THE KEYS: A WHOLE DIFFERENT FLORIDA
From Key Largo in the north to Key West in the south, the Florida Keys exude a very different vibe.
The light is different here. So is the air. Even the landscapes—tropical islands surrounded by aquamarine waters—are different.
Key Largo offers great snorkelling and diving opportunities because the waters are startlingly clear. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which features over 180 square kilometres of reefs and wrecks, was the first underwater park in America. It’s also near the only underwater hotel in America, Jules Verne Lodge, only accessible by diving! And if you’d rather be on the water instead of under it, book an African Queen Canal Cruise.
Islamorada is where to go to get away from it all and enjoy some of the best fishing in the country. On any given evening, end your day at one of the island’s many atmospheric waterfront restaurants. It’s also blossomed into a great art centre. Every third Thursday of the month stroll along the Morada Way Artwalk, where artists open up their galleries and workspaces in the evening and the townspeople celebrate with food and drink.
The 13 islands of Marathon are renowned for numerous family attractions, as well as boating and fishing. At the Dolphin Research Center, there are dolphin and sea lion shows, opportunities to speak with the trainers and a chance to cool off at the “Sprayground.” Not to mention swimming with the dolphins! Marathon is also perfect for jet-ski tours (or rentals), kayaking and paddleboarding.
The Lower Keys are just that—low-key—and filled with natural beauty. On Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda State Park boasts 150 species of plants and animals. There’s camping here, too, ranging from campsites to “glamping” cabins, along with snorkelling and beautiful seashells. Big Pine Key is home to the National Key Deer Refuge, the only place on Earth you can see these endangered, diminutive creatures (81 centimetres or less at the shoulder). This area is one reason for the Keys’ sustainability campaign, which asks folks to “leave no imprint.”
Boasting such historic landmarks as the homes of Ernest Hemingway and John James Audubon as well as the “Winter White House” of President Harry Truman, this is the most colourful, funkiest, coolest town in America. There are museums, waterfront restaurants, glass-bottom boat cruises, “Conch Train” tours, and the shops and restaurants of Duval Street. And don’t miss the nightly sunset celebrations at Mallory Docks, a beloved local tradition where people gather to watch a crimson sun slip into the distant Gulf horizon, while fire-eaters and flaming-torch jugglers perform.
TOP: Dolphin Research Center provides interactive opportunities to learn about intelligent mammals. Dolphin Research Center LEFT: Explore the coral reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo.