The Florida Keys are one of those places that you go to in life and think, Why can’t it be like this every day? It has a quiet draw to it. Beautiful beaches, wonderful views and stunning sunsets to enjoy at the end of each day.
The Florida Keys are a string of islands that hang off the end of the state of Florida offering escapism. It’s a part of the USA that people come to and kick off the corporate suit and enjoy the laidback lifestyle of these islands.
My first trip to the Florida Keys was everything I had hoped and more but there were some things that weren’t quite as I had expected. The stunning vistas over the sea, wonderful sunsets and laid back attitude were exactly what I had expected. However, the length of the islands and the distance between hotels, bars and restaurants were more than initially anticipated.
So my top tips on getting the best out of a visit to the Florida Keys are as follows:
Choose Your Island with thought
I say this as the length between the islands was more than I had expected. Add to this the holiday traffic and it can take you a long time to get between one island to the other. Key West in the very southern tip offers a plentitude of things to do and see but its a long way down from everything else.
Stay at more than one
To get the best out of the Florida Keys I would recommend stopping at more than one point. If you are flying in from an international flight, consider a few nights in Miami Beach to get over the jet lag. Head down to Key Largo and consider a stop off at Key Largo to get your first taste of these islands. From here you can visit the Everglades or even a day trip to Naples to experience the west coast of Florida.
Get Down And Dive In
The islands offer some great diving so take advantage of some of the options available to you. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is made up of approximately 70 nautical square miles. If you are not into diving you can enjoy this water snorkelling, canoeing and kayaking. If water really isn’t your thing then glass bottom boats are a great way to see what’s going on under the water.
Get Your Top Off
If you are cruising the Florida Keys then do it in a soft top car rental. Its the best way to see the islands and with those busy holiday traffic roads, you can use your time to catch some rays.
Eat like a local
The food on the Florida Keys is so different to other places you have been. Of course, there is the famous Key Lime Pie, which is a must for any visit. With something like 1.25 million American alligators, don’t be surprised to find it on the menu. Look out for it listed as “gator” bites! However, the fish dishes are wonderful, such as grouper, mahi-mahi (dolphin) and Shrimp. Lots of restaurants take on a Caribbean flavouring so expect tastes form Cuba, Barbados, Haiti, Trinidad, Tobago, the Bahamas, and Jamaica.
Go As South As You Can
Dry Tortugas National Park is way south of the Florida Keys and is where you will find Jefferson Fort, allegedly one of the largest brick built buildings in America. These shallow tropical waters stretch 100 square miles.
Key West popular with the Cruise Lines
Key West the southernmost point of America, the lowest latitude land of contiguous North American States. It is 18 feet above sea level and just 90 miles from Cuba. Famous for its pastel-hued, conch-style houses, and popular with the ever growing cruise market.
Take time to wander Duval Street and decide on one of the many tempting restaurants. It really comes to life after 10pm
Expect to eat Conch and Fish, drink brightly coloured cocktails and eat Key lime pie. Look out for the hand-rolled cigars for those smokers who love a treat.
In the evening head over to the Waterfront Mallory Square which is the venue for nightly events with art, craft and food vendors, jugglers and musicians. Fit in a visit to The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, which explores his life in Key West where he lived for more than a decade.
Best time to visit the keys?
Peak season Jan to April, Hurricane season June to November,
How to get to the Keys
Rent a car and drive through the keys and experience 7 mile bridge
Fly into Marathon airport a small airport in the middle of the keys.
Take the ferry from Fort Myers or Marco Island expect to pay 95usd each way (155 return trip) for the 3.5-hour ferry crossing. It is worth it if you are short on time and don’t want the 5-hour drive to key west. Consider returning your car rental at Marco Island or Fort Myers and renting another one at Key West. Some companies allow one-way drops without additional charges.
The drive from the south-east coast to Key West goes via Alligator alley which is a swamp sanctuary with a stop off points en route to get out and get up close to the wildlife and of course Alligators.
Drive from Key Largo down to Key West using Florida Keys Overseas Highway which is named the All-American Road
The famous Seven Mile Bridge starts at the edge of Marathon. This is the largest segmental bridge in the world and separates the middle and lower keys. Take in the sights while driving over this long stretch, they are truly incredible.
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