Quick - can you name the Florida coastal town that's minutes from Fort Meyers, surrounded by aquatic preserves, and just north of Captive and Sanibel, some of the most popular tourist destinations in South Florida? Answer: it's Matlacha. If you didn't know the answer, you're not alone. Matlacha (pronounced Mat-la-shay) is an undiscovered gem, sitting quietly on Little Pine Island, one of the largest of Florida's offshore islands.
Scenic Matlacha is full of surprises. Set just a short drive from the big-city lights of Fort Meyers, this small town - with no stoplights - is home to an array of artists, authors, and musicians. Its stunning natural beauty makes it a perfect camping destination.
With little development and plenty of open spaces, Little Pine Island attracts a variety of wildlife, making this an incredible place to see osprey, herons, egrets, and the more than twenty bald eagle pairs that reside on the island. The mangrove swamps that surround the island provide year-round fishing for these colorful water birds. Matlacha is a great place to watch for roseate spoonbills, owls, brilliant ibises, hawks, and songbirds. On the coast, you can spot playful dolphins or the gentle, endangered manatees that Florida is famous for.
If fishing is your game, you can spend your time fishing for snook, redfish, grouper, and snapper. This area is known to have the best tarpon fishing in Florida - just head north of Bokeelia by boat to Boca Grande Pass. And Matlacha itself is famous for its "World's Fishingest Bridge," a hot-spot for anglers who want to fish day or night.
You can take a kayaking trip around the mangroves or out into the turquoise blue waters, watching the fish below and the birds overhead. Cruises and water taxis are available to Cabbage Key, North Captiva, and Cayo Costa, all popular places to spend a day exploring. Beautiful Matlacha has colorful cottages, unique shops, and unrivaled art galleries, plus plenty of space for walking, bird watching, biking, or just tooling around town. If youíre looking for a longer hike, check out the state owned Pine Island park or check the local paper for a guided hiking tour of the island.
Every year in mid-July, Matlacha lets its hair down during Mango Mania, a festival of live music, food, contests, and - of course - mangoes! Visitors can take part in the mango pie eating contest, wander through the arts and crafts stands, and relax in front of the bandstand. There's a longest-mango-throw contest, fresh fruit juice tastings, carnival rides, plant sales, recipe books, and plenty more.
Whether you visit during festival time or come when Matlacha is empty of crowds, you'll find a town that's quiet, comfortable, and where nature's beauty overshadows everything. This is an ideal spot for a tranquil escape with your journal or sketch pad, whiling away the hours by watching an eagle soaring overhead. The weatherís perfect, the water's blue - so why not grab your kayak paddle and see if you know the way to Matlacha?