By Paul Rubio
Sipping poolside cocktails or sunbathing next to the Atlantic at Acqualina Resort & Spa, it’s hard to envision the verdant, wild environs that once blanketed the community of Sunny Isles Beach. However, drive a mere six minutes inland from the resort, and you’ll discover a pocket of nature-rich Florida, alive and well.
Say hello to Oleta River State Park, a stunning mash-up of a tidal mangrove ecosystem and palm-studded islands enveloped by Biscayne Bay. Thanks to a partnership with the park, resort guests can explore Oleta on a private kayak tour with one of the park’s expert lead guides, Lauren. This two-hour Acqua Experience is an exciting — and highly rewarding — immersion into natural Florida.
After entering the park, Lauren will greet you at the BG Oleta River Outdoors Center, where she’ll provide a water safety briefing, collect waivers, fit the family for life jackets, protect valuables in a dry bag, and review the basics of paddling and kayaking. Don’t worry if it’s your first or fifteenth time on a kayak, or whether your group has small children or senior citizens: Lauren will tailor the trip to your party’s preferences and skill set.
Once the formalities are over, the fun begins. Slip into a single or tandem kayak and paddle into the mangroves alongside Lauren. Expect to kayak for about an hour, first under the mystical mangrove canopy of Crazy Creek and then through the sparkling blue waters of Biscayne Bay. Throughout, Lauren informs and entertains with scientific information about the surrounding ecosystems and the history of Florida’s largest urban park. For example, you’ll learn about the three different species of mangroves found in the park and the oyster beds, crabs, reptiles, and bird life that make this sub-tropical ecosystem tick.
Photo: Paul Rubio
Reach Biscayne Bay, and keep an eye out for the many dolphins and manatees that frequent this area. You’ll likely want to risk removing your iPhone from the dry bag in the event the dolphins come in close range — it’s certainly an experience worth capturing on video. But regardless of the marine life you spot during your kayak trip, Lauren will show you where to snap an Instagram-perfect shot of Oleta River State Park’s fishing pier and beach cove (with Acqualina’s skyscrapers in the background, no less).
For the second hour, prepare to choose your own Oleta adventure. Choice one: kayak over to palm tree-laced Sandspur Island and traverse this uninhabited piece of land by foot or hang out on its pristine beaches. Choice two: paddle to Oleta’s placid beach cove to wander the wide stretch of sand or simply swim or relax in the shallow waters. Whichever you choose, you’ll leave surprised and delighted by this highly personalized, quick immersion into Florida nature, located right in Acqualina’s backyard.
There is a two-person minimum for this Acqua Experience, and the cost is $45 for adults and $20 for children 12 and under, plus 18% service charge. Advanced reservations are encouraged, and 10AM is the suggested start time for tours (though other times are also possible). Note that participants must first enter Oleta River State Park through the main entrance and pay the park entrance fee of $4.00 per vehicle with single occupancy, $6.00 for 2-8 people. For an optimal Oleta experience, consider planning your visit on a weekday to avoid park entrance lines. Finally, bring a towel, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, water, snacks, sandals, and swimwear for this mini-adventure.
Featured Photo: Paul Rubio