Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville have the nearest international airports. Gainesville has a regional airport with some major airline service. Ocala is also home to the Ocala International Airport which serves many corporate and small private planes owners.
Archeological investigation has revealed that the area was inhabited by varying cultures of indigenous peoples from as early as 6500 B. C. , and there were two lengthy periods of occupation. The second lasted through 500 A. D. In early historic times, the Timucua inhabited the area. Ocala is located near what is thought to have been the site of Ocale or Ocali, a major Timucua village and chiefdom recorded in the 16th century. The modern city takes its name from the historical village, the name of which is believed to mean "Big Hammock" in the Timucua language. The Spaniard Hernando de Soto's expedition recorded Ocale in 1539 during his exploration through what is today the southeastern United States. Ocale is not mentioned in later Spanish accounts; it appears to have been abandoned in the wake of de Soto's attack. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Creek people and other Native Americans, and free and fugitive African Americans sought refuge in Florida.