The Florida Keys located south of Miami are a special place made up of more than 40 islands linked to the mainland by one road called the Overseas Highway. Key Largo is the most popular destination for private charters embarking in Miami. People are drawn to the unique atmosphere of the Keys, the lure of world-famous sunsets, tropical beaches and spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving sites.
Ernest Hemingway felt this and made his home in Key West for many years and Jimmy Buffet immortalized this paradise with his songs. Visitors to the Keys will immediately enjoy the Caribbean feel of the islands, bathed in the warmth of a tropical sun and tempered ocean breezes. The Keys are truly a romantic destination, rich in history, culture and natural treasures.
Key Largo is the largest section of the Keys with an original name of Cayo Largo, meaning Long Key, which was coined by its Spanish inhabitants, and is also known as ‘The Diving Capital of the World’ due to a vast living coral reef that is located just a few miles off shore. It is here that one begins to notice an exceptional amount of custom built house boats, docked or moored out in the distance, which is a true sign of Key-living.
Thousands of boaters and divers each year travel to this peaceful but lively town. Although diving is incredible, there are no natural beaches in Key Largo, due to thick plants and shrubs that form on the shoreline, causing a rocky affect.
Travelers should be sure to stop at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which was the first undersea park built in the U.S. Guests can enjoy scuba tours, fishing, glass bottom boat rentals, power boat rentals, and snorkeling with sightings of an early Spanish shipwreck about 100 feet offshore. Eco-tourists, adventurers, bird watchers and kayakers will enjoy Key Largo’s quick access to Florida Bay and Everglades National Park where nature is alive and well. Guided trips are common into the back country for either day or overnight camping trips.
Casual or upscale dining is a must in Key Largo, with excellent fish houses, local beach clubs and cafes boasting a variety of South Florida traditional specialties. During stone crab season, be sure to stop by one of the local fisheries and purchase your fresh feast directly from the source (at third of the price you would pay at the local restaurants) which comes complete with a hammer/mallet and famous honey mustard sauce! There is an abundance of fresh fish and shellfish in these areas and it is highly recommended to sample them all.
The nightlife in Key Largo is relaxed yet packed with fun, so grab your flip flops and get cozy with the locals! You will find residents and tourists singing karaoke to classic rock at one of the many glorified ‘dive’ bars, or you may stumble upon a Polynesian Luau on the north side of the island, and catch an amazing sunset while sipping rum punch on a tiki-torch lit cabana bed aside hip-shaking natives.
Key West originally named Cayo Hueso or “Key of Bones” by the first Spanish settlers, is the last of the islands and the most highly populated. Long the home of writers, artists and smugglers, it is connected to the mainland by the Overseas Highway, and is possibly the liveliest and most active Key of them all.
With a slew of famous restaurants, bars, and historical buildings and sites; laid back, free-spirited, artistic, quirky, and scenic, this particular Key is one of the most unique places in the United States. Only 90 miles from Cuba, this unique island city is known for its live-and-let-live attitude, tropical climate, and seemingly continuous happy hour, this tiny island has been welcoming visitors seeking a getaway from the normal for two centuries.
Imagine a mini New Orleans in the heart of the tropics, this is Key West! The home of the Conch Republic, it provides visitors with a vast array of attractions from historic tours, local artists and entertainers, and excellent dining at Mallory Square and Duval Street’s eclectic nightlife, accommodating all people and lifestyles.
Many famous celebrities and historical leaders have called Key West home, to name a few: Ernest Hemingway, Harry S. Truman, Robert Frost, Jimmy Buffet, Tennessee Williams, Mel Fisher, and Calvin Klein.
Local dining choices range from five-star gourmet establishments to casual cafes and raw bars. From Duval Street and the oceanfront, to hidden Old Town treasures or the Historic Seaport, restaurants occupy old homes and other unique buildings featuring widely diverse architectural styles. Dining in Key West is more than just a meal – it’s a real experience.
Don’t forget the key lime pie! When it comes to sightseeing, be sure to grab a bite at the iconic Sloppy Joes, and stop for snapshots at the ‘Southernmost Point’ marking the southernmost point of the United States.
Make time to tour the Hemmingway House, where ‘Papa’ resided for many years while writing the majority of his best sellers, including A Farewell to Arms… all while creating some of today’s most popular cocktails!
Key West is one has one of the warmest climates in the United States. Like most tropical climates, Key West has two seasons – the wet season and the dry season. The dry season runs from November through April and is normally sunny and quite dry, with only 25 percent of the annual rainfall occurring. This rainfall usually occurs in advance of cold fronts in a few light showers. In some years the winter can see severe drought conditions. May through October is normally the wet season. During the wet season some rain falls on most days, often in quick tropical downpours, followed by intense sun.
About 70 miles west of Key West is the Dry Tortugas National Park and can be reached by chartered yacht or the daily ferry aboard the Yankee Freedom III. The islands crown jewel is the historic Fort Jefferson, which was used as a prison during the Civil War, The Park is known for having the best beaches in all of the Keys, with soft powdery sand and clear blue waters. This is definitely a ‘final stop worth exploring.
Key West is also a seaport destination for many large passenger cruise ships heading to various parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, and other South American destinations.
Don’t be mislead, this is not your typical day-cruise. Situated about 150 miles SW of Miami it is a challenging boat ride of about 2 or three days, depending on the speed of the boat. PLUS an equal return time. It’s also a long haul, of 4 or 5 hours of intense and frustrating driving on a two lane highway.
Points of interest along the way however are Snake Creek, Seven Mile Bridge, Duck Key, Marathon and other interesting and historical places.
In summary, Key West and the different ways to access this beautiful place are a unique almost other-worldly experience. Not at all like the USA mainland. Frankly you could be in the Caribbean!!