Photo by Rose Marie Cromwell
The combination of ecological beauty and fragility in these unique islands makes them worth visiting—and protecting.
This itinerary is part of Travel Tales, a series of life-changing adventures on afar.com. Read more stories of transformative trips and inspired itineraries on the Travel Tales home page. Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
You can practically hear Jimmy Buffet play as you drive the Overseas Highway, which stretches some 120 miles from the Florida mainland. As you make your way through the Florida Keys, it’s impossible to miss all the fishing and boating activity; seeing the dramatic coral reef undersea takes a little more effort, but is equally enthralling. By the time you reach Key West, you’ll have a more complete appreciation for these islands, which are at once delicate, resilient, and absolutely stunning.
Prepare for your adventure at the Miami Beach Edition hotel, a historic property from the 1950s that Marriott restored—in collaboration with Ian Schrager—into a LEED-certified hotel. Enjoy the individually designed guest rooms and suites, including 28 private oceanfront bungalows, along with phenomenal dining by Jean-Georges.
See the Upper Keys
Most people drive to the Keys via U.S. 1; take the path less followed on Card Sound Road, which gives you an easy opportunity to stop and chat with locals at Alabama Jack’s, a divey shack on the water. Continue on to Key Largo and visit America’s first undersea park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where you can snorkel with sea turtles, angelfish, and snapper.
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Further down on Islamorada, charter a boat to fish for sailfish, marlin, kingfish, and tuna. Learn about early inhabitants at the Keys History & Discovery Center, and don’t miss out on a Rum Runner cocktail at the home of its invention—the Tiki Bar at the Postcard Inn.
When you hit 10-mile-long Marathon Key, visit the Turtle Hospital and take its 90-minute tour of the hospital and rehabilitation facility, which includes 23 tanks and a 100,000-gallon saltwater pool for disabled turtles. Feed the fish (and the sharks!) at the Florida Keys Aquarium, and don’t miss a piece of Key lime pie at Sweet Savannah’s Bake Shop before enjoying a magical Florida Keys sunset.
Explore the Lower Keys
Nature rules in the Lower Keys, where travelers will discover a plethora of parks. Ride a bike through the National Key Deer Refuge and look for the eponymous species of deer that’s found nowhere else on earth. Then spread out a towel on one of America’s most beautiful beaches in Bahia Honda State Park, an area making a strong comeback after damage from Hurricane Irma. Finish the day at a waterside restaurant, where you can tuck into fresh, locally harvested shellfish like lobster and stone crab.
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Visit the Hemingway Home in Key West, then go on a final adventure. Ride the once-a-day, high-speed catamaran to Dry Tortugas National Park and explore massive Fort Jefferson, built in the 1800s to protect the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be allotted a few hours here; snorkel and look for turtles, and keep in mind that all five species here are either endangered or threatened. Return to Key West, revel in the sunset at Mallory Square, and enjoy a final night the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel, with the azure water of the sea at your doorstep.
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