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Captiva, Sanibel and Marco Islands: 40 Miles and Worlds Apart

Discover what makes these Florida Gulf Coast islands unique

Christopher G.
Two dolphins jumping off the Gulf Coast of Florida with the sunset behind them.

Measure by latitude, as maritime explorers do, and you'll find about 40 miles between Captiva and Marco Islands, with Sanibel Island between the two sitting just south of Captiva across a narrow channel. For travelers who prefer to keep their feet on dry land, driving from Captiva to Marco Island is roughly 65 miles.

However you measure it, Captiva, Sanibel and Marco islands could not be more different. Each offers a unique vibe sure to appeal to whatever style of island getaway you seek. 

If you're traveling by car, Captiva is the most remote. It's only accessible from the mainland by first driving across Sanibel Island. The island's small size and relative remoteness contribute to the far-off feeling and the fact that you're at the end of the road—literally. 

Captiva has a bohemian vibe, reminding me very much of Provincetown or Nantucket in New England; Sedona in the southwest; or the quirky and artsy areas of New York City.

We stayed on Captiva for the first time in October, and it felt different, slower, and calmer than Sanibel or Marco Island. If Sanibel or Marco Islands are where one might go to get away—Captiva Island is where one might go to get away from getting away.

Captiva Versus Sanibel

Sanibel Island is equally charming, though by comparison "bustling," with more people, more shops and more restaurants. I should point out that we always visit in Octoberwell after the summer rush, and just before the early weeks of peak season (Gold Weeks, in Hilton Grand Vacations parlance).

Endearing in its own right, Sanibel versus Captiva is what Martha's Vineyard is to Nantucket. The nice thing about staying on Sanibel or Captiva is that once you've crossed the causeway to Sanibel Island, you can easily enjoy the best of both without needing to go back to the mainland.

Sanibel Versus Marco

Marco Island is different than either of the other two. Thanks to the variety of recognizable chain restaurants, banned on the other islands, it feels more familiar. It has, by far, more shops, people, restaurants and activities. And because of this, Marco Island (~23 sq. mi.) paradoxically feels bigger versus larger Sanibel Island (~33 sq. mi.). Marco feels more spread-out, while Captiva's narrow topography and single main road give it a greater sense of seclusion. 

Size yields yet another paradox, property-wise: tiny Captiva (~11 sq. mi.) has the most Hilton Grand Vacations timeshares: six to Sanibel's and Marco's five.

Now that you know each island's flavor, let's discuss why I prefer Hilton Grand Vacations accommodations over other Florida Gulf Coast beach rentals. 

Where to Stay on Captiva Island

Harbor View Villas at South Seas Island Resort are very nicely-appointed, single-level, 2-bedroom suites that overlook, Captiva Harbor. Walking distance to both the harbor and the beach, complete with beachfront tiki bar, make it an ideal property. All Hilton Grand Vacations Captiva properties are in the same private complex, so you really can't go wrong choosing any of them: Plantation Bay VillasPlantation Beach ClubPlantation HouseSouth Seas Club and The Cottages at South Seas Island Resort

Where to Stay on Sanibel Island

Tortuga Beach Club boasts well-appointed, two-level – 2-bedroom beachfront suites. My brother-in-law owns here and loves the duality of enjoying the sunrise from his screened, east-facing lanai and then during his second week on Marco—enjoying sunsets from his west-facing suite. We toured the other Sanibel properties when he was looking to buy a few seasons ago, and you really can't go wrong at any of the other four: Casa YbelHurricane HouseSanibel Cottages or Shell Island.

Where to Stay on Marco Island

Club Regency is, in my opinion, the best-kept Hilton Grand Vacations secret on Marco Island. It's considered a low-rise with only two stories total, which gives guests a cozy and secluded feeling. Choose from beachfront or garden and pool suites and enjoy feeling nestled among a private oasis just steps from five miles of white-sand beach. 

Three of the other four properties, Eagle's NestCharter Cluband Surf Club, sit along the same beach, offering different vibes of their own. The fourth property, Sunset Cove, is closer to the Marco Island causeway and sits on a canal. We stayed there a few years ago, and the 3-bedroom penthouse suites offer a spectacular island vista.

Whether you're looking to road trip down or fly in via any of the affordable air carriers (use airport code RSW) serving the area, these islands will give you a sense of being much farther away than you are.

Read Get Into a Sunshine State of Mind On This 4-Day Orlando and Florida Gulf Coast Road Trip for more Florida Gulf Coast beach trip inspiration. 

Christopher G.

Elite Plus Member since 2009, Christopher’s home resort is Valdoro Mountain Lodge in Breckenridge, Colorado. Christopher always packs a solar lantern and charger in his carry-on, both of which have come in handy in a pinch on the road. Christopher enjoys immersing himself in nature and discovering new ways to experience life. His favorite travel pastimes include spending time outdoors, like hiking and grilling by the pool. He also enjoys participating in social tastings, and trying local food and wine. Christopher’s favorite travel app is Waze, which he uses to spend more time enjoying his vacation and less time navigating traffic.

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