Even before the pandemic forced many to beware of crowds and seek refuge in natural and spacious destinations, Captiva Island, with its population of less than 200, has long been a place to escape on the Gulf Coast of South Florida. .
Relatively easy to get to from Tampa Bay (3 hours), Fort Myers (1 hour) and even Miami (3.5 hours), the island offers visitors the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate at arm’s length.
It’s not hard to be alone in Captiva, but there is also plenty to do if you understand the area, are interested in exploring the natural landscape, and know where to go and what to do.
Here are some tips for planning the perfect getaway to Captiva, one that combines rejuvenating downtime, outdoor bliss, late-night sunsets and fresh seafood:
Know the story
The barrier islands surrounding Fort Myers, including Captiva and neighboring Sanibel Island, were once home to the Calusa Indians. You’ll see nods to them young and old alike throughout the area, from the Calusa Heritage Trail in Pineland to the Mound House Museum in Fort Myers Beach (across the water from Sanibel).
On Captiva and Sanibel, look for road signs in wilderness areas that point to shell mounds, and explain how the Calusa once used the resources in this area.
Unfortunately, the Calusa tribe was all but wiped out by the arrival of the Spaniards in the late 1700s. Subsequently, the coastline became a haven for pirates, who operated in and outside the islands- barriers. A notorious pirate named Jose Gaspar arrived in the early 1800s and began to set up a prison on one of the barrier islands. He called it âIsle de los Captivas,â or Captiva Island, and he kept women prisoners there for ransom.
Today, the name brings better vibes, capturing its calm and tranquil atmosphere, lush waterways, and seashell-covered beaches.
Understand the atmosphere
One thing that is very important to understand about Captiva before you visit it is that it is truly a vacation destination. That is, the tiny island has only a handful of residents, with almost any property available to visitors through hotels, hostels, and vacation rentals.
As you drive across the island, almost every house (aka mansion) has a sign announcing its holiday brand. All that to say, don’t travel to Captiva expecting to stumble upon a lively local scene. Most of the people you meet, working in stores and restaurants, live in Sanibel or Fort Myers.
That said, there are plenty of chances to connect with the natural world, which is, without a doubt, the island’s main draw. Other than a small town center, Captiva has avoided mass development and remains largely wild, a combination of coastal mangroves, tall trees, forests, and inlets.
Choose suitable accommodation
The long, narrow shape of Captiva is good news for visitors. You would be hard pressed to find accommodation on Captiva that does not have a walking path to the beach, and in most cases it is possible to access both the ocean and the bay on foot , wherever you are staying.
For a small island, there are many accommodation choices. Vacation rentals, many with pools and large yards, are a popular choice for families. Then there are small inns, like the Captiva Island Inn, which offer a bed and breakfast type of stay, and condo / apartment rentals, like Jensen’s. If you are looking for a hotel worthy of the name, there are two on the island: the Tween Waters (3 stars) and the South Seas Resort (4 stars).
Because the island is small and the vibe is slow, any of these styles of accommodation will satisfy your beach cravings. The trick is to make your life easier in other ways, such as getting to the city center, tours, and other services you might want, depending on your specific needs.
For those looking to get service without losing character, Tween Waters, while not the most modern accommodation on the island (it started as a small fishing lodge in 1931), offers an interesting combination. which offers a bit of everything including history, convenience, privacy, flexibility and charm.
Take, for example, its historic cottages. One in particular is dedicated to the Lindberg family, who often vacationed in Captiva (Anne Lindbergh wrote âGift from the Seaâ during a visit to Captiva). You can see the beach from the screened porch, and inside, dark wood, old travel memorabilia, and Florida landscape artwork evoke the atmosphere of “old Florida.” A small kitchen allows you to prepare meals on your own, and the hotel’s pool, spa, restaurant and bar provide easy on-site entertainment.
While the ocean view tempts you, the Tween Waters Marina is right behind you on the bay, with boat rentals and kayak tours available right next to the property. If you want to head downtown for dinner and a drink, you can take the hotel shuttle, which costs just $ 5 round trip.
To plan or not to plan?
At first glance, it may seem like there isn’t much to do on Captiva. The downtown area, while lovely, closes early and overall things are quiet.
A lot of people who visit Captiva have come for this exact vibe – aka, they choose to do nothing at all. Go to the beach, go swimming, have a cocktail and relax. Others come to focus on fishing, either from the shore, on an excursion, or in private hire.
What most people don’t know is that, from a nature and adventure standpoint, there is more to Captiva than what could be accomplished in a single trip. Most businesses are great for a half-day activity, leaving you the afternoon free.
- The Buck Key Kayak Tour with Captiva Adventures takes you through a mangrove tunnel for a personal glimpse of the region’s dominant natural ecosystem. Along the way, you will have the chance to spot dolphins, manatees, otters and all kinds of birds, including ospreys, egrets and cormorants.
- Captiva Cruises offers the usual lineup of sunset and sail cruises, but check out the Cayo Costa State Park Cruise. Only accessible by boat, Cayo Costa has nine miles of beach and six miles of trails to explore, with a mix of white sands and pine forests. It is a wonderful place to relax, collect seashells and find your own piece of sand. Plus, the cruise takes you to North Captiva, which is mostly undeveloped, as well as Pine Island.
- Bombing in Captiva and nearby Sanibel is a long-standing traditional activity that continues to delight visitors. Walking on Captiva’s undeveloped beaches is enjoyable in itself, but you might find it difficult to keep your attention on the water and the scenery with all the seashells you see washed up on the shore. Whether you are an avid collector or just a simple admirer, searching for seashells on the beach is both relaxing and exciting.
- The JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, located between Captiva and Sanibel, is a protected mangrove ecosystem that is a bird watcher’s paradise, with nearly 250 species of birds. Each season offers the chance to see something different. Activities include hiking, kayaking, SUP, bird watching, fishing, nature cruises and more.
What to eat and drink
Captiva is blessed with a bounty from the ocean. Fresh fish, shrimp and other seafood dominate menus, and many restaurants offer water views. There are a variety of options that range from fine dining to casual fare.
- If you are looking for this laid back, laid back beach bar on Captiva, overlooking the water and the sunset, then The Mucky Duck is the place for you. It has rocking chairs lined up along the edge of the beach, as well as picnic tables and an outside bar. The interior is designed as a neighborhood pub. The quality of the food doesn’t match the price tags – the shrimp cocktail, for example, costs $ 14 but appears to have been thawed at Publix. Go for a drink and the sunset, then divide elsewhere for dinner.
- If you’re looking for the best value on the island, check out Doc Ford’s. Its rum bar theme means there’s plenty of hot weather, relaxing cocktails, and if you’re a Bloody Mary’s fan, don’t miss the one topped with Yucatan shrimp. Fresh fish, raw sea bass, and fish tacos are all good options here.
- Want to have lunch on the beach? Stop by Captiva Provision Company to purchase picnic supplies or order a freshly made sandwich from the grocery store.
- In the city center you will find a variety of restaurants with live music and fresh fish options. Throw a dart if you like, or just go for the one with the best music. Keylime Bistro and RC Otter’s are two usual suspects for live music and outdoor seating.
- For fine dining and a view of the water, The Green Flash and The Mad Hatter offer a fine combination of ambiance, selection and quality.