When you combine domestic and overseas visitors, Florida is the most popular state for tourism in the USA. For most of those tourists, The Sunshine State is associated with two things – beaches and theme parks. But Florida’s many tribal reservations also offer a unique insight into another side of American culture. Here, we touch on just a few of the experiences that are waiting to be discovered on Florida’s Native American reservations.
1. Miccosukee Indian Village & Museum, Miami
It’s only an hour’s drive west of Miami but lying in the heart of the Everglades, the Miccosukee Indian Village and Museum feels a million miles away from the big city hubbub. There is so much to explore, from airboat tours to alligator presentations, and anyone with an artistic streak will love the hands-on workshops that cover a wide range of crafts, from wood carving to doll making.
The museum is so full of exhibits that you will want to devote most of a day to that alone, so it is definitely worth staying a night or two. The hammock-style camp is a great place to stay, and you’re guaranteed a comfortable night’s rest.
2. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Clewiston
Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination. That’s certainly the case if you get in your car and take the 100-mile drive to Clewiston. The natural Florida landscape is like nowhere else on earth, so take it easy and allow plenty of time for extra stops.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki roughly translates as “a place to learn,” and this museum is in the modern vein, focused as much on hands-on learning experiences as it is on displaying artifacts in glass-topped cases. You will leave with an enhanced understanding of the Seminole people and culture, and how they have helped to shape the Florida we see today. Make sure you head out to the boardwalk. It’s a mile long, but when you get to the end, you’ll find a Living Village where you can sample local drinks and snacks, as well as checking the wares of tribal artisans.
3. Billie Swamp Safari, Clewiston
While you are in the area, Billie Swamp Safari is less than five miles west of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, and offers an equally enlightening experience but of a very different kind. The swamp buggy eco tour is the most famous attraction, but there are numerous other experiences available, too including glass-bottomed boat rides and even airboat rides for a unique perspective on some of Florida’s natural wildlife.
Consider staying for the night – for one thing, the night safaris are even more exciting as the day ones. Also, the experience of sitting around a campfire listening to tales from Native American folklore is one that will stay with you for a long, long time.
4. Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Tampa
Native American culture isn’t just about coexisting with nature and weaving baskets. Reservations have great night life, too, and a tribal casino provides a fabulous experience for responsible adults. There are seven tribal casinos in Florida, six of which are owned and operated by the Seminole tribe, and the biggest and glitziest of them all is the Seminole Hard Rock casino.
There are 5,000 slot machines and almost 200 gaming tables. Then there’s the poker room. These days, most Americans prefer to play poker online, but that’s not as easy as it sounds in Florida. What you can do, however, is play four varieties of poker 24/7 at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino’s poker room. You can read more here about Florida’s somewhat complex online poker laws if you are eager to practice your poker at an online poker site before trying your luck at a physical poker table.
5. Weedon Island Preserve
One of the most important natural and cultural resources, Weedon Island has been occupied by humans since prehistoric times, and they have always coexisted effectively with the natural wildlife. If you’re planning on a longer stay in Florida and are serious about learning about Native American life, consider enrolling on one of the many courses that are offered throughout the year. They are truly life-changing.
Weedon is great for a day trip, too. There is a choice of guided tours and hikes designed to cater to all interests. These include a wading bird walk and a bug walk, so you can really check in with every section of the food chain!
6. Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Crystal River
You want history? You’ll find it here by the shovel load. Have you ever been involved in one of those conversations comparing the US with the UK, and berating the former for allegedly thinking anything more than a hundred years old is super-old? Just mention Crystal River.
This impressively preserved archaeological site provides a glimpse of what Florida was like 2,500 years ago. The complex comprises six mounds, and experts believe that Native Americans used to trek here from miles around to bury their deceased and to engage in trade with other tribes.
7. Hillsborough River State Park, Tampa
Two of America’s first State Parks, Hillsborough River and Fort Foster lie adjacent to one another, separated only by US-301, 25 miles North East of Tampa. Rangers provide a compelling narrative of the dramatic and often tragic events of the early Seminole days that culminated in the long and drawn out Second Seminole War in the late 1800s.
There are even occasional re-enactments on special dates and anniversaries. As well as seeing the actors in action, you can chat to them in character in between battles to get a first-person account of Florida life during those dark days.
Another side of Florida
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with visiting Florida to enjoy its beautiful beaches and world-famous entertainment complexes. But keep in mind that these are only a small part of what the Sunshine State has to offer discerning visitors. Floridians are a welcoming bunch of people, and any of the places we have touched on today will help you see Florida in a whole new light.