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Secrets of Cayo Costa

 

An excerpt from a recent Florida Weekly article:

The island of Cayo Costa stretches like a long timeline.

And history definitely figures into the island’s heritage. Today, mostly a state park accessible only by boat, Cayo Costa is worth the extra effort of getting there.

The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau suggests a few things you should know about this secluded island and its storied past:

Its beach is one of Florida’s bestkept secrets — If you like your beaches off-the-radar and filled with seashells, Cayo Costa fits both bills. Travel + Leisure magazine readers have rated it in the top “10 Beaches Best for Seclusion.” Its seashells are so famously plentiful that shelling charters and tours often take their passengers straight to Cayo Costa.

You can camp on Cayo Costa — To truly get away from it all, spend a night or two on Cayo Costa. If you boat in yourself, you can spend the night tied up at the docks on the bay side. Water taxis can transport you and your gear if you have reserved a night or more in one of the 12 rustic cabins or 30 primitive tent sites on the Gulf of Mexico side near the beach. Remember to pack bug spray and bring your own drinking water. And don’t expect to plug in your phone charger.

There are remains of a pioneer cemetery on Cayo Costa — Nature trails crisscross the 2,420-acre island through scrubby and sandy beach habitat. At the island’s center, hikers will see the historic graves of pioneer settlers on the island.

Cayo Costa has a checkered past — Which leads us to Cayo Costa’s intertwined legends and facts. Island lore tells of pirates and outlaws, murders, a brothel, smuggling and other lawless goings-on. The facts intrigue without all the whispered rumors, however. Shell mound remnants bear witness to early Amerindian settlements. A couple of Cuban fishing ranchos inhabited the island in the mid-1800s. They eventually evolved into a settlement of about a dozen fishing families with a schoolhouse and post office. A military quarantine station operated for a time at the island’s north end for immigrants entering the country through Boca Grande Pass. Later, the building was used for dances and parties.

Time and nature have left few traces of Cayo Costa’s past. But its delicious seclusion and natural treasures fuel the imagination.

To learn more, visit www.visitfriendsofcayocosta.org and floridastateparks.org/park/Cayo-Costa, or call Cayo Costa State Park at 941-964-0375.

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