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sand beaches, water that will dazzle you with a kaleidoscope of colors,
from azure blue to green to aqua, wonderful fresh seafood, and a wide
range of activities to delight every interest are all waiting for you in
. The Keys offer us the opportunity to take a tropical vacation without
leaving our own country.
islands of the Florida Keys are sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean
and the Gulf of Mexico and stretch 110 miles southwest from
, connected by a series of bridges and causeways. Here you will find
world class fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling, boating, sailing,
kayaking and eco-tours, along with historic sites, fine and casual
dining, and a variety of entertainment. At the end of your fun filled
days, you can retire to the comfort of your motel, tent campsite, or RV,
with a view out the window of palm trees, beaches, and ocean.
you start your journey into the Keys, the first thing you may notice is
that there are few soft sand beaches. While mainland
has wide, sandy beaches, the Florida Keys has a living reef that extends
its length, the only living reef in the continental United States. There are some beautiful beaches to be found, but they are relatively
small. You may also be disappointed to discover that actual ocean views
from the highway are few and scattered, especially in the upper Keys.
Land is at a premium here, and much of it is developed. Much of the
highway in the upper Keys is lined with an endless string of motels,
resorts, scuba shops, boat dealers, and restaurants. But keep on riding,
there are many hidden jewels to be found in this magical land.
first island you will encounter is
Key Largo. Key Largo offers some of the finest diving and snorkeling in
the Florida Keys. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater park in the
United States, is a popular tourist attraction, offering 47 camp sites for both tent
campers and RVs. Clean restrooms with hot showers are available, as are
laundry facilities. State park campgrounds in the Keys fill up fast, and
reservations are recommended well in advance. Maximum stay is two weeks.
exploring the mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks in the park’s
upland areas offer visitors a unique experience, it is the coral reefs
and their associated marine life that bring most visitors to the park.
Many enjoy the view from a glass bottom boat tour, but visitors can get
a closer look by scuba diving or snorkeling through the reefs. Divers
from all around the world are attracted to the park’s reefs. Several
dive companies run guided trips from the park and to reefs and sunken
wrecks just off
and kayaking through the park’s waters are popular activities, as well
as swimming at the beach. The Visitor
has a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium and theater showing nature
videos. Locations in the Florida Keys are designated by their location
on the overseas Highway,
U.S. Highway 1. Mile marker 106 is in Key Largo, at the beginning of the
Keys, and mile marker 0 is located in
at the end of the island chain. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is
located at mile marker 102.5 in
known for its world class sport fishing, is the next island you come to
on your journey down the Keys. Bonefishing is especially popular, with
large bonefish up into the 10 lb. range, and charter tours offshore for
Key, originally known as Rattlesnake Key, is home to Long
at mile marker 67.5, which has 60 campsites, all overlooking the
Atlantic Ocean. The Long Key Lakes Canoe Trail provides visitors with the opportunity
to enjoy a leisurely "paddle" through the park’s shallow
Key, located midway down the Keys, is known as the heart of the Florida
Keys and offers many activities, from fishing to enjoying the antics of
the amazing dolphins at the
Center, located at mile marker 59.
is connected to the lower Florida Keys by the Seven
Bridge. This is the longest and highest bridge in the Keys, and has been seen
in many movies and television shows.
Duck Key, at the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge, is home to Veterans
Park, a small park and beach just as you come off the bridge on the
Atlantic side that is a perfect place to pull over for a picnic, to play
in the water, or to watch paddlers launch a kayak.
short ride past Little Duck Key brings you to Bahia Honda Key and Bahia
Honda State Park. Visitors can picnic on the beach and take a swim, or
simply relax and enjoy the balmy sea breezes. Anglers can fish from
shore or bring a boat and launch at the boat ramp. The park's concession
rents kayaks and
snorkeling gear, and offers boat trips to the reef for snorkeling
excursions. We had
a great time paddling kayaks in the water just offshore.
are three different campgrounds at Bahia Honda State Park, one of which
has 48 sites and can accommodate large RVs, while the others are for
tent campers. There is also a bathhouse with hot showers. Again,
campsites are in high demand, so plan ahead. Reservations may be made up
to eleven months in advance by calling Reserve America at (800) 326-3521
or online at www.reserveamerica.com.
Bahia Honda Key you can get a good view of a decrepit old railroad
bridge, a surviving span of tycoon Henry Flagler's ill fated Overseas
Railroad, which linked
to the mainland. The Great
Hurricane of 1935 destroyed the Overseas Railroad and claimed hundreds
of lives in the
. The old railroad bed was the basis for the Overseas Highway
that makes access to the Keys easy for travelers today.
visitors consider the ride between Bahia Honda and Key West
to be the most spectacular stretch in the Keys. There are no shopping
malls, no fast food restaurants, few restaurants and resorts, but here
you will find plenty of water.
speed limit on Big Pine Key is 35 miles per hour, and strictly enforced,
to protect the endangered Key Deer. These tiny creatures, no bigger than
a large dog, are found nowhere else in the world except on this island.
At Big Pine you can also book a dive and snorkel trip to Looe Key Marine
Sanctuary, part of the reef system that runs along the length of the
is the end of the line, in more ways
than one. Home to Indians and pirates, sponge divers and
shipwreckers, drug runners, artists and authors, rebels, and misfits of
has a long and colorful history. The island measures two miles wide by
four miles long, but they sure pack a lot into that small space!
you will find four star rated resorts, neighborhoods of small cottages
and beautiful Victorian homes, upscale shops, nightclubs, open air bars,
charter boats, and the ghosts of the adventurers who helped give this
island paradise its quirky personality. Did you know that
once seceded from the United States? In 1982 the Border Patrol established a roadblock at Florida
City, where the Keys end and the mainland begins. The people of the Keys
were so offended to have to prove their citizenship to pass through the
roadblock that they formed their own nation, the Conch (pronounced konk)
Republic! Each April,
celebrates Conch Republic Days to commemorate its secession from the
revolution was quick and painless – one minute after announcing their
secession, the Conch
surrendered to the United States
and demanded $1 billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief to rebuild
their shattered nation!
has a population of approximately 27,000
fulltime residents, but that number is swelled by the thousands of
visitors who come here year round by motorcycle, automobile, RV,
airplane, and cruise ship.
West has attractions for visitors of all ages, from
author Ernest Hemingway’s home to historic Fort Zachary Taylor, the
Key West Aquarium, President Truman’s Little White House, and don’t
forget the Sunset Celebration every evening at Mallory Square.
good introduction to Key West
is the Conch Train tour, which covers the entire island, and passes all
of the local places of interest.
even has a ghost tour that takes visitors on a walking tour through town
and highlights all the haunted homes!
is the traditional heart of Key West, several blocks of shops, restaurants, and open air bars where you can
let it all hang out. We didn’t find
to be as wild as we had expected, but we also didn’t spend a lot of
time there after dark, when the serious partying begins. Duval Street
and the area around it is home to such famous watering spots as Captain
Tony’s Saloon and Sloppy Joe’s Bar, celebrated in song and story for
shallow waters that surround
Lower Florida Keys
have much to offer divers, snorkelers and fisherman. There is no place
else in the country to see so many species of marine life in one place.
Shipwrecks and reefs, both artificial and natural coral, are home to
hundreds of species of tropical and game fish. You can book full and
half day fishing charters at the City Marina, and several outfitters
offer three hour snorkeling trips that will accommodate everyone from
beginners to experienced veterans.
holds many opportunities. Fishermen can expect to catch tarpon,
bonefish, permit, shark and barracuda. Fly fisherman from all over the
world come to the
to saltwater fly fish. Wreck and reef fishing is very productive in the
waters around Key West. Snapper, grouper, cobia and kingfish make for a great catch for
much of the shoreline is covered with resorts,
has four public beaches. Smathers
on the south shore of the island, is the largest, and in our opinion the
is smaller, but very popular. Fort
has a small beach that offers swimming and sunbathing, and snorkelers
can explore the rock-pile barriers just offshore to see small tropical
Beach, at the foot of Duval Street
is very small and parking, even for a motorcycle, is almost impossible
you can see, there is much to see and do in the
, and we have barely scratched the surface here. But don’t take my
word for it, start planning your own trip to paradise!