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Cayo Costa 2024: After hurricane damage, visit spectacular beach by boat

Cayo Costa is a remote barrier island with nine miles of pristine beaches where the water is clear, the seashells are plentiful and dolphins frequently cruise by. It is and always has been reachable only by boat.

In 2024, there are two options for commercial boats serving Cayo Costa, where you can explore the remote island and feel like Robinson Crusoe.

Cayo Costa Beach State Park has picturesque bleached driftwood along is beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Cayo Costa Beach State Park has picturesque bleached driftwood along is beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Cayo Costa Island is almost all preserved as a state park, with about two dozen private off-the-grid homes occupying about one percent of the land. Located five miles off Pine Island, it looks like the remote tropical paradise of our dreams.

I have visited Cayo Costa many times, but that was before Hurricane Ian. On Sept. 28, 2022, folks everywhere were Googling “Cayo Costa” because that’s where the eye of Category 4 Hurricane Ian slammed ashore.

No surprise: Cayo Costa was devastated. Its popular campgrounds and rustic cabins were destroyed, its docks blown away.

White powdery sand on Cayo Costa and a crab trip that washed ashore. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
White powdery sand on Cayo Costa and a crab trip that washed ashore. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

In 2024, when much of the Hurricane Ian damage elsewhere has been repaired, Cayo Costa has no facilities and the only part of the island that is open to the public is the beach, which you must visit by boat. It is open 8 a.m. to sunset, so there is no camping. There are no restrooms, no drinking water and no docks.

Commercial boat day trips to Cayo Costa

But if you want to visit a remote beach, where you can walk for miles, collect seashells and observe wildlife, you can take a day trip to Cayo Costa via two companies:

Captiva Cruises offers a half-day cruise for $45 for adults and $30 for kids. The three-hour trip includes a 30-minute boat ride each way. Because there is no dock on the island, the boat “lands” a few feet off the beach in knee-deep water and guests exit and enter the boat via a 4-step ladder. This trip will appeal to people staying on Sanibel or Captiva, but it’s quite a drive through those islands if you’re looking for a day trip.

A large living conch shell was visible in the shallows at the beach on Cayo Costa, where it was returned after this photo. (Photo: David Blasco)
A large living conch shell was visible in the shallows at the beach on Cayo Costa, where it was returned after this photo. (Photo: David Blasco)

Adventures in Paradise is based at the Port Sanibel Marina, which is on the Fort Myers side of the Sanibel causeway, and thus is better suited to day trippers. Three days a week, the pontoon boat leaves at 9 a.m. and returns at 2 p.m. and there is both a captain and naturalist on board. Tickets are $79 adults and $69 children. Participants bring lunch and swim suits. Adventures in Paradise provides a limited number of beach chairs, umbrellas, beach toys and provides the restroom on board the boat. The pontoon boat used pulls up close to the beach and you must use a ladder to exit or enter into shallow water.

If you crave a beach where you can walk for miles and see no one, go to Cayo Costa. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
If you crave a beach where you can walk for miles and see no one, go to Cayo Costa. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Where is Cayo Costa?

Cayo Costa is one of a chain of barrier islands that shelter Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. The chain includes the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, which are connected to the mainland by a causeway. Then, north of Captiva are two islands you can’t reach by car: North Captiva, a thriving vacation community, and then wild and undeveloped Cayo Costa. North of Cayo Costa, across the Boca Grande Pass, is Gasparilla Island and the city of Boca Grande, which are connected to the mainland via a causeway.

Cayo Costa is 10 miles west of Fort Myers and the mainland and is about five miles west of the island of Pine Island.

Kayaks on the beach at Cayo Costa Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Kayaks on the beach at Cayo Costa Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Can I kayak to Cayo Costa?

Yes, experienced open-water kayakers do paddle there, leaving from Pine Island. It requires top-notch skills in paddling and understanding tides and weather. You can break up the paddle with stops at three island along the way.

We’ve done a really easy kayak outing to Cayo Costa by staying at Cabbage Key Inn and renting kayaks. From there, it is less than hour to a mangrove tunnel where you moor your boat and head to the beach. We absolutely loved Cabbage Key

A sea star found on the beach at Cayo Costa Island State Park. (Photo: Anna Blasco)
A sea star found on the beach at Cayo Costa Island State Park. (Photo: Anna Blasco)

Will the campgrounds and cabins be rebuilt on Cayo Costa?

The official word in summer 2024 is that the first step is rebuilding the dock. The park system is awaiting permits from the Army Corps of Engineers for the dock. Beyond that, Florida State Parks is not providing much information.

Don’t expect anything to happen soon. Cayo Costa is one of several parks damaged by 2022 hurricanes whose facilities have not reopened — cabins and camping at Hontoon State Park in Deland and the campground at Long Key State Park in the Florida Keys are also still closed. Some (me!) wonder if all of these facilities will be rebuilt.

Map of Cayo Costa State Park
Map of Cayo Costa State Park BEFORE Hurricane Ian. The restrooms, campground and cabins are gone and all but the beaches is closed.

What’s near Cayo Costa State Park:


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