This Wildlife Sanctuary Is One Of The Best Destinations In Florida For Animal Lovers

It is no secret that Florida is one of the most biodiverse states in the United States. Living everywhere, from the hundreds of miles of white sand beaches to the marshlands in Everglades National Park, animals big and small are part of Florida's many ecosystems. While native species like alligators may first come to mind when thinking of Florida wildlife, the Sunshine State has some wildlife sanctuaries with animals from all over the world, and we're not just talking about Carole Baskin's famous Tampa sanctuary, which gained international fame from the "Tiger King" docuseries.

Further south from Tampa, along the Florida peninsula's west coast, is the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary in Punta Gorda. Many of the animals at Octagon have been rescued from unfavorable environments wherein they could not receive proper care, such as the homes of private citizens who wrongfully owned these animals as pets. As such, this inspiring wildlife sanctuary is not a zoo and does not remove its animals from the wild. Today, the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary houses reptiles, big cats, primates, and more.

Learn about the sanctuary's residents with guided tours

A trip to the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary is both educational and heartwarming. The tour guides can teach you about each animal and the unique stories of how they arrived at the sanctuary. Among them is Cady the capuchin monkey, a species made famous by films like "Night at the Museum" and "Gigi and Nate." Cady was anonymously left at the sanctuary's gates in 2014. Thanks to the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary, Cady receives professional care and spends her time enjoying her toys and television.

To visit the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary, you must book a tour online ahead of time. The further in advance, the better, as days fill up quickly. The sanctuary is surprisingly affordable. At the time of writing, tours cost $20 for adults and $10 for kids, while those under 3 can visit for free. Tours take around an hour and a half, and be sure to arrive 15 minutes before it begins. After your tour, don't miss the chance to show your support for this nonprofit by picking up items from its gift shop.

Continue your wildlife adventures at the nearby Babcock Ranch Preserve

Accentuating the charms of the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary, the area surrounding Punta Gorda is the perfect place for wildlife lovers. Less than 30 minutes from the sanctuary is Manatee Park in Fort Myers, where you can rent kayaks or canoes and paddle along the Orange River to try to spot manatees in the winter months. Keep in mind that these gentle giants are endangered, so admire from afar if you see one.

Just 7 miles northeast of the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary is the Babcock Ranch Preserve, which offers eco-tours through the swampy ecosystems. You might see alligators, birds, deer, and hogs on this hour-and-a-half tour of landscapes found in only a few other places across the United States. There is also a working cattle ranch on this tour. You can either opt for an eco-tour with a guide on a swamp buggy for just $24 per adult and $16 per child (at the time of writing) or take a self-guided tour on foot for free. Remember to reserve your spot online for either tour.