Key West
Florida
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Key West beach
© Sheldon Kralstein

Key West's whitesand beaches and crystal clear waters are perfect for relaxing under the sun and snorkeling amongst tropical fish.

The Florida Keys

The great peninsula of Florida extends over 400 miles south from the eastern seacoast of North America. Below its southern tip, a curved archipelago, consisting of thousands of small islands and coral reefs, stretches another two hundred miles south and west. It helps to form a great natural barrier between the South Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

They call these islands the Florida Keys. Most of them rise only a few feet above the shallow seabed and are covered with mangrove swamps, shallow beaches strewn with shells and occasionally a few palm trees. A few islands are large enough to support thriving villages.

You can drive 100 miles over the sea to Key West

In the olden days, these tropical isles were the refuge of pirates, commercial fishermen, treasure seekers and reclusive castaways from civilization. Today, you can drive along highway one, hopping from island to island over hundreds of bridges and causeways, until you reach Key West over 100 miles southwest of the Florida mainland.

As you pass over the many bridges, you can peer down into crystal clear waters and plainly see the coral bottom 20 feet beneath the surface with schools of colorful fish swimming about. It is easy to understand why this is a paradise for snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing.

Key West sunset at Mallory Square Dock © Scott Wright
Every day an hour before sunset, people gather at Mallory Square Dock to watch the sun drop over the horizon.

Key West has a colorful artistic community

Ernest Hemmingway, the great American writer was a part time resident of Key West, the southernmost city in the USA. Today, this quaint old town with its distinctive Caribbean flavor is a thriving artist's community and popular tourist destination. The most famous attraction is to gather at Mallory Square Dock an hour before sunset, and enjoy the street entertainment while watching the tropical sun sink below the horizon.

Visit North America's only Coral Reef off Key Largo

Key Largo, the first island south of Miami and the largest key, contains John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park. The park is open 8AM until dusk every day and admission is $3.75 per vehicle plus 50 cents per passenger. It would be wise to stop at the shopping center down the road and buy diving masks before you enter. When you swim at the beach, you will be amazed by the clarity of the water and the vividly colored tropical fish swimming around you.

The main portions of the coral reef lie several miles east of the island. You can take a 2.5 hour glass bottom boat tour of the reef for about $13. If you are more adventuresome, you can take a snorkeling tour of the reef for about $24.

Snorkeling in Key West © Tammy Peluso
Bring your diving masks, snorkels and fins, or rent a set from a local dive shop. Key West is a paradise for snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing.

Take a fishing, snorkeling or scuba diving excursion

Snorkeling and scuba diving along with sports fishing are the main attractions all along the keys. Boats of all types and sizes are available everywhere in the keys. You can rent boats or take guided excursions for fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving or just plain, island sightseeing. Fishing excursions can be booked for as little as $25 per person for a half-day on a large boat or up to $100 per person for a full-day of deep-sea fishing on a small boat.

Accommodations

There are hotels, motels and vacation cottages all along the keys. Big Pine Key, about 75 miles south of Miami, has commercial camping. There is a wide selection of accommodations and restaurants at Key West.  

Be cautious during hurricane season

Caution: during the late summer and early fall hurricane season, you should pay attention to the weather warnings. There is only one road to Key West and back to the mainland. Getting stuck on a small island during a fierce tropical storm can be quite uncomfortable and even frightening. Fortunately, the National Weather Service always provides ample warning of an impending hurricane.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Andy Newman - Monroe County Tourist Council
Photo Description: Causeway connecting Key West with Florida mainland