Sanibel Island is annually recognized as being among the world’s best beaches and best family getaway locations. Although the island is geographically close to the mainland, it feels like
another world, where the sparkling aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico, golden sand and warm sun hold sway throughout the year. The Island is only 12 miles long and 4 miles wide, but has become famous for the world-class shelling beaches which stretch along the coast. The unique geographical orientation from east to west makes these beaches perfect for collecting shells from the mollusk-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico. With no traffic lights, neon or high-rises, Sanibel has an authentic old-world Island charm, unlike anything else in The United States.
The Sanibel-Captiva Barrier Islands are a relatively new geological feature, formed within the last 6,000 years – a geological blink of an eye – as a result of siltation and accretion, as sand was pushed onto the bedrock forming the sea floor at the edge of the mainland. Incredibly, nearly half of the 12,000-acre island is designated for conservation and preservation, most notably in the form of the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Sanctuary, which is the largest undeveloped mangrove sanctuary in the United States. Sanibel Island has been continuously inhabited since at least 500 B.C.E, first by the Calusa Indians, then by European settlers after it was first “discovered” by Ponce De Leon in 1513.
Legend has it that Ponce De Leon named the Island “Santa Isabella” after Queen Isabel while searching for the “Fountain of Youth.” For years Ponce De Leon and his men searched the area for the legendary healing waters, all the while continuously battling the fierce Calusa Indians. In 1523, after two years attempting to establish a permanent colony, and searching in vain for the secret of eternal youth, Ponce de Leon was struck by an arrow and gravely injured in a battle with a Calusa raiding party. The Spaniards abandoned their colony in defeat and retreated to Cuba, where De Leon died from his wounds. Other legends claim the Island was named by the first mate of the famous pirate Gasparilla, after his beautiful lover Sanybel, whom he had left behind in Spain. The first known appearance of a named location on the island is from a map dated from 1765, where the words Puerto de S. Nibel, and the historic lighthouse is located at Point Ybel, derived from the original location name, Santa Ybel.
Since that time, Sanibel has provided the perfect backdrop for stories of pirates and buried treasure and became home to many colorful and interesting characters. the first modern settlement on Sanibel, or “Sanybel” as it was known at the time, was established by the Florida Peninsular Land Company in 1832. The colony was a failure, and was abandoned just 17 years later in 1849. The Florida Peninsular Land Company was the original petitioner for construction of a lighthouse on the island, and after the island was repopulated in 1862, permission for a lighthouse was granted. Due to a lack of funding, the lighthouse was not begun until 1884, and completed just a few months later. Since that time, Sanibel has been one of the best kept secrets for vacationers lucky enough to discover it’s unique beauty. Through conservation, care and the love of the people who live, work and visit here, the Island has managed to maintain the rustic seaside charm which has made it the gem of the Gulf for the last 100+ years.