Florida is a paradise. It has numerous internationally known holiday destinations. Many know Miami with its beaches, restaurants, nightlife and posh lifestyle, Orlando, the theme park capital of the world and Daytona Beach, which boasts a great tradition of motorsports, golf and spring break beach parties. But there is a city on Florida’s west central coast, hard by the Gulf of Mexico, which is often overlooked. That city is Tampa. Those who take the time to visit this city will find one of Florida’s hidden gems.
Tampa is a beautiful place. Its major geological feature is the large natural harbour and estuary called Tampa Bay. At about 600 kilometres in length, it is Florida’s largest open water estuary. Tampa Bay has shallow water, mangrove swamps, mud flats and sea-grass beds. The area’s wetlands form the perfect habitat for a diverse group of wildlife. There are 200 species of fish, dolphins, manatee, crabs, clams, oysters, scallops and shrimp which thrive in the brackish waters. They provide food not only for humans, but a wide array of birds including egrets, herons, pelicans and gulls. It is the ideal place for people with an interest in sea creatures and those who love dining on seafood.
Water sports abound. Fishing and crabbing has long been a mainstay of the Tampa Bay area economy. Visitors can catch their own either by working from the shore or one of the numerous charter boats which ply this area of the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. environmental protection agency has designated the area an ‘Estuary of National Significance’ and there are many protected areas along the coast. The Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge, another on Egmont Key and most of the islands, islets and sandbar just off the coast are nesting sites for many bird species and off-limits to the public.
Remains found in the area show humans have lived in Tampa for about 14,000 years. The Spanish colonized the region in the early 1500s. It was ceded to the United States in 1819 and was much prized for its teeming fish and wildlife. Visitors reported seeing schools of mullet so large boats could not pass. Dredging in the early 20th century led to the Port of Tampa becoming the largest in Florida. The city also has several bridges which cross the bay and provide spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico. At night the lights of the bridges, harbour, marinas and the city skyline are ablaze with twinkling lights which rival the stars for beauty.
Tampa is a lovely city. The breeze off the Gulf of Mexico combines with the brilliant sunshine to create the perfect climate for relaxation. You can dine on fresh, succulent seafood, take a private boat or ferry to pristine Caladesi Island State Park, stroll along North Beach in Fort De Soto County Park, commune with nature at the wildlife refuge at Egmont Key State Park or lay on Siesta Beach, voted the world’s softest and whitest sands. The pleasures of Tampa await you.