Last updated on September 24th, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Cayo Costa sunset At Cayo Costa State Park, you live your dreams of a private island
Sunset is one of the big events during a stay on Cayo Costa Island.

No matter how lovely the day or how idyllic the beaches, you won’t find crowds at Cayo Costa State Park.

Small wooden cabins on Cayo Costa are as cute as a button.
Small wooden cabins on Cayo Costa are as cute as a button.

It is accessible only by a boat and it is a one-hour ferry ride from Bokeelia, itself a remote spot on Pine Island west of Fort Myers. There are only a few boats a day and the $35 daytrip fare makes it an expensive option if you just want to go to the beach.

That means you can almost guarantee you can walk miles on a perfect beach and have Cayo Costa almost to yourself.

We were lucky enough to snag two nights in one of the 12 rustic cabins for a weekend and thus we re-visited Cayo Costa, one of our most loved spots in Florida, with our two daughters visiting from the north. (The cabins and campsites fill up far in advance so if you want to visit, you need to plan ahead.)

Inside of Cayo Costa cabin
A view of the interior of a cabin on Cayo Costa.

Cayo Costa Island: For wild and solitude

Cayo Costa is Florida in the raw, featuring all its natural beauty and wildlife, from the manatees you may see on the boat trip over to the dolphins playing in the surf to the osprey nesting in the tree snags along the beach.

There’s no wifi. The bugs can get bad. And if snakes bother you, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Yet I am not alone in considering Cayo Costa State Park a slice of paradise — partly for those very reasons.

Cayo Costa State Park’s beaches and shelling are among the best in the state and the 2,426 acre park also features thickly wooded trails for hiking and mountain biking.

Mostly, though, you come here for the solitude and the wildness. There just aren’t many places like this left.

Cayo Costa camping & cabins

Cayo Costa offers a campground with 30 sites and 12 small wooden cabins without water or electricity.

Both the camp sites and the cabins are steps to the spectacular beach and surrounded by native vegetation. (Gone are the Australian pines that used to shade the area.)

Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa
Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa. As the boat approached, one passenger exclaimed: What’s this? Thailand? The Tropic Star’s website prefers to compare the boat to the African Queen.

The sites have drinking water, cold showers and flush toilets. A mile away, on the dock side of the island, and easy to reach via the tram that circulates back and forth, you can buy ice, cold sodas and charcoal.

The cabins are $36 a night.

On our visit, highlights included many sightings of osprey including on a nest adjacent to the campground,  a dolphin quite close playing in the Cayo Costa boat-dock area, a large living conch shell found in the shallow water, views of several stingrays in the shallow surf plus so many fish jumping in the water they looked like popcorn popping.

Loaded ferry to Cayo Costa
Gear is piled high on the Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa

Trails on Cayo Costa

Once on the island, be sure to walk the beach in both directions. There are nine miles of wild beach here, and this is one of the highlights of any visit. To the north, as you reach Boca Grande pass, the beach is studded with trees turned to whitened driftwood. To the south, a large saltwater lagoon parallels the shore and provides stunning views.

Don’t miss the inland trails. The eastern end of the island is a lush hardwood hammock with more shade.

The pioneer cemetery makes a great destination. (It’s located, not suprisingly, on the cemetery trail.)  We took our daughters on a spooky flashlight hike to the pioneer cemetery.

Harbor pilot Captain Peter Nelson, who died in 1919, is buried here with a stone that reads, “After Life’s Fitful Fever He Sleeps Well.”

It seems an appropriate message on this island, where for at least a few hours, we escape the fitful fever of our modern life.


Trail on Cayo Costa Island, Florida
Trails on the eastern side of Cayo Costa are shaded by oaks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Tips on visiting Cayo Costa

Live conch along the beach on Cayo Costa State Park
We found a live conch in the clear shallow waters along the Cayo Costa beach.
Driftwood on Cayo Costa beach
A closer look at driftwood on the Cayo Costa beach.

A few suggestions from our several visits over the years:

  • If you are staying in the cabin, don’t bother with air mattresses. There are six bunk beds  and each has a plastic-covered mattress.
  • Keep in mind you will be loading all your gear onto a boat (often over a railing) and then onto a tram on the island and then out of the tram to your cabin on campsite. This means you want all your items securely packaged to make them easy to move by hand. Don’t make any package too heavy. We found multiple smaller bundles were easier to handle than the folks who packed one trunk-sized duffle bag that could barely be lifted.
  • Bring folding chairs, even in the cabins. Without them, your only place to sit is a picnic table or beach towel.
  • You can rent kayaks and mountain bikes on the island. (Kayaks are rented via the Tropic Star ferry folks. )
  • Be sure to book ahead for the  Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa ($50 roundtrip for overnight visitors, $40 for children; daytrip price is $35 adults.)   Also: Be prepared to pay $10 per night for parking. An alternate is King Fisher Fleet out of Punta Gorda.  The King Fisher docks are a few minutes off I-75 and offer free parking.  The day trip gives you three hours on the island; tickets are $35 (campers are $10 more).
  • At Tropic Star, camper gear is limited to 50 pounds per person, additional gear and oversized items will have additional charges. There is an extra transport fee for kayaks and bicycles. Dogs are $20, must have advance reservations and must be caged or leashed and muzzled.
  • Tropic Star also offers water taxi service by advance arrangements. Details:  (239) 283-0015
  • If you’re seeking nearby lodging before or after your Cayo Costa outing, you can rent cabins from the Tropic Star folks for $90-$95 a night. They’re small, very rustic efficiencies that sleep four to six.

Useful links:

Starfish on Cayo Costa island
The starfish was a treasures found walking Cayo Costa beach.

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  1. Avatar
    Margaret Brunner

    There is the Camp Store on Cayo near the Ranger Station where Firewood, Ice, cold drinks, snacks some camp style food, personal items and Souvenirs are available along with Bike, kayak & Paddle Boards are for rent. If you spent 5 hours on Sanibel Iland it would cost you 25.00 to park plus 6.00 for bridge toll and lots of other people around so the ferry price is not so much for a beautiful day on Cayo.

    • Bonnie Gross

      Thanks for the update! The camp store is new since my article. That’s terrific. I need to get back there and rent a kayak for exploring the island in a new way.

  2. Pingback: Top 20 Best Places to Camp in Florida | Outdoor Ratings

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