Please Note: The itinerary provided below was used for ((ecko))’s exclusive overnight tour, which we are no longer offering. Therefore, some features listed may not be available. However, we kept everything up in the hope that it might inspire some ideas to help you plan your adventure!
Manatee River of Time Ecotour
⇒ Kayak pristine mangrove forests
⇒ Cruise rivers and bays with jumping mullet and squadrons of pelicans
⇒ Bike through beautifully restored coastal preserves
⇒ Explore one of Florida’s oldest working fishing villages
⇒ Learn about ancient and modern modes of sustainable living
Travel across the centuries.
On this four-day, four-night Manatee River of Time ecotour itinerary, nature and heritage flow together, from prehistory through colonial times and up to today. You’ll kayak mangrove tunnels at the mouth of the river and bike coastal trails that bring you up close to manatees and wading birds. You’ll explore Native American archeological sites and step in the footprints of Hernando de Soto, who in 1539, landed along the Manatee River and changed the course of world history. You’ll learn about the long, tangled history of the area’s seafood industry from descendants of those who founded it. You’ll indulge at restaurants that use the freshest local seafood and produce around.
In everything thing you do, you’ll experience the incredible past, present, and future of authentic Gulf Coast Florida.
Check in at your beautifully renovated and restored historic downtown Bradenton hotel. Then gather for an intimate evening reception at the South Florida Museum’s Bishop Planetarium. Planetarium Director Jeff Rodgers will provide a special private planetarium show previewing what awaits you in the coming days and spin tales about the long and tumultuous cultural and environmental history of the Manatee River.
Travel by water taxi to De Soto National Memorial, located at the site where Hernando de Soto first set foot in Florida in 1539. De Soto park rangers will take you on a trip back to the times of the Spanish conquistador and discuss De Soto’s incalculable impact on local Native American societies. Then saddle up to bike to nearby Geraldson Community Farm, where farm manager Christa Leonard will give you a tour and chef Derek will craft a farm-to-fork picnic lunch.
Hop back on your bike after lunch. Manatee County Certified Master Naturalist Melissa Nell will lead a bike tour through nearby Robinson Preserve, a coastal gem that in recent years has been dramatically transformed from neglected farmland to vital coastal wetland habitat. Climb the preserve’s observation tower for stunning views of Anna Maria Island, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. End the day with a sunset cruise back to downtown Bradenton, where you enjoy dinner and nightlife on your own.
Catch a personal water taxi that transports you across the river and through time, from downtown Bradenton to Emerson Point Preserve, situated near the mouth of the Manatee River. Certified naturalist Kris Felberg will lead you on a three-hour guided kayak tour that includes an up-close encounter with native flora and fauna.
Award-winning local chef Derek Barnes will provide a catered locally-sourced picnic at the park before guide Karen Willey takes you on a walking tour that delves into the archeological clues left at the park by Native Americans. Return to the South Florida Museum to meet Snooty, the world’s oldest manatee in captivity, and to learn about the unique ecology of the Florida manatee. Browse the museum’s unique collection of archeological and historical artifacts of coastal Florida. Your evening is free to relax and dine in old town Bradenton and enjoy a stroll along the city’s RiverWalk, a vibrant riverfront park and local gathering spot.
Wake up to a leisurely boat tour down the river and around the bay that deposits you at the historic Cortez fishing village, where you’ll hear lively stories of the region’s maritime heritage at the Florida Maritime Museum and tour one of the last remaining fishing villages in Florida with A.P. Bell Fish Company owner Karen Bell. Then grab a table and enjoy lunch at Star Fish Company, an open-air dockside restaurant that celebrates the toothsome bounty of local waters.
Hop aboard your water taxi for a trip to Anna Maria Island, where you can stroll the greenest Main Street in America, home to a model village dedicated to sustainable living and commerce. Learn about the island’s earliest settlers and one-of-a-kind culture, then at your option hit the beach, step onto a paddleboard, or cruise the island by bike. Wind down with a cocktail and a toast to Florida old and new at Sandbar, a toes-in-the-sand beach eatery serving sustainable local cuisine. Finish your adventure with a sunset cruise back to downtown Bradenton.
Head home or stay on to enjoy more of the region’s incredible attractions.
NOTE: Itinerary details, such as particular activities, guides, restaurants and accommodations, are subject to change due to weather considerations, emergencies and other unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Our experienced guides will ensure you’ll have a blast regardless.
Our Sustainability Pledge
Manatee River of Time, like all ((ecko)) itineraries, is designed to be as sustainable and environmentally sensitive as possible. We carefully choose local partners who live up to our rigorous standards for sustainability, environmental stewardship and education. We strive to minimize your energy consumption, waste, and environmental impact.
Our Manatee River of Time partners are dedicated to preserving community heritage and protecting and restoring the region’s natural resources:
- A.P. Bell Fish Company is one of the region’s last remaining commercial fish houses and is dedicated to preserving and promoting heritage ingredients and cuisine.
- Around the Bend Nature Tours strives to encourage a greater appreciation of Florida’s rich history and the conservation of Florida’s wild lands for future generations of people, native plants, and animals.
- De Soto National Memorial preserves 26 acres of land with more than 3,000 feet of Manatee River shorefront and protects a number of important archeological sites that detail the area’s Native American and colonial history.
- Florida Maritime Museum is dedicated to building appreciation for the historical significance of Florida’s Gulf Coast maritime history and Cortez Village as one of Florida’s last remaining working commercial fishing communities.
- Geraldson Community Farm is a 20 acre certified organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm operated as a program of the Florida West Coast RC&D Council, a non-profit organization that works towards creating a sustainable local food and agriculture economy.
- Historic Green Village demonstrates an unusual combination of historic preservation and modern technology with four 100-year-old homes converted to shops and cafés and restored with the highest of green building standards and net-zero energy consumption.
- Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources is responsible for habitat and wildlife management and public access on nearly 30,000 acres of conserved public land, including Emerson Point Preserve, 365 acres of important coastal habitat and cultural resources such as the Portavant Temple Mound, southwest Florida’s largest Native American Temple Mound, and Robinson Preserve, 487 acres of carefully restored coastal and wetland habitat flush with native plants and improved tidal flows.
- South Florida Museum, Bishop Planetarium, and Parker Aquarium inspire curiosity and promote scientific, historical, and cultural understanding as the largest natural and cultural history museum complex on Florida’s Gulf Coast with interpretive exhibits of the region spanning from the Pleistocene to the present.
Florida has a subtropical climate with lots of sunshine punctuated by generally quick but heavy rain showers. Pack clothing that is both quick to dry and provides protection from the sun. In the winter months, you’ll be happy to have a fleece to layer on and off. In addition to your usual personal items, here are a few additional suggestions:
- Pocket-size binoculars
- Broad-brimmed hat
- Polarized sunglasses
- Pocket-sized binoculars
- Breathable rain poncho
- Quick-dry shorts and pants
- Long-sleeved T-shirts
- Personal water bottle
- Small sport towel
- Small day-pack for personal items (consider a dry bag)
- Sport sandals
- Walking shoes
The Manatee River flows into Anna Maria Sound, which joins Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay on the west coast of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. The river and bays make up a beautiful estuary system, bordered on the east by the coastline of Manatee County and on the west by a necklace of barrier islands.
By air, the closest destination is the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ), just 9 miles (20 minutes) from hotels in downtown Bradenton. Tampa International Airport (TIA) is 45 miles (45 minutes) north of the Bradenton area. Taxi and shuttle services are available from each airport. If you arrive by car, many hotels offer free parking for guests.