Sanibel is on a resort island of the same name; access to the island is by a toll causeway from Punta Rassa. This barrier island is known for its lighthouse, lusch vegetation, extensive beaches, abundant bird life and, perhaps most of all, seashells. Each tide brings thousands of shells onto the fine sand beaches.
When Ponce de Leon discovered the southwest coast of Florida in 1513, he named is Costa de Caracoles, or "Coast of Seashells." The apparently smooth harbor at the southern end of this chain of islands later was designated on a Spanish map as Puerto S. Nibel, south level port. "S." is also the Spanish abbreviation of San, or saint; through an error, subsequent maps designated this harbor as Puerto de San Nibel.
The traditional explanation of Sanibel's name is that pirate Jose Gaspar was so charmed by this lovely island that he named it after Santa Isabella, a beautiful queen of Spain.
The many paved trails beneath overhanging trees make bicycling a favorite mode of transportation. Moped and bicycle rentals are available. Public parking is limited on Sanibel Island and regulations are enforced strictly. For information about designated parking areas contact the Sanibel Visitors Center (1159 Causeway Road, Sanibel, Florida 33957; phone 941.472.1080).
A bridge connects Sanibel Island with Captiva Island. Some historians believe that the incident that gave Captiva its name was one that was similar to that of Pocahontas. In 1528 Juan Ortiz was captured by the Calusa Indians and held captive on the island. Facing execution, Ortiz escaped to a friendly Indian tribe with help from the chief's daughter. In 1539 he was released to Hernando de Soto and became his interpreter. Visitors can see the remains of the ceremonial shell mounds built by the Calusa