In the United States, when it comes to warm weather destinations, Florida is one of the first states to come to mind… With its tropical waters, magical them parks, and the inviting sun, for some people there’s no better place! And what better part to visit than the extreme southern tip down in the Florida Keys! This is about as close as you can get in the mainland U.S. and still think that you’ve passed over into some mysterious and exotic destination…
In fact, you may think you took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Mexico, because in these parts they tend to speak Spanish unfortunately… Now I don’t mind the people who are here legally, but it’s the illegal aliens that pour across the border that are the problem… You can actually go into a fast food restaurant down there and the menu will be in Spanish and when you go to order, the person at the cash register will not be able to speak any English… So in that respect, the Florida Keys are a pretty exotic place!
Having said that, the Florida Keys are still one of my favorite destinations to go visit, and it has a tropical flair like no other in the mainland! There is only one road in and one road out, but once you “cross over” you will be able to see the beautiful turquoise waters of the Florida Bay and the beginning of the Caribbean on the southern side of the bridges. The Keys start in Key Largo and end up at the extreme southern end at Key West, and the trip takes about 4 hours or so to drive. Take your time however, because there is a lot to see and savor on the way! After all, this is a vacation, and you can convert over to “island time” for a while…
There are many great restaurants and raw bars along the way, where you can pop in and order a nice meal or buffet, or maybe a quick appetizer to keep you going. The Florida Keys are divided up into 3 different sections, the Upper Keys (which includes the Key Largo area), the Middle Keys (the Islamorada area), and the Lower Keys (which includes Key West and some of the smaller islands). All sections have their special charm and beauty, and Key Largo is great for snorkeling or scuba diving with its many charter boat operators located here. The Middle Keys are widely known for its charter fishing operations, and Islamorada is known as the “Fishing Capital of the World”! The Lower Keys are known for the many islands and wildlife areas, and is more of a slower pace and relaxing time… That is until you reach the very end and arrive at Key West!
Key West still runs at a different pace from the rest of the country, but it is definitely more active than the rest of the Keys, with the many shops and attractions on famous Duval Street, the Sloppy Joe’s bar, Hog’s Breath Saloon, and the must see “Sunset Celebration” that runs nightly in Mallory Square at the end of Duval. It really is quite a sight, and a fun one at that! This area is just like any tourist town, with a lot of visitors and vendors trying to earn their business. You’ll find time share employees promising the world to passers-by, and bikini shop saleswomen trying to get you to come into the store to browse around.
There is a wide variety of delicious food available in this town, and I urge you to try as many different kinds of food as you can. Experiment a little, try something that you wouldn’t find back home; you may find out you like it! There are extremely nice seafood restaurants, and building on the corner cafés for you to try.
Also be sure to get out on the water doing something cool and refreshing, whether it’s scuba diving, snorkeling, party catamaran-ing, parasailing, jet skiing, or whatever! Being out on the water just makes the daily stress dissolve from your body, and you’ll soon be a new person! That is probably why you are down there in the first place!
One trip that I really believe you need to take is the fast ferry boat to the Dry Tortugas! These islands are really the last bastion of the U.S. southward, and are at the very tip of the Keys. Key West is the last inhabited town, but farther down is the legendary Fort Jefferson with its huge 19th century fortifications all alone out there sitting on a lonely Key waiting to protect the entrance way into the Gulf of Mexico… This fort is so massive that you wonder how far down it sand the island when it was built! They had to import everything by ship and then proceeded to build it brick by brick… It was never actually completed due to the invention of more powerful artillery and cannon that could smash the material that the fort was being built of, so it was just left as it.
Then later on, it became part of the National Park system, and today it’s a National Park of the U.S. It does have a ranger station and gift shop on the island, and a few very basic campsites available for people who would like to camp out with their tents. If you are interested in doing this however, be aware that you will have to bring all you own food and water as this is not provided there. One great thing about this is that probably the best snorkeling in the mainland U.S. is right here at the Dry Tortugas! The clarity of the water, the number of tropical fish and their size, all lead to some really great diving…
There are plenty of things to do in Key West, and I hope this gives you some ideas as to the options you have available once you arrive. So plan that vacation soon to the Florida Keys, and enjoy yourself! If you are driving down, remember, that the trip is half the fun!