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Cayo Costa State Park is an isolated retreat

In the age of TripAdvisor and Instagram, there are few unspoiled gems. Cayo Costa State Park, a southwest Florida barrier island directly west of Pine Island, is a rare exception.

Isolated from the mainland by Pine Island Sound and reachable only by boat, Cayo Costa is an island the 21st century left behind.

Accommodations consist of tent camping or rustic cabins without electricity, running water or private bathrooms. (There are shared bathrooms, cold showers and potable water spigots centrally located.) While the cabins have mats for padding, plan on bringing sleeping bags and pillows.

Sleeping among the mosquitoes and sandflies without air conditioning may sound like a bad deal, but after gazing at the brilliant night sky unimpeded by light pollution, and waking up to a stroll on Cayo Costa's white sand beaches and lapping turquoise waters, you're likely to change your mind. It doesn't hurt that with taxes and fees, a private cabin costs a modest $46.70.

Miles of beaches and mangrove-lined estuaries provide endless exploration with fishing, shelling, kayaking and snorkeling. Dolphins, manatees and myriad bird species are some of the wildlife you might spy.

Whether you're looking to unwind on a secluded beach, or fish for redfish and snook from dawn until dusk, Cayo Costa is about as good as it gets. There's no need to go all the way to the Bahamas to find postcard-perfect beaches and tropical seclusion. Cayo Costa offers it all.

Contact Loren Elliott at lelliott@tampabay.com.

.If you go

Cayo Costa State Park

Tropic Star Cruises (TropicStarAdventures.com) operates a daily ferry to and from Cayo Costa State Park from Jug Creek Marina at the northern tip of Pine Island. Call (239) 283-0015 to make reservations.

Reservations for Florida State Parks cabins or tent camping sites can be made through ReserveAmerica, by calling toll-free 1-800-326-3521 or at FloridaStateParks.org. Cabins are $36.04 per night, and tent sites are $19.82 per night (plus taxes and fees). Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. There are only a dozen cabins at Cayo Costa State Park, so book early or risk missing out. Tent sites are a bit less competitive, with 30 total.

Overnight visitors should plan to purchase all necessary food at a grocery store before departing for the island, because once on Cayo Costa, the true camping experience begins. There is a basic gift shop by the ranger station with ice, drinks and snacks. Grills are available for outdoor cooking.

Headlamps, bug repellent and sunscreen are must-have items. Forget any of these camping essentials, and you'll end up in a sorry state.

Cayo Costa State Park is an isolated retreat 03/09/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 8, 2017 5:52pm]
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