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Traditional tours of Indian lands are boring.  Admit it, they are BORING! – this tour is anything but.

If you find yourself in Florida, you should definitely check out the Everglades.  But, how do you choose a place to take a tour?  There are dozens of companies that will take tourists out on airboats through the Everglades.

Lucky for you, I have found the best tour.  It is located about 45 minutes from Miami.

Take this tour if you: would like to experience an airboat ride, are interested in the history of the Miccosukee Indians, want to try some native food, want to see alligators, or are interested in the Everglades ecosystem.

Note: this tour is not compatible with wheelchairs.

This tour is fun for: all ages.

What to bring: bug spray, poncho/jacket.

What is an airboat? An airboat is an eco-friendly way to travel through the Everglades.  The broad, shallow boat is powered by a huge propeller in the back.  It whisks over the water and plants so smoothly that it gives passengers a sensation of flying/hovering.

My experience on the tour:

John Tigertail, a warm and friendly member of the Miccosukee Panther Clan, introduced himself and offered us some fried frog legs that his wife had just made (they were great!).  He led us onto his biggest airboat, which can seat about 20 people.  Earmuffs were provided to each passenger to combat the noise made by the loud airboat engine.  Tigertail is an excellent driver.  I felt very safe and was not splashed by the water.  The boat runs smoothly over the shallow water of the sawgrass prairie.  You can see wild birds (such as great blue herons, egrets, woodstorks, and ibises) and the occasional alligator while on the airboat. Tigertail discusses his method of navigation through the seemingly impossible-to-navigate landscape.

Tigertail stopped the boat at a small cypress island.  We left the boat and walked down a dock to a traditional Miccosukee camp.  The camp is formed of wooden, waterproof but open-air buildings.  Inside the camp are wild hogs, baby alligators, and several species of turtle. There is a good photo opportunity here to take a picture of yourself holding a baby alligator or petting a hog.  If you’re lucky, there will still be some traditional corn soup left over from lunch that you can taste.

We got back on the airboat and made a second stop at a larger cypress island. The second camp looks similar to the first, but has no contained animals.  At this camp, Tigertail gave us an overview of the history and culture of his tribe.  He gave us examples of the Miccosukee language and told stories of his childhood (he grew up on the bigger island).  Tigertail’s English is excellent, but he can also speak alligator!  Tigertail learned how to speak to alligators from his grandmother when he was a child.  He mimics the sound of a baby alligator by making a clucking sound in his throat.  This sound will make adult alligators swim towards him.  He demonstrated this ability to the tour on the bigger island.  He even reached down and touched the head of a 10-foot alligator that he called to him! Eventually, we returned to the airboat and were whisked back to the original dock.  Upon our return, we met the other two boat drivers.  They seemed just as friendly as Tigertail. Overall, I had a great experience and would highly recommend the tour for both adults and children.

Who are the Miccosukee? The Miccosukee are a branch of the Seminole (runaways).  The Seminole Indians formed a tribe out of escaped slaves and Indians who had fled their own tribes.  The Seminole are not Florida natives. Long ago, conflicts with the British and Spanish forced them south from Georgia into Florida.  After three separate wars, the Seminole eventually settled in the Florida Everglades, where they still reside today.  As the Seminole fell to practices such as gambling, modernity started to change these Indians for the worse.  A more old-fashioned branch of the tribe separated itself from the Seminole to continue their ancient way of life.  This branch called itself the Miccosukee.  Families go by names such as “Panther Clan,” “Otter Clan,” and “Wind Clan.”

How does tourism affect the Miccosukee? Tourism is actually great for the Miccosukee.  Currently, the Miccosukee are struggling to care for the Everglades and to keep their tribe alive.  There are only about 700 Miccosukee left, and they all live in the Florida Everglades. Giving tours is a better way than gambling at the nearby casino to make money.  In addition, the information that tourists learn on this trip makes people aware of the struggling Miccosukee and the need for the Everglades ecosystem to be protected.

I took this tour on: May 19th, 2012.