While on an incredible trip to Florida, we explored the beauty of the Florida Keys from Key Largo to the southern most point, Key West. We had traveled from Fort Myers to visit the famous keys and explore the beauty of these connected tropical islands. There are 40 bridges connecting these numerous islands covering over 120 miles of land. Key West is famous for its proximity to the island of Cuba (just 90 miles from shore) and its varied cultural atmosphere. It has also been home to such famous notables as Jimmy Buffet and Ernest Hemingway. Nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the Florida Keys is also home to the largest barrier reef in North America and the world’s third largest coral barrier reef. These are some of the highlights of my trip to the Florida Keys and the beauty found there.
Visiting the Keys
The Keys are split up into four sections known as the Upper Keys, Middle Keys, Lower Keys and Key West. This is no shortage of warm turquoise waters throughout the Keys. You will be surrounded by the amazing beauty of these pristine waters. During our trip to the Keys, we stayed at about the halfway point in Marathon Key, before heading down to Key West. Our first stop, however, was in Key Largo. You will see such sites at the docks as the African Queen boat that was used in the movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Also on display is the original boat used in the movie On Golden Pond. Key Largo is famous for superb scuba diving and has been penned the diving capital of the world. This is because of the close proximity to the coral reefs offshore. It is also near the Everglades and can be popular for kayaking and ecotourism.
The next stop was in Marathon Key, famous for sport fishing and golfing, this has become quite the resort area. It offers two airports and plenty of pier fishing on the old bridges closed to traffic since the 1980’s. The Marathon area is also the beginning of your journey over the famous seven mile bridge. This is an amazing ride over the ocean with breathtaking views.
We stayed at the Sombrero Resort and Marina which was great if you had a nice boat to sleep on but it was the most reasonably priced place we could find for our trip. The experience at this resort was not noteworthy but it was in a great location – walking distance to Sombrero Beach. The sunsets on the beach were amazing and the weather was gorgeous, sunny and tropical during our stay there in the month of March. There are numerous little island keys in this area of Marathon, that are all strung together. We did a lot of exploring of the area, had some great seafood and the best key lime pie you can find.
We then ventured down to Key West, which is famous for its diverse culture and mix of artist types. It gives you that typical artist island feel with numerous shops, restaurants and specialty stores for everyone to enjoy. There is great food, drink, and desserts for the whole family. Key West and the Keys in general are not cheap to visit. Be prepared to spend some money if you want a good meal and be entertained as well. For example, we had stopped in at Jimmy Buffet’s Margueritaville restaurant for a burger, fries, and soda which was $15 each. Granted, that is one of the biggest tourist sites down there but any other restaurant would have been double that amount for a meal. Be sure to stop by Sloppy Joe’s Bar which is famous for being the old watering hole of Ernest Hemingway. Key West is a beautiful area of the Keys but not as quiet as some other islands you will find during your drive. The tourism is quite heavy in the area so be prepared to do a lot of walking around because you will not get anywhere fast in a car and you would be very lucky to find a parking space.
Located on our own shores is the world’s third largest barrier reef. The largest, of course, is in Australia and the second largest is in the Central American country of Belize. Not many know that the United States is home to the third largest barrier reef in the world. I certainly did not know until I visited the Keys. This area of the Keys is managed by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. They help to preserve and sustain the natural beauty of the reefs and marine life found in these unique waters.
During our visit to Key West we took a glass bottom boat ride and this is when we saw the beautiful barrier reef. The boat ride was fantastic! I highly recommend it when visiting the area. If you’re not into scuba diving or snorkeling, then this is a great alternative for an up close view of the amazing fish and sea life found in the reef just off shore. The cost of the ride was $40 per person, which included tours of the surrounding historical areas like Fort Zachary Taylor and other Key West sites before heading out to the reef. The crew gives a great narration of the history of the harbor. We found them to be very friendly and informative. You will find several companies on the harbor providing this service and they are all within the $40-45 per person price range. We found it to be a great way to view the natural wildlife in the reef without human interaction with the inhabitants.
There is so much to see and do in the Keys for the whole family. The historical and ecological treasures found within this tropical landscape are very unique to our shores. There is an endless amount of water sports, great food, and diverse culture within this gorgeous tropical setting. I highly recommend visiting this incredible area of our country and viewing the amazing marine life and man made structures that allow us to reach every one of these islands by car. Driving over the seven mile bridge is an experience you will never forget!