In the Florida Keys you are a world away from the theme parks of central Florida, in a place that envelopes you with its warmth and beauty and grants you permission to shed the worries of the real world you just left behind!
The turquoise blue waters that surrounds Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West is a treasure trove both above and below. Divers and snorkeler’s splash down into the only living coral reef in North America to discover nature’s idea of an aquarium, while fishermen anticipate the challenge of catching their dinner and kite surfers await the caress of the light trade winds.
On land discover the art galleries, independently owned cafes, varied museums or just sit and relax in the abundant sunshine and recharge your batteries. Then celebrate the setting of the sun each night, at any time of year, by enjoying a cocktail or two, the local live music, authentic diverse cuisine and lively atmosphere.
The Florida Keys and Key West has welcomed travellers for hundreds of years giving safe harbours to explorers, pirates, rum runners and now tourists. Whichever category you fall into we invite you to discover the Conch Republic and most importantly ‘Come As You Are’!
1. Key Largo: Dive/Snorkel at John Pennekamp State Park – the crown jewel of the state park system and the first undersea park in the U.S., John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles and the coral reefs and their associated marine life are a divers and/or snorkelers dream!
2. Key Largo: Kayak and explore Everglades National Park- it is the only eco-system of its type in the world with the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, it boasts rare and endangered species. It has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a wetland of international importance. Key Largo is considered to be the Gateway to the Everglades.
3. Islamorada: Fishing – Sport Fishing Capital of the World – Take a charter boat out to one of the only places on Earth where it is possible to catch a sailfish in the morning, and then venture into the backcountry in pursuit of bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook and redfish in just inches of water.
4. Islamorada: Robbie’s Marina – A nostalgic destination reminiscent of why some of the most talented artists, writers, fishermen and presidents have called the Florida Keys home. Robbie’s rests peacefully among coconut palms with shimmering views of the nearby islands where the unspoiled Florida Bay and the exquisite Atlantic Ocean converge. With free entry, a private sandy beach, fabulous restaurant serving fresh local food and quaint art and craft pavilions one cannot help but understand why so many artists have chosen this place to immortalize in paintings. The kids will also love feeding the enormous tarpon!
5. Marathon: Dolphin Research Centre – Bring your family to meet with the family of dolphins and sea lions. Spend an hour or stay all day learning about these incredible marine mammals. Dolphin Research Centre, a not-for-profit research and educational facility offers several exciting daily presentations demonstrating the dolphins’ high flying athletics, dolphin education fun facts, dolphin research, new behaviour training, medical behaviours, and much more. Enjoy dolphin swims and other encounters, as well as other fun chances to touch a dolphin.
6. Marathon: Turtle Hospital – visit the Turtle Hospital and see how they rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, learn how they conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles and work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.
7. Big Pine Key: Visit Bahia Honda State Park and Recreation Area at mile marker 37. With its white sandy beaches and abundant wildlife, Bahia Honda Key frequently makes the list of most beautiful beaches in America.
8. Big Pine and the Lower Keys: spending a half day or full day exploring the backcountry waters off the lower Florida Keys. Encounter key deer, sea turtles and dolphins in their natural habitat as well as explore the Great White Heron National Sanctuary.
9. Key West: Sunset at Mallory Square – celebrate the end of the day at Mallory Square where every evening you can enjoy free live music and street entertainers, art and craft stores and enjoy a cocktail as the sun goes down.
10. Key West: Day trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park – Explore a 19th Century Fort and snorkel crystal clear water with incredible marine life. Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. The 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is known the world over as the home of magnificent Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue waters, superlative coral reefs and marine life, and the vast assortment of bird life that frequent the area.
The longest island of the Keys chain, Key Largo gave its name to the famous movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in 1948 – portions of which were filmed there. Bogart went on to star in the film The African Queen with Katharine Hepburn in 1951, the actual boat Bogart skippered in the movie of the same name, resides in Key Largo and is available for day trips.
Key Largo is flanked by the Everglades National Park to the west, a premier destination for kayakers, birders and other eco-tourists.
To the east is the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, and Key Largo has earned the moniker of Diving Capital of the World. Six miles offshore in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is the Spiegel Grove shipwreck, a 510-foot former US Navy ship intentionally scuttled in 2002. But Key Largo’s star attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – the first underwater preserve in the United States. These two refuges, part of the Keys’ marine sanctuary, feature 55 varieties of delicate corals and almost 500 different species of fish.
Islamorada is the centrepiece of a group of islands called the “purple isles.” Spanish explorers named the area “morada,” the Spanish word for purple — either for the violet sea snail, janthina janthina, found on the seashore here, or for the purple bougainvillea flowers found in the area. Known as the “Sport fishing Capital of the World,” Islamorada is heralded for its angling diversity and features the Keys’ largest fleet of offshore charter boats and shallow-water “backcountry” boats.
The Keys boast more sport fishing world records than any other fishing destination in the world, according to the International Game Fish Association. Anglers can find sailfish, marlin, dolphin (the fish, not the mammal), kingfish, snapper, barracuda and grouper in the ocean. Tarpon, bonefish, redfish and other species can be found in shallow coastal waters.
Activity, fun and relaxation for the whole family includes hand-feeding hungry tarpon at the docks of Robbie’s Marina, or catching a dolphin, sea lion and parrot show at Theater of the Sea marine mammal park.
Midway down the Florida Keys, Marathon features iconic learning centres with educational focus where visitors can enjoy unique interactive experiences including The Turtle Hospital, the world’s only licensed veterinary hospital dedicated to the treatment of sea turtles, and The Dolphin Research Center, a not-for-profit education and research facility since 1984.
Big Pine Key is noted for the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, rated by many as among the most spectacular shallow-water dive experiences to be found. The sheer sweep of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico is readily seen from the Bahia Honda Bridge. Bahia Honda State Park, whose beach was named one of the top 10 in the United States by several travel studies, is a prime example of the Lower Keys’ pristine beauty. Popular nature tours, many by kayak, offer unforgettable opportunities to view the unique flora and fauna in this area of the Keys.
Located closer to Cuba than to Miami, Key West is Florida’s irreverent southernmost subtropical paradise, a unique confluence of history, climate, natural beauty, cultural diversity, architecture and unabashed romantic appeal.
At day’s end in Key West, visitors gather at Mallory Square to experience the daily “sunset celebration” — a tradition that Key Westers share with visitors. While musicians, jugglers, mimes and other performers provide entertainment, the sun sinks slowly below the horizon as sunset cruise boats sail by in Key West Harbour.
The nightlife in Key West can be exciting and diverse. The “Duval Crawl” is a popular phrase used to describe fun-seekers’ evening jaunts up and down the island’s main street to sample numerous taverns and entertainment offerings. For more culturally oriented visitors, explore one of the many museums or historic sites; theatre is available at several playhouses and the Key West Symphony offers periodic concerts.