Turtles Steal the Show on Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Located just 21 miles from Charleston, South Carolina, the magnificent Kiawah Island is known for its outstanding golf courses, fabulous tennis, and top rated Sanctuary Hotel.

Sunrise on Kiawah Island

Sunrise on Kiawah Island

There is more to see and do on Kiawah Island and the surrounding area than can possibly be done in a week. On my trip, our planned hour long walks, both on the beach and the nature trails, often turned into two hour explorations. Bicycling many miles of mostly flat trails and enjoying the scenery felt like pure pleasure, and not the work that exercise usually feels to me. Leaving plenty of time for relaxing on the beach is also important.

Lookout Tower Kiawah Island

The lookout tower overlooking the Marshlands is a great stop to see crabs, shrimp, birds and other wildlife during a Kiawah Island bike ride.

In the world of vacation experiences, Mother Nature wins again. The highlight of my trip was witnessing the hatching of a nest of loggerhead turtles. The Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol boasts 190 volunteers who patrol the beaches daily looking for new turtle nests. The patrol logs them, marks them, and then covers them with a mesh cover, preventing predators from attacking the nests.

All sea turtles are protected by the US Endangered Species Act, but the local coyotes don’t seem to care. Turtle eggs make great coyote food, and human intervention to protect the nests, has increased the hatch rate from 1-2% prior to human intervention to 70% on Kiawah Island with daily observation and protection thanks to the volunteer Turtle Patrol.

One morning during my visit, www.kiawahturtles.com announced that a nest had hatched. A typical clutch of sea turtles has 120 eggs. Three days after there is visible evidence that turtles have hatched from their nest on the beach, the Turtle Patrol announces they will dig up the remaining nest to help the late bloomers along, and count the hatched eggs. Visitors observe the digging, then line up in two lines from the nest to the ocean to encourage the baby turtles to find their way into the ocean.

Lining up Kiawah Island

The Volunteer Turtle Patrol shows onlookers how to line up and make a path for the baby turtles to find the ocean.

About 100 people got the word and made it to the nest around 7 am to watch this process. People of all ages were in awe as 12 new baby turtles were discovered in the nest and assisted into the ocean by the Turtle Patrol. New babies are always exciting, regardless of the species. A count of the hatched eggs determined that 90 eggs had hatched on their own sometime during the night.

Baby Turtle Kiawah Island

Baby Loggerhead Turtles follow the light to find their way into the ocean.

While a pool might seem like a must for some, swimming in the ocean off of Kiawah is not just possible, but delightful.

With just enough waves to make it fun, and not enough to feel dangerous, I swam in the ocean every day, and never jumped in the pool. Between the soft sandy beaches and the refreshing salty ocean water, my skin was thanking me. The natural effects of time spent in the ocean are a treat many pay big bucks to achieve in a spa. On Kiawah Island, it is just part of daily life.

Kiawah Island is a gated community so reservations are a must. If you would like to stay at the resort, simply contact www.kiawahresort.com and a personal travel planner will be glad to take care of every detail of your vacation.

However, if premium resort amenities don’t wow you, and you are mostly interested in experiencing the long stretches of soft, white sandy Atlantic Coast beaches, lush foliage, miles of bike trails, beautiful birds, popping shrimp in the swamp, a variety of crabs, up close views of alligators in their natural habitat and the infamous loggerhead turtles, then renting a villa or private home directly from an owner on Kiawah Island is the way to go. VRBO lists over 800 Kiawah Island rentals, while Airbnb shows over 700 rentals available.

Alligator Kiawah Island

Alligators are frequent companions when exploring Kiawah Island.

Making advance plans is the best way to be sure your needs are met. When renting from an owner, be sure they have called in your name to the entrance gate. Owners on Kiawah Island have access to a variety of amenities and memberships, which determine whether or not their guests have access to a swimming pool and whether an additional guest fee is needed for each visit to the pool. Simply asking your host what amenities come with the villa will clear up any confusion.

Rentals are priced according to the number of bedrooms, quality of the accommodations, proximity to the beach and availability of amenities, such as pool access, or bikes being included with the rental. Ocean views come at a premium, but there are plenty of lovely villas just off of the beach with easy access, at more affordable prices. If you are limited to the summer season due to school schedules or other commitments, planning six months to a year in advance is recommended. Many families have an annual tradition of a beach trip, and book early to secure their week.

A bit of research is helpful to plan the perfect location for you and your traveling companions. Booking through Kiawah Island Resort requires a phone call, as viewing individual villas and pricing is not available online.

When looking on VRBO or AirBnB, start by searching on the number of bedrooms needed and the dates you plan to travel, and the overwhelming list of available villas and homes will quickly narrow to a manageable number to review. Kiawah is a place where many people return year after year. Visit once, and you will be able to make note of areas to stay on a return visit.

Counting Turtles Kiawah Island

The Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol counts the eggs to determine how many turtles hatched.

Most villas and home rentals operate on a Saturday to Saturday schedule, with weekly rentals being the norm. It is difficult to find villa accommodations outside of this schedule during the summer season, but during other times of the year a minimum three night stay may be possible.

If you don’t have time constraints and can travel in April/May or September/October, crowds will be lighter, rents drop drastically, and temperatures average in the 80’s instead of in the 90’s. “Crowd” is a relative term, as even in peak season there is plenty of beach space. The only place you really have to stand in line is the grocery store, should you need to shop on Saturday.

Regardless of whether you choose the world class premium resort accommodations and fine dining experiences the Kiawah Island Resort has to offer, or you bunk into a rental villa with all of your relatives and cook your meals in the villa, it is those wonders of nature and the experiences you just can’t repeat at home that make travel to Kiawah Island, South Carolina worth the effort.

Victoria Hart
Victoria Hart

Victoria Hart travels the world looking for interesting life experiences. She loves to share her travel tips, bargains and strategies with her friends and family. Inspiring others to create their own adventures is her passion. Victoria’s desire to inspire a larger audience lead her to embark on a career in travel writing.

When Victoria unpacks her suitcase, she calls Dublin, Ohio home, where she lives with her husband John. Born in Los Angeles, California, Vicky’s family moved frequently, including stops in Wisconsin, England, Florida, Boston, Washington DC and Saudi Arabia. Vicky spent a summer term studying at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

She holds a B.S. in Communications from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Victoria welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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