The Florida Keys, located off the southern coast of Florida, is the ideal destination if all you’re looking for is the perfect getaway. “The Keys” are known for its scenic beauty including breathtaking sunsets and crystal-clear water, endless water activities, abundant wildlife, historic sites, fresh food and a vibrant nightlife.
Only 60 minutes from Miami International Airport, The Keys are a 200 km coral and limestone island chain with over 1700 islands (mostly uninhabitable) that spill out from the Florida peninsula and curve southwestward to just 145 km off the northern shore of Cuba. Considered one of America’s most unique motor journeys, you’ll want to plan an adventure that includes snorkeling, fresh seafood, historical sites, mile markers, butterflies and beach time as you explore the main islands of Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys and Key West.
Beach in Islamorada
The Keys have a rich and diverse history, starting with the indigenous Calusa and Tequesta tribes, who lived on the islands for thousands of years before European contact. The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore the Keys in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the 1820s that American settlers began to establish homesteads on the islands. During the Civil War, the Keys served as a Union stronghold, and Key West became an important naval base and refueling station for Union ships. In the late 19th century, the completion of the Overseas Railroad connected Key West to the mainland, making it a thriving port and tourist destination.
Seven Mile Bridge
Currently 43 islands are connected by 42 bridges and it could take you as little as three hours to drive the entire length of the Keys on the scenic Overseas Highway, but you’d miss all the fun! This is a road trip worth slowing down for so you can savour every moment of the adventure. As with most islands, there are lots of indoor activities to enjoy, but the real attractions are outdoors in the fresh air or underwater.
Five Must-Visit Destinations While Exploring The Keys:
Key Largo is a diver’s haven, so you’ll want to take the plunge. If you’re a novice diver and want to immerse yourself in some history while you explore, then you need head out only 11 km from Key Largo, where you’ll find The Benwood. Built in England in 1910 it collided with the USS Turtle in 1942 during WWII and its remains are now scattered along low-profile reef and sand in depths ranging from 8 to 14 metres. If you dive near dusk, you’ll be rewarded with the arrival of large groups of fish and droves of turtle seeking shelter for the night.
For more to see and do read: Discover Laid-Back Key Largo
It’s always best to support local when you can, but even better if you can find a community favourite with a Canadian connection. Founded in 2015 by Canadian transplant Craig McBay and his wife Cheryl, the Florida Keys Brewing Company has a maple leaf and conch shell in its logo. Located in the heart of the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District, FKBC is a micro brewery offering close to 30 styles of beer annually. You can enjoy your pint inside, but why would you when you can relax in their colourful beer garden tapping your feet to live music on afternoons and evenings.
For more to see and do read: Discover the Small-Town Vibe of Islamorada
A non-profit organization, The Turtle Hospital is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles. The hospital was founded in 1986 and has since treated over 2000 sick and injured sea turtles. The facility is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and staffed by a team of experienced veterinarians and marine biologists who work tirelessly to treat the turtles in one of their 23 tanks and the tidal pool made up of over 378,000 litres of saltwater.
The hospital treats a variety of sea turtle species, including loggerhead, green, leatherback, and hawksbill turtles. The turtles are treated for a wide range of illnesses and injuries, such as boat strikes, ingested fishing hooks and lines, and diseases like fibropapillomatosis, an aggressive virus that can cause tumor growth on soft tissue.
The hospital also has an education and conservation program, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of sea turtle conservation and the threats they face. You can tour the facility and learn about the hospital’s work, and observe the sea turtles in recovery in the outdoor sea turtle hospital.
For more to see and do read: Discover Marathon, The Heart of the Keys
Since 1955, Mote has been dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of our Oceans and is an international leader in coral reef research, health and restoration. A large scale plan has been implemented to revive Florida’s reefs and you can be a part of it by participating in the Reef Revival Program at Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration. There you’ll tour the facility, attend a lecture and learn about their science-based coral restoration efforts. If you can scuba dive you’ll receive hands-on training so you can explore Mote’s underwater nursery to fragment staghorn coral and adorn coral trees which will be outplanted later onto the reef!
Recipient of The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, Ernest Hemingway was widely considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He lived in Key West for over a decade where he drew inspiration for his writing, and spent much of his free time boxing, fishing and reveling with friends. The Hemingway experience is a 3.5-hour guided historic journey celebrating his life and retracing his steps around Old Town. You’ll visit at least 5 locations and enjoy 4 food tastings, 3 cocktails and explore the island through “Papa’s” eyes. Of course you’ll tour the infamous Hemingway House where you’ll find direct descendants of his original polydactyl (six-toed) cat, Snow White!
For more to see and do read: Discover Key West, An Island Paradise
For more info on how to make your Florida Keys adventure unforgettable visit fla-keys.com.