I have lived in Florida over half my life and one place I’ll never get tired of visiting is the Keys. When I first moved down here and heard the word “Key” I had no Idea what that meant or what that was. I found out a “Key” is a derivative of the Spanish word Cayo, which means Small Island.
The Florida Keys are a chain of small islands that begin about 15 miles south of Miami; the main chain swoops south-southwest for about another 120 miles or so over the highway. The Keys divide the Atlantic Ocean on their east from the Gulf of Mexico on their west, not a bad spot to be in. At the southern most tip, Key West, we are only about 90 miles from Cuba which has added its flavor and influence to the Keys.
The Florida Keys are made up of a cluster of over 1700 islands in all, some of the main ones being Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and of course Key West. The Dry Tortugas are islands just off Key West but are uninhabited except for the tours and day trips over to them.
Florida Keys Tourism
Key Largo is considered the first key; it’s a great place to snorkel and camp and is known as the “Diving Capital of the World” whether that is true or not the people who live, work and run the diving shops in the area would like to believe it and have us believe it too.
Key Largo is also the home of John Pennekamp State Park which was the first underwater park in the U.S. and has the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S.
Islamorada is next down the highway and is itself is made up of 6 different islands, it is known for great fishing both in the ocean and in the flats around the island. They have this great little place there called Robbies Marina that’s kind of famous as a place to feed the Keys favorite local fish the Tarpon. Many people from all over also come down to swim with the dolphins here, there are several places in Islamorada to do this.
Next is Marathon, it’s known to be a great place for diving, snorkeling and spearfishing, they also have an open lobster season during the year. Marathon has several dolphin research centers that the public are welcome to tour, Islamormarda has one as well.
Marathon holds a special place in my heart because it’s where I first fell in love with the Keys. The summer after high school a friends parents had a condo in Marathon and we went down to join them for the week. What a week it was, I’d never had so much fun. They had been going there for several years and had made friends so when we got there we already had a gang to hang out with.
We played on the beach, got in the pool, hung out in the hot tub and of course, drank. The water was so blue, the breeze so warm and the palm tress all over made it look like a moving postcard. I’d just moved form Atlanta a few years before so I hadn’t seen anything like this – ever. I never wanted to leave but, alas, the week ended and we had to go, but I vowed I’d be back and I have been many times.
Big Pine Key follows Marathon and is considered the start of the lower keys and near where you end up off the famous Seven Mile Bridge. The Seven Mile Bridge is something else; it’s been featured in several movies including ‘True Lies’ that starred Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There’s a certain feeling that washes over you as you’re driving over Seven Mile Bridge, it’s like the world melts away, if you’ve already been to the Keys then you know what I’m talking about. Big Pine Key is a great place to just relax; it’s quieter and more unspoiled than some of the other Keys. It’s a great place to get back to nature, take a trail by land or water, or just sit and be still.
The National Key Deer Refuge is on Big Pine Key. The Key Deer are the smallest of the white-tailed deer and are federally protected because they are endanger of extinction, there are only about 700 in the herd. They are so tiny, cute and sweet you just want to cuddle one, but you can’t.
Then there’s Key West, what can I say? I’ve been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans and I can honestly say that Duval Street in Key West rivals it for fun, fantasy and people watching. Home of the world famous “Duval Crawl”, the ORIGINAL pub crawl, Duval Street starts to party with the setting of the sun.
Seriously, the city goes out to Mallory Square to watch the spectacular sun set, street performers and the fantastic boats in the water. There are several great places to eat at Mallory Square, local vendors line the boardwalk selling their arts and crafts and in the air there’s just a general sense of fun. Key West is a great place to get married too. I got married in a garden there by a great little guy who called himself “Admiral” and in his younger days looked just like Sonny Bono. What a great place.
If you asked me where in the world I’d like to go and know for certain I was going to have a good time, I’d have to ask to be dropped off in Key West or hey, anywhere in the Keys would be good, I’d make it to Key West, eventually.
Whether its diving and snorkeling in Key Largo or fishing in Islamorada plus all the things to do in Key West, you’ll find warm tropical breezes and calm seas all year long. The Florida Keys is America’s only tropical vacation paradise.