buildings and incredible beach and ocean views across the rest of the far flung islands.
It’s an offshore escape, and the perfect place to enjoy the luxury of island living in Florida.
It’s a spot to relax, and there’s not much else to do on the island itself except sit back on one of the white sand beaches and enjoy the scenic ocean views.
This laid back coastal town offers visitors beachside drinking and dining along its spectacular waterfront.
There are literally hundreds of restaurants and bars serving top quality food and drink to tourists and holiday makers, who can just sit back, relax and watch the world pass slowly by.
Naples beach is famous for its outrageously white sand, which stretches for miles and miles, with plenty of space to find your own spot on this beautiful part of the Florida coastline.
6. Florida Panther Refuge
The Florida Panther Refuge is one of the smaller reserves in the Everglades Region, but it is the protected habitat of some of the last remaining panthers in the area.
With just over a hundred of these endangered animals left in Florida, the refuge acts as a protected breeding ground for them.
For the adventurous, there are a few tough hikes available through the area – accompanied by Rangers – that might just allow you to see one of these reclusive and rare animals in their natural habitat.
This is a real adventurous experience, so be prepared to experience the wilds of Florida first hand.
Come prepared for mosquitos, humidity and adventure.
7. Bonita Springs
Just south of Fort Myers is another laid-back coastal town.
Bonita Springs is known for its undeveloped white sand beaches and the beautiful sand dunes that line the shore.
Barefoot Beach is the pick of the bunch, and it’s a great place to visit for fishing, watersports or just to gaze out into the ocean while basking in the Florida sunshine.
8. Sanibel Island
Not far off the coast of Fort Myers itself, Sanibel Island is famous for one thing: shells.
The sandy beaches that face out into the Gulf of Mexico have for thousands of years collected shells on the tides of the ocean, and collectors from around the world will visit here specifically to search for rare types of shell that are unlikely to be found elsewhere.
Tourists visit to see the huge quantities of shells lining the beaches, but also because large areas of the shoreline are wildlife refuges, and it’s possible to spot all kinds of animals, from turtles to bobcats, on the shores of Sanibel Island.
9. Captiva Island
Captiva Island is next to Sanibel Island.
In fact, the two islands used to be joined together until as recently as 1926, when a hurricane smashed through and cut the sandbar apart, leaving two separate and distinct islands in its destructive wake.
Captiva is smaller than Sanibel but just as beautiful, and it’s easy to spend a whole day walking the rugged beaches and spotting wildlife here.
10. Pine Island
Pine Island is just a short way from the mainland and Fort Myers, and is, in fact, the state’s largest island.
It is easy to reach via the connecting bridge, but the whole island is a quiet affair, offering a great day trip and escape from the much larger Fort Myers.
Life is peaceful on Pine Island; there are few beaches, but more mangroves to explore, and much of the area is taken up by agricultural developments rather than apartments or high-end resorts, giving it a real rustic feel in comparison to much of the rest of Florida.
11. Matlacha Island
Matlacha Island is in between Pine Island and Fort Myers.
Home to just 700 inhabitants, it is the site of the Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge, a reserve of mangroves and endangered wildlife.
Matlacha Island is even more rustic than Pine Island, and this little spot has a quaint, small town vibe about it that will make you feel at home right away.
12. Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee is a huge freshwater lake in the interior of Florida.
It is vast, and the opportunities to explore it are only limited by your time.
Hiking and biking trails run for miles along the shore, while fishing trips head out onto the still waters in search of big freshwater catch.
13. Venice Beach
North of Fort Myers is the iconic Venice Beach.
Known the world over for its never ending white sands, Venice Beach is just a day trip away from Fort Myers.
Long stretches of sand, coral, piers and boardwalks follow the shore, offering opportunities to live and experience that beautiful beach life along the Florida coastline.
The city of Tampa is just two hours’ drive north of Fort Myers.
It is the perfect place to find museums and theme parks if you need some time out from the spectacular beaches and natural attractions of the region.
Tampa is a larger metropolis, in fact, one of the largest in Florida, and there is an array of cultural and art exhibitions, galleries and fun-filled, family friendly amusement attractions.
Miami: the huge coastal city that the whole world knows about.
It’s a two or three hour drive from Fort Myers, but a trip to Florida isn’t really complete until you’ve experienced the blistering skyline and the crowded beaches of one of America’s most famous cities.
Affectionately nicknamed the “Capital of Latin America,” Miami has a rich cultural vibe, which is reflected in the music, the food, and the fiesta atmosphere.
Take a long day trip to see the sights, including that spectacular skyline view, before heading back to the quiet, refined atmosphere of Fort Myers to spend the night.