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Gator baiting: Wild Orlando nature reserves

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Scaly, fierce, and practically prehistoric, Florida’s famed alligator population – known round these parts as ‘gators’ – have dwelled in local swamps and marshes for many years. Visitors to Orlando who want to see these reptiles in the wild have a number of gator-spotting opportunities within reach of the city, from airboat rides to wildlife refuge centres. Take a look at these wild Orlando nature reserves for where to get up close (but not too close) to these not-so-gentle giants.

Kissimmee Swamp Tours

Operated in nearby Lake Kissimmee, these airboat swamp tours take visitors out for 60- or 90-minute stretches to explore Central Florida’s third largest lake and the many kinds of wildlife that inhabit the unspoiled surroundings. Expect to catch glimpses of gators and cranes and, if you’re lucky, you might also spot a bald eagle or two.

Nighttime Everglades Airboat Tours

Florida’s famous Everglades are exciting to view during the day, but what about at night? Operating under cover of darkness, these evening tours bring visitors into the heart of the area’s 4,200 acres of swampland and up close to the creatures that call it home. Just make sure to keep hands and legs inside the boat at all times.

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Gatorland

Only in Florida would you see a theme park entirely devoted to the gator, but don’t think you’ll run out of things to do here: activities and sights include gator ziplining and a natural alligator breeding marsh. As a bonus, see if you can catch sight of the park’s four extremely rare albino specimens.

St. Johns River Cruises

Part of Blue Spring State Park, the St. John River is a tranquil refuge for some of Florida’s favourite critters. A quiet boat takes visitors on a languid tour of the area’s shallow waters, while guides point out turtles, gators, wading birds and manatees, which often swim alongside the boat.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

About an hour outside of Orlando and near to Florida’s Atlantic coast, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 140,000 acres of dunes, estuaries, marshes, pine woods, and other habitats that are home to over 1,500 local species. If you’re visiting, check out the wildlife drive, viewing platforms, manatee observation deck, and boating for some prime gator watching.

Written by Kim Taylor

Image credits:

Alligator lurking in the shadows © iStock: sdbower

Everglades airboat © iStock: BrettCharlton

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