Neil and I just got back from our first trip together to the Yucatan state in Mexico. Neil spent the beginning of his childhood there and he’s been dreaming of taking me since we started dating. I know, after close to nine years together..it was about time!
To start our journey we looked for the cheapest way to get from Orlando, Florida to Cozumel and the Yucatan of Mexico. Even if you don’t leave from Orlando, you can use this as a guide from any where to make your way from Cancun Airport (CUN) to Cozumel Island.
Planning on being gone for two weeks and not wanting to pay the $12 a day Orlando airport parking fees, Neil’s older brother found a cheap rental car online that we dropped off when the three of us checked in. There are many options for parking around MCO, including cheaper lot style parking where the companies shuttle you to the terminal via bus. The Orlando airport has two different buildings, but don’t worry if you forget which you are leaving from as there are plenty of signs along the way instructing you where to go based on airline. (if you forgot which airline you are flying on… well, good luck!) Once we made our way through security we rode the internal tram to our gate and anxiously waited to board. I only almost threw up 10 times, for my nervous pre-flight stomach that wasn’t too bad. lol.
Our flight was a quick one hour and forty-five minutes and although I am a nervous flyer it was a pretty smooth ride. Keep in mind that you gain an hour on this flight so remember to set your watch back an hour when landing of you will be very confused later on. The fist land mass seen is the island of Cozumel surrounded by bright turquoise water. It’s a beautiful sight that brings a rush of excitement to everyone on the plane. At this point I can finally breath again and my fear of imminent death subsides.
Step 2: Grab your bags and head over the ADO desk located right outside of the airport. There is a currency exchange inside the airport that I would suggest utilizing so you can have a few pesos on hand for food and drinks at the ADO station. The ADO buses come in three levels of ascending luxury, being less concerned with extra amenities such as personal tv screens and an additional bathroom, we opted for the basic. The fare from the Cancun airport to Playa Del Carmen ran us $156 pesos (~$10USD) each for the 45 minute ride.
Once you arrive in Playa Del Carmen it’s a short touristy walk to the ferry dock. You can choose from three different ferry companies that all depart 15 minutes after another on rotation. We took Barcos Caribe (~$12 USD) and sat on an open deck to enjoy the view. If you don’t want to arrive with a face full of refreshing salt spray and beautifully knotted wind-swept hair you can sit inside the air-conditioned sections as well. The choice is yours, but I never turn down the urge to stick my face out into the wind like a dog on a car ride.. drool included. Once the ferry docks it will leave you right in the center of the tourist centro of Cozumel Island. We took a walk and grabbed some coconut ice cream while moving away from the ferry dock in search of a cheaper taxi to bring us to our resort.
The journey to Cozumel Island was an adventure within it’s self that I would gladly take again the next time we visit Cozumel. The journey is just as important as the destination after all!
Want a first hand look at the trip from Orlando to Cancun to Playa Del Carmen and ending on Cozumel Island? Watch the video below and let us know what you think!
Wekiwa Springs, also known as Wekiva Springs, located in Apopka, Florida is a beautiful park to come for the day and enjoy some natural Florida. With almost 7,000 acres of woods, rivers, underwater caves, horse riding trails, and boardwalks
The spring head
it’s definetly worth the 20 minute drive from Orlando. The 72 degree water that gushes out of the spring head here is the begining of Wakiva River. If you are looking to do some paddeling this is a great spot to start from. The park rents canoes and kayaks for a fee or you can bring your own and drop in from the large sandy walk-in ramp. There is literally no limit to what you can do when you come here!
Freezing our tushies off! Worth it!
When Neil and I have a free day we make the drive over and go for a quick hike followed by some free diving in the 30′ cave. The water is COLD, but the expereince is worth it. After jumping in… seriously, jump in, it’s way to cold to ease your way in. Once you stop complaining about how cold you are… normally the first five minutes for us… you are rewarded with beautiful clear water. You can swim around the spring, but the best spot is at the head. From there you can stand up on the algae covered rocks and peer down in to the cavern. If it’s your first time I sugest watching a few people make the swim first so you know which rocks to avoid on your way out. Once you feel ready, swim down as far as you can and let the current push you out through the narrowing rock walls. This is an amazing ride. I love gliding through the water and enjoying the sunbeams piercing through the water above me. The current is swift, so your trip through only lasts a few seconds… I promise you that this is not a problem as you will gladly swim through a hundred more times that day!
Swimming through the narrow rock wall
Want a first hand look at the park before you make the trip? Make sure to watch our video below and let us know if you’ve been there!
Wether you are vacationing in Florida or have lived here all of your life, making the trip over to Crystal River is a must do! Seriously, if you haven’t taken the chilly plunge into the fresh water and rubbed the belly of a West Indian Manatee add it to your travel bucket list now! … I’ll wait here while you do.
We made the two hour drive from Orlando to Crystal River for the first time a few February’s ago. Although the springs are beautiful to visit all year long, you will have the best chance to see a plethora of sea cows in the cool winter months. This is because as the water cools manatees migrate in towards the ‘warm’ spring water and end up congregating together in large groups to eat and stay warm.
Once we arrived at the location of our tour, late as normal, we were fitted with damp wet suits, snorkels, and masks ( we always bring our own and I would suggest that if you have them you do the same). As the West Indian Manatee is protected under the Marine Mammal Act, no tour can begin without a quick safety briefing about how to not harass the manatees. Now that Neil, our captain, and I were dressed and educated it was time to head out to the rickety pontoon boat and cruise in search of a herd. Once we found one it took me no time at all to jump into the turbid freezing water and kick my way over to the large creature closest to me. I was lost in the underwater world watching him munch algae from a no-wake zone bobber. When I finally looked around to share my excitement with Neil I noticed that he was still near the boat. His trepidation about the 1,000 pound creature was understandable but the more time we spent there the more comfortable he became. As we swam away from the boat and into the actual underwater spring the grey round beasts were everywhere. The green tinted water allows for great visibility but the manatees still seam to appear out of nowhere. You can literally be floating looking for one, then when you turn around a scruffy whiskered nose is three inches from your mask. It is amazing!
The most unforgettable moment of the day was when a curious mother and her calf rose up from below to give us a one over. At first the mother rubbed up against us while her calf watched from a distance. Her rough barnacled skin being rubbed clean by my waterlogged fingers felt amazing for the both of us; I assume because she rolled left and right under the weight of my hands. The next thing I knew she was rolling all the way over as if to say, “Ok, here’s the spot”. After rubbing her smooth belly like I would a playful dog she rested her flipper on mine as if she was trying to convince me not to stop! She began to swim away and I assumed that this was the end of our interaction, but she was just relocating to a distance where she could watch her calf receive the same spa treatment. This instantly became the new highlight of my life!
I could have stayed in that freeing cold water with them forever.. literally forever, until I died, the end, but before I knew it Neil and the Captain were motioning me towards the boat. I was sad to say good bye to these slow and comically majestic creatures but I was glad that there was hot cocoa waiting on the boat!
While it may be small, it be mighty. Mead Botanical Gardens is a lustrous oasis in the middle of charming Winter Park, Florida. Within it’s meager 48 acres it holds a butterfly garden, two amphitheaters, a diverse greenhouse, lakes full of wildlife, plenty of picnicking spots, and a winding boardwalk that completely removes you from the city that surrounds the garden.
Neil and I spend an outrageous amount of time in Winter Park due to the fact that he works and is earning his degree over there. Of all of the wonderful places in the city Mead Gardens is the only place that we have found where you can escape from everything, even if only for a quick visit. We often utilize the park for a place to hang up our hammocks and have a quick picnic before he heads off to class for the day.
One of the best ways to see all that the garden has to offer is by Geocaching! The two of us love the game of Geocaching because it will lead you to amazing and often little known places where ever you are in the world. Mead Gardens is no exception; it is actually the reason we found this little gem! Follow the trail of caches and you will see every corner of the park from the community garden to my personal favorite the boardwalk. This is a perfect place for beginners to the game!
The park is completely free to visit (even parking!) so the next time you are in Winter Park go over and take a stroll through the wonderful Mead Gardens. ..Maybe you will see us lounging in the hammocks too.
Looking for one of the best places to paddle in Florida? You’ve found it! Pine Island and it’s Aquatic Preserve are the perfect place to get lost in the mangroves and see the land in the same way that the Calusa Indians viewed it hundreds of years ago. The wildlife that you see will very slightly depending on the time of year, but you can always count on seeing plenty of pelicans, egrets, and jumping mullet. On this particular trip (early February) we saw hundreds of small jelly fish, stingrays gliding beneath us, a herd of manatees with there calves, a mating pair of horseshoe crabs, native birds, and as always.. mullet. In the summer months I have
paddled into the same marshes and crossed paths with bottle nose dolphins and even paddled right into a black tip shark nursery! There is always something new and beautiful to explore among the mangroves and sea grasses.
Finding a spot to launch your paddle craft on Pine Island is easy. There is only one main road that travels along the island and there are public parks to launch and park at free of charge scattered all over it. Two of my favorites are Matlacha Park and Cleatus Park. Matlacha Park offers ramps for motor and paddle launching along with water to rinse your boat right from the dock, free parking, public restrooms, and a playground. Starting out your journey here is a great option since you can easily explore canals (with paddle up restaurants and shrimping boats), inland mangroves, or cross the sound and paddle along the uninhabited preserve.
It is also located right over the ‘fishing-est bridge in the world’ and smack dab into the island art community. Take a stroll down the street and you can see pink houses on stilts, crab buoys for sale, and grab some local fish to finish your day. Cletus Park is a great spot to park if you are visiting in the winter months. This is a rural park with dirt parking, a few picnic tables, and a porta-pottie available. The great advantage of dropping in here is how quickly you reach a mangrove system too shallow for any motor craft. Locals come out just to float and read in the estuaries since there is virtually no current. In the winter months a large gathering of manatees and their calves make the water surrounding Cletus Park their home. There is a dock to view them from and if you paddle in the area you are bound to have a few come up next to your boat. Pine Island is not only my favorite place to launch my kayaks and spend the day, but it is also where I grew up and will always have a special place in my heart.
Who want’s to go straight home after a camping trip? Not me! 🙂 I am always looking for a way to squeeze a little more time out of our trips and this time it was even Neil’s idea. After a few days at Hontoon Island we decided that we would visit the near by Blue Spring State Park on our way home. Even for a week day this park was full of people, but for good reason. During the winter (Nov-Mar) the springs are closed to swimmers and divers while hundreds of manatees make there way in to stay warm. The natural spring (the entrance to the actual spring can be seen in the top photograph) pushes warmer water up hundreds of feet through an underground cavern to create a manatee hot tub. Literally hundreds of manatees come in to cuddle, mate, and nurse there young. It is an enchanting sight to see them all cuddled together socializing in the clear blue water. The park’s extensive boardwalks and above water viewing platforms give visitors an amazing view while keeping them far enough away from the manatees not to bother them. Some other wildlife we were able to see included an 8 foot American alligator, tarpon, gar, tourists, cormorants, and many more varieties of native birds and fish. We came expecting to scope out the camp sights and take a quick glance at the manatees before heading home, but we were drawn in and ended up staying for most of the day. This is one park that is worth the drive and the $5 entry fee, easily! We will be visiting again in the summer to go tubing and enjoy exploring the underwater cave but I highly doubt that it will come close to the experience of being here it in the winter months.
Always looking for someplace new to explore, Neil and I took advantage the three day weekend and headed out to Hontoon Island State Park for a quick camping trip. Hontoon Island is located on the St. Johns River in Deland, Florida. It is only accessible by a private boat or by the ferry but don’t worry… parking, the ferry ride, AND admission to the State Park is free! (all we paid for was our camping sight, $18 a night) The island is made up of the typical Florida swamp land, pine hammocks, and an Indian shell mound. This would be a great place for a day trip or a long weekend depending on the amount of time you have.
To start out our trip we brought all of the usual camping supplies and loaded them onto the ferry with the help of the park’s convenient wheelbarrows. Once we crossed the St. Johns (literally a 5min ride..you can see the entire voyage in the picture to the left) we loaded our stuff into a van and one of the rangers dropped us off near our camp sight. It’s was like a valet camping service. We don’t have to lug our stuff all the way to the camp sight? Sounds good to us. This place can get pretty crowded during the weekend so we went during the week and only had two other camps set up out of the available eleven sights. The sights are normal SP style but with out many campers on premise we didn’t feel squished. If camping isn’t for you they also have small rustic cabins available for $25 a night, they looked neat but since I’m on the ‘just-graduated-college-and-don’t-have-a-job budget’, camping it is. There is a 3-mile nature trail and plenty of open areas in the woods to explore during your stay. We hunted for some geocaches and bush-whacked on the more remote areas of the island until it was time to build a fire and have a few drinks. (this is the only SP that we’ve been to where you can legally drink at your camp sight and don’t have to hide it like an underage kid at a family party). The next day we explored some more, watched a mother and baby manatee eating in the river and got bellowed at by a bear. Yes, I did just say BEAR. There is a family of Florida black bears on the 4X2 mile wide island, consisting of two adults and two cubs. Neil and I were on the nature trail when the distinctive deep guttural bellow came from the bushes in front of us…..
.. we quickly turned around and found another trail. That’s cool papa bear, we will just go to the complete other side of the island, don’t worry about us.. just please don’t eat our faces off tonight. The only other wildlife we saw during our stay was one woodpecker, about 50 vultures, and 1,000 adorable armadillos. Unfortunately we did’t get to take the canoes up the river to visit the near by Blue Springs due to rain but that just leaves something to do on our next visit!
Camping in the Hammock
Overall Hontoon Island was a unique state park with enough land to spend a few day’s exploring if you have the time. If you are in the area I would recommend packing a lunch and at least giving your self 1/2 a day to explore or all day if you plan on paddling around the island or to the near by springs. Like all camping trips this one went to quickly, but hey, three days camping is better than no days camping!
If you have an adventurous spirit (…and possibly a little bank account) this is the place for you! My name is Kristen and I am hoping to not only inspire you to enjoy what the world has to offer but also to give you some ideas and tips that my boyfriend and I have learned along the way. Here I will be posing itineraries, journal entries from trips, photos, and cost estimates so that if you are looking to take a similar trip you will be well prepared! Neil (before mentioned boyfriend) and I have found that some times the cheapest adventures are the best adventures. I hope you enjoy our explorations and will share your own with us as well.Explore with Zeal!