Sanibel and Captiva are kayak paradise: Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, which separates the islands from the mainland – is full of fish, dolphins, manatees, ospreys, pelicans, herons and even otters. There are mangrove islands, shallow sea grass beds where graceful wading birds feed and long stretches of shoreline still in a wild state.
If you rent kayaks from one of several outfitters on Sanibel or Captiva islands, as we did recently, you can have a beautiful day on the water with few hassles.
If you want to launch your own kayak, however, it’s not so simple. Sanibel and Captiva have limited waterfront parking facilities and the marinas and outfitters charge a lot to park and launch. Launch fees range from $7 at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the outfitters at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, to $35 at Castaways Marina or Tween Waters Inn. (See details below, along with several alternatives for launching.)
One of the more pleasant dilemmas is deciding what route to take when kayaking the waters of Captiva and Sanibel.
The bayside waters of Pine Island Sound have more wildlife and varied shorelines to explore than the beach-lined Gulf side of the islands. The Great Calusa Blueway, a marked 190-mile long kayak trail, follows the Sanibel Causeway from the mainland, extends up the bayside of the island and continues north to Cayo Costa Island.
Some of the best kayak alternatives off Captiva and Sanibel wind through the mangroves islands that form its shoreline with Pine Island Sound.