The rest of Florida makes you choose between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This is not the case in the Florida Keys.
Here, along this 110-mile chain of sea and islands stretching south from Key Largo to Key West, it’s all about the water – being on it, in it or under it. And you’ll find aqua adventures ranging from the extreme to the sublime – activities that’ll get your adrenaline pumping or reaffirm your oneness with nature.
Stop Wishing, Get Fishing
Wide-open water, mangrove-fringed creeks and backwater bays are inhabited by fighting fish – grouper, tarpon and sailfish that prove worthy opponents. Bring your own boat or rent one from dozens of marinas along the Overseas Highway. Outfitters provide boats of all sorts – from pontoons and party boats to fishing and flats boats, even private sailing charters. This being the Keys, you’ll also find a pink Cadillac tour boat or pirate ship at Lorelei Marina in Islamorada.
Take Flight with a Kiteboard
Give Nick Obea and his staff at The Kitehouse five hours and they’ll have you kiteboarding like a pro. New user-friendly technology and equipment have improved safety and ease of operation, allowing the formerly faint-of-heart to harness some serious wind power. Ride the waves or soar 30 feet above them, and you just might get hooked. You can’t beat this Key West company’s training grounds – the quiet waters of an offshore island with docile dolphins and manatees. Bonus: No gas required!
Paddling’s a Pleasure
Kayaks and paddleboards are the only craft capable of navigating some of the Keys’ most scenic backwaters, including Key West’s Salt Pond. Here a 10-minute paddle through a mangrove tunnel ends with a big payoff: shallow waters teeming with upside-down jellyfish, grunts and snapper. Lazy Dog Kayak’s four-hour backcountry paddle and snorkel adventures glide through mangrove creeks and along ‘blue holes,’ some 30 feet deep. Get an even wider perspective while standing on a paddleboard – the world’s fastest-growing watersport. Serious paddlers looking for overnight adventures will find them at Key Largo’s Florida Bay Outfitters.
Serenity Under the Sea
No visit to the Keys is complete without an excursion to Key Largo’s John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first underwater park and the serenest of sanctuaries. Or, test the waters around Dry Tortugas National Park courtesy of Yankee Freedom. This ferry supplies the ride, snorkeling gear, breakfast, lunch and a guided tour of Fort Jefferson.
The Keys also offer some of the world’s best diving locations. Exploring the wrecks and 30-mile reef-line from Key Largo to Islamorada with Tavernier-based Conch Republic Divers is like swimming in an aquarium filled with blue tangs, parrotfish and other tropical fish. Plus, the dive shop’s Discover Scuba program allows non-certified divers to take the plunge.
For serious scuba, the MV Spree offers three- to five-day live-aboard experiences covering the can’t-miss Dry Tortugas and the USNS Vandenberg, considered the ultimate wreck dive. The five-dives-a-day itinerary includes a night dive.
Sunsets and Such
Boat in or paddle up to Florida’s waterfront restaurants, where seafood and fish are the specialty and the kitchen is always eager to fix your catch. Watch the sunset while sipping a frozen margarita on the oceanfront deck of Louie’s Backyard in Key West or order the fresh fish at Conch Republic Seafood, a fave with tourists and locals.
Bunk on your boat or stay close to the water. The 15-room Bay Harbor Lodge on Florida Bay in Key Largo has a private beach and doesn’t charge to use its dock or kayaks. Also in Key Largo, Largo Lodge offers cottage, bay and garden units, complimentary kayaks and a private beach amid 2.5 acres of gardens.
For more information on planning your visit to The Florida Keys, go to fla-keys.com.