Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral
Have you always wanted to know everything about what goes on in space and how we obtain all the knowledge? Then visit the legendary Kennedy Space Center! You can visit this amazing complex all year round, except at Christmas. The people here are happy to show you how things work and you might even run into one of the astronauts!
NASA’s home base is about an hour from Orlando, on Merrit Island on the Atlantic coast. The island is 55 kilometers long and almost ten kilometers wide, and its remote location makes it the ideal place to launch rockets and space shuttles into space. The Space Center’s name is a tribute to President John F. Kennedy. Initially, NASA called the base the Launch Operations Center but in 1963, after Kennedy’s assassination, the name changed to the Kennedy Space Center.
Even before NASA was founded, nearby Cape Canaveral had been designated by President Truman as a rocket launch site. Cape Canaveral is a type of cape off the coast of Merrit Island. But when NASA wanted to start the first manned expeditions to the moon in the early 1960s, it had no choice but to expand further. The base gradually expanded to Merrit Island. The so-called lunar program had three periods, that of Mercury, that of Gemini and that of Apollo.
The first Mercury rockets were launched from Cape Canaveral because the construction of the Kennedy Space Center was not yet finished. NASA started in 1962 with the construction of Complex 39, a gigantic complex with a Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), a Control Center and not unimportantly a system with which the rockets could be transported from the VAB to the launch pad.
Today, this Complex 39 is used to design and launch Space Shuttles. The first Space Shuttle, the Columbia, was launched here in 1981. Oddly enough, Space Shuttles had to land in California at an Air Force base because NASA’s runway construction was not yet complete. However, it was not until 1984 that the Shuttle Landing Facility was ready and Space Shuttles could also land on Merrit Island! Always check the interactive website of the Gaming Commission in advance, because if you plan your visit well in advance, you might end up on a day when a Space Shuttle is launched! An unforgettable experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Big Cypress National Reserve
Adjacent to Everglades National Park is the Big Cypress National Reserve. This swampy land used to be full of beautiful cypress trees of the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. The reserve is approximately 720,000 hectares in size and has a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The park houses bears, the very rare Florida panther, alligators and otters. For enthusiasts it is possible to hunt animals such as deer, turkeys and boars with a hunting license. Please note: there is a strict regulation for this and hunting, for example, alligators is strictly prohibited.
You can discover Big Cypress in different ways. You can choose to join one of the guided ‘trekkings’ through the reserve, where you wander through the cypress forests led by a park ranger. Maybe you prefer to hike! There are groomed trails in Big Cypress, but be aware that they are season-dependent and passable. What really promises the ultimate Big Cypress experience are the so-called ‘swamp buggies’. Who doesn’t know them from television? A kind of tall boats, also called airboats, that fly through the impenetrable wetland. This means of transport takes you to remote places that are almost inaccessible on foot.
You can camp in the reserve but plan this well in advance and be aware that you are going back to basics here. In many places you do not have fresh water at your disposal and electricity is a completely unnecessary luxury!
Canaveral National Seashore
Cape Canaveral is of course known for space travel, but did you know that this island also has a completely different side? Away from all the hustle and bustle around the Space Shuttles is a beautiful natural area called Canaveral National Seashore. This National Park has a 24 mile coastline with beautiful dunes and deserted beaches. Due to its remoteness, Canaveral National Seashore has an extensive collection of plants and animals, including some fourteen endangered species. Think of various species of sea turtles and snakes such as the ‘atlantic salt marsh snake’.
You don’t have to get bored in this park because whether you like surfing, sunbathing, canoeing or hiking; everything is possible here. Hiking trails have been built along the coast where you can wander endlessly in the untouched nature. At Mosquito Lagoon it is possible to take a boat trip and enjoy all the tranquility that Canaveral has to offer. If you have a fishing license, you can fish saltwater and freshwater to your heart’s content here and it is even possible to explore the area on your own from Black Point by car. Get in the car and see if you can find one of the pelicans or falcons yourself!
Perhaps a day is a little short to explore Canaveral National Seashore. If you have time left, you can camp at one of the designated spots in the park. Plan this well in advance because if you want to camp here you have to book in advance and you must be in possession of a permit.
Biscayne National Park
Do you like snorkeling, diving and tropical waters? Then you’ve come to the right place in Biscayne National Park. The National Park is a stone’s throw from Miami and is truly enchanting. The park is divided into four different ecosystems namely the beautiful mangrove forests along the coastline, the southern extension of the National Park, the northern islands of the Keys and the third largest coral reef in the world.
All this natural beauty has been created by geological changes such as changing sea levels, the growth of coral and hurricanes that rage across the area. Each ecosystem also has its own function. For example, the mangrove forests along the coast ensure that it does not erode and they keep the water clean. You have a spectacular view at Biscayne Bay. South of the vast mangrove forests, a kind of plateau has been created by the freshwater that mixes with the salty seawater. You will find mussels and other shellfish, as well as fish, among the lush sea grass that grows on the bottom.
Part of the seabed here consists of ‘hardbottom’, a kind of underwater desert where plants thrive because the ground is unsteady. If you go snorkeling here you will find algae, sponges and coral. The environment of the islands in Biscayne is very impressive. Elliot Key is the largest island and is considered one of the first islands of the Keys. They are surrounded by bright blue water and have a diverse flora. Mangrove forests grow on the coast and mahogany trees further inland.
Wildlife is well represented in Biscayne. The National Park is ideal for spotting marine life such as whales, dolphins and countless tropical fish. On the mainland you will encounter otters, deer and various species of bats. All in all, the chance is very small that you will be bored here. Whether you want to enjoy nature or actively explore the area, Biscayne National Park has it!
Dry Tortugas National Park
In the extreme south of Florida, more than 70 miles west of Key West, there are seven islands that together form the Dry Tortugas archipelago. Together with the surrounding water, these islands are part of the National Park. It covers an area of 580,000 square meters. The islands, some of which are no more than a large sandbar, that fall under Dry Tortugas are Loggerhhead Key, Garden Key, Bush Key, Long Key, Hospital Key, Middle Key and East Key.
The Dry Tortugas were already discovered by Spanish explorers in the early sixteenth century. Fort Jefferson was built in the 1800s on Garden Key. Originally the fortress served as a lookout for possible Caribbean pirates, but it was soon discovered that the islands were not suitable because of the dry subsoil and the fact that there was nowhere near fresh water.
The Dry Tortugas are known for the overwhelming underwater world, the coral and of course the lost treasures and shipwrecks that should be nearby. You can only reach this group of islands by boat or plane and it is therefore important that you plan your visit well ahead of time. plan well in advance. On the islands you can visit Fort Jefferson, enjoy the different species of birds that live there or snorkel to discover the secret treasures of the Tortugas.
Everglades National Park
Located in Florida, the Everglades have a subtropical climate. In 1947 it was designated a National Park and is also a World Heritage Site. The Everglades is a beautiful area filled with rivers, creeks, swamps and forests. Unfortunately, this is only one-fifth of the total area of the original Everglades.
Fortunately, there is still a wide variety of fauna. You will find the rare American crocodile, the Florida panther and various types of alligators. The endangered bald eagle, also known as the ‘keeper of the Everglades’, only flies here.
If you’re planning a comprehensive tour of the Everglades, it’s worth exploring Floriday Way and White Waterbay by boat, kayak, or canoe. Staying overnight in the area is no problem. There are camping spots at various places in the area. Please note: you cannot just explore the Everglades yourself with a boat. You need a permit for this.
Ocala National Forest
Ocala is Florida’s second largest National Forest with an area of 1,57212 square kilometers. It is the busiest forest in all of Florida. The soil is quite dry and Florida scrub, consisting of low scrub, thrives here. A large population of swamps, a type of pine tree, also grow in Ocala. Wildlife is also well represented here. You will find bears, coyotes, foxes and even armadillos in Ocala!
There is plenty to do in Ocala. You can snorkel, fish or canoe in the rivers that flow through the forest. Of course you can also hike beautifully here. Follow the Florida Trail that also runs through Ocala and discover this National Forest in an unforgettable way. This beautiful forest also offers the possibility to spend the night. Campsites have been set up near one of the area’s lakes, such as Big Bass Lake and Doe Lake, especially for people who really want to explore this amazing nature reserve.