About Marco Island beaches
Once a quiet out-of-the-way spot known only to avid Florida anglers, Marco Island’s enviable crescent of white quartz sand on the Gulf of Mexico made its rapid development inevitable. The skyline of old fishing shacks has been replaced by numerous high rise hotels and condominiums reminiscent of Miami Beach.
The 2.4km (1.5-mile) Tigertail Beach Park has everything, including rental jet-skis, a children’s playground, changing facilities, snack bar and loads of private space only a short walk beyond the beach umbrellas clustering near the crosswalks. A small sandbar just offshore creates a tidal pool perfect for shelling at low tide. Once the tide brings in deeper water, it becomes a popular swimming hole and practice area for wind surfing. The beach is open from 0800 until sunset. There is a minimal charge for car park usage but the magnificent sunsets are always free.
Beyond the beach:
Wildlife watching couldn’t be easier with a remarkable colony of burrowing owls living virtually in the centre of the island. The small brown birds with piercing yellow eyes are most commonly seen standing at the entrance to their underground nests near dawn and dusk. Anglers will want to wet a fishing line by travelling offshore for grouper, king mackerel, amberjack or snapper. Even more popular is ‘backcountry’ fishing in small shallow skiffs seeking redfish, snook, tarpon and sea trout near the expanse of mangrove islands. Golf is readily available at many championship courses a short distance away near Naples.
A half-day sail or powerboat trip to collect seashells on nearby uninhabited islands is probably the favourite family activity. You’ll be amazed at how many shorelines are blanketed entirely by shells instead of sand. You’ll need a good identification guide to sort through the 400 possible different varieties such as lightning whelks, true tulips, fighting conchs, lions’ paws, calico scallops and Florida sand dollars. This is one treasure hunt where no one ever returns empty-handed.
The classic way to journey deep into the Everglades to find nesting birds and sun-basking alligators is by airboat, a flat bottomed craft powered by an airplane propeller on the back. If shopping is highest on your list, the elegant shops in nearby Naples are only 30 minutes away. To travel truly far afield, board a fast boat (3.5 hours each way) to fabled Key West to spend a half day touring America’s southern most city.
Even though the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort & Spa (www.marcoislandmarriott.com) has undergone an impressive US$187 million renovation, Quinn’s on the Beach still welcomes barefoot patrons for the nightly sunset. Relax at an outside table just a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico while sipping one of Quinn’s frosty speciality drinks: Rum Runner, Miami Vice or a Dirty Banana. After sunset, enjoy the live band playing light rock or reggae and the casual Caribbean-style menu.