Billie Swamp Safari: a taste of Seminole life in the Everglades
If you want to get away from it all, Billie Swamp Safari is a good start.
Just the act of getting to the reservation and Swamp Safari changes the game. From either Florida coast drive across the Glades on I-75 and exit at mm49. You immediately leave the pace and hum of the interstate behind as 20 miles of 45 mph narrow two-lane road stretches out between you and your destination. These are real Old Florida roads with barely room for those big pickup trucks with double rear wheels to fit on their side of the road. Buzzards circle lazily, pastures stretch out on either side filled with cattle from the Seminole ranches and the slowed-down pace puts you back in the world instead of just buzzing past it.
Before you get to Billie Swamp Safari you pass through a couple of Seminole community areas with modern housing, plenty of mud bog trucks and more than a few panther sculptures. In the community every yard has a well-made chickee hut and even the cemetery with its thick log-capped entry and traditional granite headstones shows the blending of native culture with Christianity.
Also in town is a welcome station and a great museum, Ah-tah-Thi-Ki
The museum is currently featuring photos by Julian Dimock taken between 1905-10. The images are large format in black & white and show the daily life of the tribe at that time.
The museum houses full-scale dioramas about native dance, hunting, trading and other things. Behind the museum is a boardwalk into the swamp that takes you to a Seminole camp approximately half a mile away and then circles back.
For groups there are half-day and full-day programs available. Check out the museum at www.ahtahthiki.com
Billie Swamp Safari
Right where you turn for the museum is the road leading to Billie Swamp Safari. A big gift shop greats you when you arrive and the grounds are full of chickee huts used for programs and shows.
There are gopher turtles and giant tortoises along with an alligator tank you can walk above. The Swamp Water Café offers native and American choices and in the same building is a small casino.
There is a critter show and alligator wrestling and two types of swamp tours — by airboat (earplugs included with admission) or swamp buggy for the overland experience. The airboats almost glide on air as the powerful motors send then sliding across shallow water and lily pads. The swamp buggy is part on dry land and part driving through shallow water. You are likely to see some wildlife on both tours and gators are almost guaranteed.
There are also some evening and even night events at Billie’s and most are family friendly though there are age restrictions on the airboats and both pregnant women and people with bad backs are warned off the swamp buggy tour.
If you can’t get enough, spend the night in one of the chickee huts along the swamp waterway.
There are frequent events at Billie’s including the recent Shootout at Big Cypress. Check their website for details at www.billieswamp.com.
At the end of the day you get to repeat the long drive out and rejoin the fray on the interstate or head north from the community on SR 833 to Clewiston where you can pick up US 27.
The Seminole Tribe owns and operates Billie Swamp Safari and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum.