Visiting Cayo Costa is a fun and unique experience. Whether you’re camping at Cayo Costa or just visiting for the day, you’re going to love it!
Cayo Costa State Park is often referred lovingly as “real Florida.” That makes sense since it has not changed much since the European settlers arrived 500 years ago. To this day it remains one of the most underdeveloped islands you can visit in Florida. Accessible only by boat, Cayo Costa has no buildings other than some primitive cabin rentals. Not only does Cayo Costa State Park offer 9 miles of beach, you’ll also find pine forests, biking and hiking trails, and more. Best of all, since it’s accessible only by boat, it’s very remote. You won’t find the crowds here that you might encounter at other Florida beaches.
Getting to Cayo Costa with the Ferry to Cayo Costa
Since Cayo Costa is only accessible by boat, you’ll need to book a ticket on the ferry if you don’t have your own boat. You can take the ferry from three different places, Captiva Island, Punta Gorda, and Pine Island. Camping is a great experience at Cayo Costa, but you don’t have to spend the night in order to visit. There are day trips from all three departure locations. Each location’s day trip options vary a bit, some offering full days only and some also offering different half day options, so I’ll list them below. Just know that availability and times can change, so make sure to call or visit their website to verify. Also, Pine Island tends to be the best option if you’ll be camping at Cayo Costa. Each location does offer ferry rides for campers, but Captiva Island and Punta Gorda options are limited whereas Pine Island has daily options for campers.
Ferry from Punta Gorda to Cayo Costa
King Fisher Fleet offers full day trips from 9 am to 4pm. Cost is $44 for adults and $34 for children aged 3-11. The $2 state park fee is included in these prices. This cruise will be a little over two hours, so you’ll be on the island for around 2.5 hours.
Ferry from Captiva Island to Cayo Costa
Captiva Cruises has half day and full day options. If you are interested in a half day, there are two options, 9am to noon or 1pm to 4pm. A full day is 10 am to 4pm. Half day rates are $45/adult and $30/child. Full day rates are $55/adult and $40/child. There is also a $2 state park fee per person above the age of 6 which is not included in these prices. The state park fee is paid via honor system in a box, so make sure to bring exact change as no change is provided. Captiva Cruises also has private charter options for up to 6 passengers for $175/hour.
Ferry from Pine Island to Cayo Costa
Tropic Star at the Pineland Marina in Bokeelia, Florida has full day trip options and also provides ferry transportation for Cayo Costa campers. You’ll depart from the Pineland Marina at 9 am and depart Cayo Costa at 3:30 pm. The cost is $35/adult and $25/children aged 12 and under. The $2 state park fee is included in these prices. The ferry cost for campers is different, which I’ll discuss more below.
Cayo Costa Camping
Reservations are required to go camping at Cayo Costa. Camping at Cayo Costa is one of the best places we’ve ever camped because of how quiet and peaceful it is. I’m not alone in this opinion and because so many people agree that camping at Cayo Costa is amazing, the reservations can be booked pretty far out. There are 30 tent sites and 12 small, primitive wooden cabins. And they really are primitive – the cabins do not have water or electricity. Camping reservations open up 11 months out. You can book your camping reservations on the Reserve America website or you can call Reserve America at 1-800-326-3521.
Getting to Cayo Costa if You’re Camping
Once you have a reservation to camp, you can then book your ferry service. As I noted above, ferry service for campers from Punta Gorda and Captiva Island is limited, but you can call to check their current routes and availability. Tropic Star ferry in Pine Island has daily departures for campers. We departed from Pine Island when we went and found it to be very convenient. The boat ride is around an hour. To book with Tropic Star, you can book online. Make sure you click on the camping ferry service option, not the normal day trip ticket. At the time of this writing, it’s a yellow box towards the bottom of the Tropic Star website.
Transporting Camping Gear to Cayo Costa
Tropic Star limits camping gear to 50 pounds per person. There is an additional fee to transport kayaks, bikes, and beach wagons. The roundtrip ferry is $60 per person and dogs are $35 but note that prices can change at any time. Dogs need to be caged or leashed and muzzled for the boat ride, which is due to their insurance policy. The Pineland Marina also charges $10 per night to park, which you can pay upon arrival.
You’ll also need to carry in all of your food and drinks. Potable water is available within the park and there is also ice and firewood available for purchase on Cayo Costa. When we visited, they had a small shop with some food but availability varies so this isn’t something you’re going to want to depend on and it’s best to bring enough food for your stay.
The campground has drinking water, cold showers, and flush toilets.
Upon arrival from your ferry, you will be around a mile from the campsite. This is also where the gift shop is located (where you can buy your ice and firewood). There is a tram that will take you to the campsite, so you don’t have to walk with all of your stuff. The tram will also pick you and your belongings up the morning you leave the campsite. The employees who take you back and forth are also very friendly and helpful. They will be happy to answer any questions you have.
Cons of Camping at Cayo Costa
The downsides of camping at Cayo Costa are few, but they are worth mentioning because I always want to be fully transparent. The most obvious downside is that it is expensive. The cost of the camping reservation will be around $22/night for a tent and around $40/night for a cabin. While you can bring your own firewood and ice, that’s probably going to put you over the 50 pound limit pretty quickly. Therefore, it’s more likely that you’re going to pay for firewood and ice on the island, which is is going to cost more than a trip to Publix down the street from your house. The ferry isn’t necessarily cheap at $60 per person, and if you’re leaving out of Pine Island, you’ll also need to pay $10/night for parking. Is it worth it? Absolutely, but it’s more expensive than camping in many other places.
The bugs can be pretty terrible. It is Florida, after all. We camped in a traditional tent while we were there and didn’t have a problem when we visited in October. However, I think we got lucky because most people have not had the same experience. Many campers before me have recommended long sleeves and pants, even in the thick of summer. They have shared that being hot was a better experience than the alternative of getting bit up.
Cayo Costa Kayaking and Biking
The Cayo Costa gift shop offers kayaks (both single and double) and bicycles for rent. The cost is in addition to the camping and ferry fees.
What to Pack for Camping at Cayo Costa
Lightweight pants in case the bugs are bad. I like these pants because they’re lightweight and quick dry. It’s Florida, so you might experience typical Florida downpours and if you do, these pants will dry quickly.
Long sleeves can also protect from bugs. Shirts like this one are great because they are lightweight, dry quickly, and offer sun protection.
This portable charger is perfect for charging phones. We did keep our phones in airplane mode to truly disconnect for a while and experience nature. However, we wanted to make sure we had enough battery life for picture taking and this was a nice way to make sure our batteries could remain charged.
My favorite lantern is perfect for camping at Cayo Costa. It was significantly brighter than our cellphone flashlight and we used it a lot. If you’re a Floridian, it will be a great addition to have during hurricane season, too (we tried it at home and it lit up our whole living room!)
The water was great for snorkeling when we were there and we were so thankful to have our snorkeling equipment. We were able to see so many pretty fish and even a tiny starfish! Goggles work fine if you don’t want to invest in full-on snorkeling gear.
Definitely bring snacks like trail mix or beef jerky are perfect.
A backpack made transportation of all our stuff so much easier.