A Wild Walk in the Everglades with Coopertown Airboats

The Original Coopertown Airboats.

Have you scoped out your animal and then eat it? I don’t mean the exact animal, well there are some cases where this happens. I was on a more modest adventure. Eyeing alligators and frogs in the Everglades and then eating them.

During my college years at Florida International University in North Miami, I took an Eco Tourism class which required we trek to the Everglades National Park and played tourist for a day. It was an amazing adventure. The tour guide walked us through the elevated wooden walkway and explained the many species of plants and animals that are so unique to this microsystem. It was always my intention to take a more personal tour of this mysterious place.

Most traffic traversing across South Florida from east to west goes through Interstate 75. It is a huge highway with gets you across in no time. I opted for the scenic US41. This is a local route that goes through Big Cypress National Preserve and touches the northern part of Everglades National Park. As we leave civilization and enter the swamp, there are tons of signs for airboat rides. We stopped at the first one, Coopertown Airboats.

Guess what? They allowed my gator bait little dog on the airboat! I was in. For $22 a person the tour leaves almost every 15-20 minutes, half an hour duration. $200 puts you in a private airboat that seats 4, tour last 1 hour. The compound houses alligators, frogs, other swamp critters and pythons. It serves as a place to keep http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Python that the State of Florida deem a danger to the delicate Everglades Ecosystem. There were two hunters in my tour group who said that they were bored hunting pythons, since they were so scarce, that they were just going to ride around with us. I think they wanted to scope out Coopertown territory. Coopertown Restaurant also serves up swamp fare.

As we embarked the Tour Guide gave us cotton wool balls to place in our ears to muffle the airboat sounds. We drove out a canal and then into the open Everglades. It is a sight to see and experience. Let this video speak for me.

Coopertown Airboat Tour of the Everglades

At one point the tour guide allowed anyone to step into the swamp. I jumped at the opportunity. When else would I be able to say that I walked in the Everglades Swamp? Check! At the end of the tour we were allowed to pet a small gator. Then we savored the food.

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Fried Frog Legs and Alligator Tail Combination – battered and fried to tender juicy perfection. The meat texture was soft, delicate, with a very clean taste. Food does taste better when it is fresh. Little did I know that Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel ate this same dish at this restaurant.

The service at this place is very friendly. All the staff acknowledges and tries to say something to you. It is a wonderful thing. This is not a very big operation. There are just a handful of people working this camp. Maybe that plays a role in how personable they are.

As we make our way further across US41 there are larger airboat tour operators with larger restaurants and native outpost. There are long stretches of nothing but open road, swamp, plants and animals. The views were terrific. I am very satisfied that we took the path less driven. We may have gotten across the peninsula slower, but time well spent. I imagine this is how the Everglades should be seen.

Coopertown Airboat Rides & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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