The Keys are hundreds of tiny outcropping of coral strung like pearls from the tip of the Florida peninsula to the Dry Tortugas about 200 miles west. The Overseas Highway snakes through them over a series of bridges for about 100 miles to Key West, the southernmost city in the U.S. On one side is the Gulf Stream and the Atlantic Ocean and on the other the Gulf of Mexico.
Because of the geography as well as the inhabitants, this strip of islets always has been attractive to tourist, for some pretty good reasons.
1. TAKE A TRAIL UNDERWATER: Snorkel or scuba dive at Pennekamp State Park. (Mile Market 102.5, Ocean Side), which lies partially in the Atlantic Ocean off Key Largo with one of the coast’s best maintained reefs. Visitors can snorkel or scuba through extensive coral formations from charter excursions or privately rented vessels. There also is a glass bottom boat tour over waters that are clearest in the U.S. The park also offers nature trails and other attractions on land. Several local operators run reef trips.
2. FLOPPING WITH FLIPPER: At the Dolphin Cove Research Center (Mile Marker 102, Bay Side) just two miles from Moon Bay, visitors swim with dolphins or take ecological tours of Florida Bay and the Everglades.
3. CASTING THE WATERS: Former President George Bush loves pursuing the feisty bonefish with his private guide from Islamorada. He is just one of hundreds of experienced and neophyte sport fishermen who search the shallow waters between Key Largo and Key West looking for bonefish, tarpon and permit, most of which are caught and released. They have the added experience of getting into nature while threading through a maze of mangrove islands away from the highway and civilization. Charter companies, guides and rentals are available all through the Keys.
4. OCEANIC PERFORMING; Daily shows at the Theater of the Sea (Mile Marker 84.5, Ocean Side) feature dolphins, sea lions and other marine mammals. The facility is open year round.
5. BACK INTO NATURE; One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty and natural wonder of the Keys, especially away from the roads and buildings, is to slip quietly along in a kayak among mangrove outgrowths.
6. OFFSHORE FISHING: One of the fundamental reasons people have traveled to the Keys is the prime fishing opportunities in adjacent waters. Charter trips may be booked for anywhere from a few hours to three or four days. Some fishermen like to catch and release; Others go out for enough to feed their families and friends. While charters are best arranged ahead of time, they can be made on the spot.
7. FROM THE BRIDGE: Not all fishing requires fancy gear or a guide or even a boat. Plenty of fish are caught by those who take their poles out on one of the many bridges that connect the necklace of islands. Local tackle shops and stores are only too happy to give advice on the type of bait to use, and there’s plenty of room as well as company plying the tides from the bridges.
8. WATER WORSHIP: Whether it’s aboard a sailboat, a small motor skiff, a glass-bottom excursion vessel, a catamaran sunset or snorkeling cruise, a diving boat, an island ferry or one of the classic large sailing schooners every Keys visitor should go out to sea.
Captain Don Schlegel
U.S. Coast Guard Licensed Master