Millions of people visit Florida each year, but most don’t venture out of Orlando. The further you get out of town roadside attractions start to pop up everywhere. Things like Alligator Encounters and the World Largest Bowling Pin are common sites. But there is one, in particular, that is a must see: The Everglades Wonder Gardens.
The Everglades Wonder Gardens
We found the Everglades Wonder Gardens off the old Tamiami Trail in Bonita Springs Florida. As one of the first roadside attractions in Florida it flourished. But since the newer highway has diverted traffic away, it has become a forgotten treasure. For me, just getting back from a Disney Park, it was a dream come true.
They opened in 1936 as a roadside attraction with something for everyone. Between the botanical jungles, national history museum, birds, and reptiles, it grew into something magical. In 2014, a group of local residents transformed it into a nonprofit organization. They have restored the exhibits and added educational programs into the mix. They also take in rescue animals from failed roadside attractions.
From the outside, you knew this place has something special inside. It was like walking back in time. Right away, we were welcomed by a very friendly parrot. The gardens were in every direction, filled with mature plants. As you explored, you would find different reptiles along the paths.
The biggest attraction for many is the alligators. These alligators were rescued from a different roadside attraction and were not being well taken care of. The Everglades Wonder Gardens brought them back to full health. They now have their own lagoon with a bridge for visitors to walk over their enclosure. It’s the closest I’ve come to one before.
As much as I enjoyed seeing all the reptiles and birds, my favorite was the gardens themselves. Between the textures, colors, and vines, I was in heaven. They did a great job of integrating the reptiles in with the gardens. You would be looking at some amazing plant life and stumble upon the tortoise enclosure. It added a whole other level of fun.
Due to the Hurricane Irma, the Everglades Wonder Gardens suffered massive damage. All their animals are safe but the trees and gardens took heavy damage. Right now, they are looking for volunteers in the area that can help to remove debris. They are facing a time crunch to get the uprooted trees back in the ground. Follow their Facebook page for details on how to help in person.
If you are too far away and cannot help, think about sending a few dollars to help them rebuild and care for these animals. The Everglades Wonder Gardens has set up a fundraising site for all donations. They also have a GoFundMe Page with additional information including pictures of the damages. They are asking for whatever small amount you can provide. As a non-profit organization, they rely on help from its visitors and community to continue to help these animals.
We had such a good time hanging out at the Everglades Wonder Gardens and seeing a different side of Florida. I hope that it will be around for years to come! Please donate what whatever you can.