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Pining for the perfect post-lockdown getaway? The Paradise Coast is your answer. This slice of southwest Florida includes the town of Naples, a large portion of the Everglades, and Marco Island, plus more than 30mi (48km) of pristine beaches that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Throw in incredible nature reserves, top-class resorts and adventure experiences, and you’ll see why this relatively unknown part of the Sunshine State makes for the ideal post-lockdown vacation.
Florida has always been a popular vacation destination for both domestic and international tourists. There are notable family attractions in Orlando and famous party spots such as Miami and Daytona Beach. That popularity, however, can also be a downfall, especially if you’re looking for a more cultural escape. Luckily, there’s a small spot just a two-hour drive from Miami that lets you escape the urban trappings. Culture Trip explores the appropriately named Paradise Coast, also known as the Last Paradise of Florida.
Let’s start with those golden sandy beaches; inevitably, they draw in the most visitors. Naples Beach and Vanderbilt Beach are highlights close to downtown Naples – the bustling town also has a host of resorts and superb hotels if you want a base with a few frills.
Marco Island has a more expansive beachfront than Naples – not all surprising given that it’s the biggest of the Ten Thousand Islands archipelago. Relax on a welcoming public beach; alternatively, head to one of the more secluded private spots, most of which are attached to the big hotels in the region.
The Unesco-recognized Everglades National Park is another reason to consider a trip to the Paradise Coast. Nature-lovers have plenty of opportunities to explore the intense wetland and there’s just as much to see closer to the coast. Bird-watchers can find endangered species here and there are always alligators to spot in the area. If you’re really observant you might even see the rare ghost orchid, which is native to the region and a big reason to visit the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
If you want to stay close to the water, the Gulf of Mexico is great for snorkeling and fishing. Paddle-, body- and even kite-boarding are popular pastimes on the coast; they can also be combined with tours through nature reserves to give you a unique view of Floridian wildlife.
One surprising aspect to life on the Paradise Coast (and not something usually associated with Florida) is the prominence of general wellbeing and healthy living. Mindfulness and wellness activities are practiced frequently, resulting in the area being among the happiest and healthiest in the US. Indulge in sunshine yoga on the beach, or take a boat trip to private islands specializing in spa treatments. You can stretch your wallet as much as you extend your chakra.
Unofficially crowned as the stone crab capital of the world, the Paradise Coast hosts the annual Stone Crab Claw Harvest Festival at the historic Old Naples Waterfront every October. The weekend gives you live music and fresh-off-the-boat seafood, including locally harvested stone crab claws. The claws are the most coveted food source around; not only are they tasty, but stone crabs regrow them, meaning fishermen can return the animal to the ocean after every catch.
Once you’ve tucked into as much crab as you can stomach, a bike excursion is a good way of getting back into shape. The trails around the beachfront are scenic but not too taxing, so even beginners can get to grips with cycling around town. You can easily visit some of the best attractions, such as the nature reserves and parks, by bike if you want to leave your car behind. Again, that’s something of a rarity in Florida, where most destinations require you to drive.
To ensure the wellbeing and safety of all visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Paradise Pledge was launched in 2020. This initiative recognizes the impact of the global pandemic on both local businesses and potential visitors to the Paradise Coast, offering the highest standards of cleanliness and encouraging tourists to make the most of digital savings and discounts.
As international travel returns and domestic tourism continues throughout Florida, it’s worth considering a trip to this hidden piece of paradise on the coast.