Captiva – Island of Mystery and Serene Beauty
The Gulf Coast of Florida has no shortage of island getaways. From the Florida Keys to Amelia Island, travelers have plenty of tropical hot-spots to tempt their tastes and temperaments. But one island stands out amongst all the rest. Captiva Island, resting in the Gulf of Mexico just off Florida’s Southern coast, offers a unique taste of island life that has been captivating visitors for years.
Stepping onto Captiva’s shore is like stepping into Florida’s past. There are no high-rises to block the million-dollar view, and canopies of palms and pines cast shadows over the simple island roads. Bird songs fill the air, and the scent of the ocean is always on the breeze. Captiva Island is a beautiful and serene oasis in a hectic world. If you are searching for a unique island getaway, someplace quiet and remote where easy living is the only watchword, then Captiva is the place for you. Continue reading about Captiva Island >>.
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Captiva’s history is filled with legends and, perhaps, some downright lies. Local tellers of tall tales claim that the island was given its name by Jose Gaspar, a notorious pirate who terrorized the Gulf of Mexico in the mid-to-late 1700s. The infamous outlaw built his stronghold on what is now modern-day Gasparilla Island, and kept the prisoners he hoped to ransom on a neighboring island. Gaspar called that island Captiva, because that was where his rich captives would be imprisoned until their families, or their governments purchased their freedom.
Whether or not this is true is up for debate. But it is a rollicking good tale and the legends of Gaspar’s buried treasure continue to fire the imagination of visitors to Captiva and the surrounding islands.
Gaspar and his pirates may be little more than local legend, but that in no way diminishes the island’s rich history. What we do know for certain is that Captiva was originally home to the Calusa, a fierce tribe of Native Americans that controlled much of Florida’s Southern peninsula. Primarily hunters and gatherers, they lived off the bounty of the land and harvesting the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Calusa were the dominant political and cultural force in the region, and they would remain so until the arrival of European explorers in the early 16th century.
Ponce de Leon is generally credited with ‘discovering’ Florida in 1513. Making landfall near what is now St. Augustine, de Leon and his Conquistadors soon headed South with the intention of colonizing the length and breadth of the peninsula. But de Leon hadn’t reckoned on the Calusa, who fiercely resisted colonization by the Spanish invaders. Ultimately, de Leon would be killed in battle, and the Calusa would drive his Conquistadors from the region.
Though successful in resisting the Spanish Conquistadors, the Calusa’s time as a dominant force in Southwest Florida was running out. The next several decades would see the tribe ravaged by disease, famine, and political upheaval. By the late 1700s they were near extinction, and what was left of the proud Calusa would be absorbed into other Native American tribes on Florida’s mainland. Captiva was abandoned and would remain an untouched wilderness until its first European settler quite literally washed up on its shore.
Captiva’s First Non-Native Resident
William Herbert Binder was Captiva’s first non-native resident. Legend has it that Binder, an Austrian sailor serving on a German freighter, was shipwrecked off Boca Grande in the mid-to-late 1800s. He washed ashore on what is now Upper (or North) Captiva. With the passing of the Calusa, the island was uninhabited, but Binder managed to survive by living off the land. Before long he had regained enough of his strength to build a raft and sail to nearby Pine Island where he was ultimately rescued. Binder soon made his way home, but not before pledging to one day return to Captiva Island.
Following his rescue and recovery, Binder joined the U.S. Army and ultimately became a naturalized citizen. In 1888, his application for a grant to homestead Captiva was granted, and for the next ten years he would be the island’s only human inhabitant. William Binder passed away in 1932 and is buried in the island’s historic cemetery, still tethered to his beloved island paradise.
William Binder may have been Captiva’s first non-native resident, but he would certainly not be its last. Word of the island’s robust natural beauty slowly spread to the north, and Captiva Island (as well as neighboring Sanibel) became a popular retreat for the rich and famous. Slowly but surely, people were rediscovering Binder’s island paradise, and more families were beginning to put down roots on the island.
By the 1960s, development of the island began to pick up speed, though not without some pushback from the island’s existing community. Captiva’s residents had been drawn to the island because of its pristine beaches, endless birdsong, and tropical splendor. They were determined then, as they are now, that development of the island would not come at the cost of their tropical paradise. To this day, new businesses and construction projects are strictly regulated by the locals, with the sole intention of protecting Captiva’s natural beauty and indigenous wildlife.
Living on ‘Island Time’
Life on Captiva Island is unique, even by the standards of Florida’s barrier islands. You’ll find no trace of chain restaurants, no signs for mega-marts or shopping centers. The locals are intent upon preserving their small-town lifestyle and island seclusion. Businesses are almost exclusively locally owned and operated. Homes are nestled in secluded neighborhoods, surrounded by plenty of open spaces, and there is not a high-rise in sight to obstruct your view of those legendary island sunsets.
Captiva’s two largest commercial concerns are the South Seas Island Resort and the Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa. Visitors are welcomed year-round to these holiday hot-spots, but even here the overall vibe remains relaxed and unhurried. ‘Island Time’ governs the island, and the locals are determined to keep it that way. The people of Captiva set their own pace and life goes on about its business in its own time.
Some of Southwest Florida’s most prized beaches can be found on Captiva Island. Turner Beach at Blind Pass offers powdery white sand kissed by the emerald, blue waters of the gulf. Allison Hagerup Beach Park’s sugar-sand coastline is perfect for sunbathing, swimming and, of course, shelling (a favorite pastime for both islanders and visitors).
To live on Captiva is to be surrounded by nature, and only nature lovers need apply. The island itself is home to more than 230 species of birds, 250 types of shells, and roughly 20 miles of bike trails and hiking paths. Fishing and boating are as common here as commuting is on the mainland, with locals skipping the timecards and instead, punching-in at their favorite fishing spot, beach or boat dock.
Upper Captiva, also known as North Captiva, is separated from the main island by Redfish Pass. Much smaller than its neighbor, Upper Captiva is even more secluded and laid-back. The only access to North Captiva is by boat or ferry, and there are no automobiles allowed on the island. Residents and visitors traverse the island in electric golf carts.
Like its parent island, people come to Upper Captiva for peace and quiet and the chance to commune with nature. Traditional Florida homes are dotted about the island and new construction is regulated in much the same manner as on Greater Captiva. It is said that when Sanibel and Captiva begin to seem too crowded and overexposed, the locals head to Upper Captiva to clear their heads and catch their collective breaths.
Captiva is located in Western Lee County. It is bordered to the West by the Gulf of Mexico and to the East by Pine Island Sound. Captiva was originally part of Sanibel Island but was separated by a storm surge caused by the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. A similar storm surge in 1921 had created Redfish Pass, which separates Upper Captiva from Greater Captiva.
Captiva is an unincorporated community and census-designated place. It is considered part of the greater Fort Myers-Cape Coral Metropolitan area. Now, let’s dig into some specific data points regarding one of Florida’s most enticing coastal communities:
- The population of Captiva is 583 (up from 379 as per the 2000 census).
- The median household income is $93,250 per year.
- The median age of Captiva’s residents is 38.9 years.
- The average home price is $1,104,000.
- The unemployment rate is 4.6%.
- Captiva residents have no state income tax liabilities.
Finding Your Island Paradise
Captiva is one of the most unique relocation destinations in Southwest Florida. Its white sand beaches, soaring palms, and sup-tropical wildlife have lured people to its shores for generations. Its residents are justly proud of their island’s natural beauty and are fiercely protective of its heritage. In Captiva, time stands still, and birdsong, dolphin watching, and stunning sunsets are the only signals of the passing day.
If you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustles of modern life or are simply dreaming of putting the harsh winters behind you, Captiva is an island paradise that truly delivers on all of its promises. Sun, surf, and the best parts of the quiet life await you on Florida’s most secluded and exclusive island hideaway.