Sanibel Island glides gracefully across the Gulf and forms a semi-circle around Tarpon Bay on the north while skimming the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on the south. The island is the perfect setting of water, wildlife and history steeped in tales of pirates, shipwrecks, native settlers and Spanish explorers. Small and seashell-strewn, Sanibel is part of the barrier island chain that lies just off the southwest coast of Florida.
While seemingly remote and set off from the mainland, the island is easily accessible by the Sanibel Causeway. First constructed in 1963 to replace the ferry, the scenic stretch crosses the Intracoastal Waterway and runs across two man-made islets before entering the tranquil town. Two main roads lead into the tiny Gulf town which is 12 miles long and three miles across at the widest spot. Periwinkle Way leads to the shopping and dining areas and eventually becomes Captiva Drives as it meanders onto Captiva Island. Gulf Drive passes the resorts and beaches along the soft white sands of the Gulf of Mexico where perfect specimens of coquinas, scallops, sand dollars and whelks lead to the crystal clear waters.
First inhabited by Calusa Indians, Juan Ponce de León and Amerigo Vespucci both visited the island in the 1500s. Controversy ensues over which explorer actually discovered the island. By the 1860s Cuban fishermen had built fishing camps and started settlements in old town Sanibel where they shipped salted dried fish to Key West and Havana.
Encompassing 6000 acres of protected land, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel Island is one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the United States. Nature lovers may explore by bike, car or on foot. There are lots of trails for walking or biking and observation towers for prime viewing of pelicans, roseate spoonbills, terns, alligators, mangroves and sea oats. You can also canoe or kayak through the wetlands.