The Keys, an archipelago of small coral islands linked by the Overseas Highway, are strung out like beads on a necklace from the coast of Florida. Their laid-back ambience, slightly old-world glamour and tropical beauty make them a fascinating and relaxing holiday destination. The 150 mile drive from Miami to Key West is a classic American road trip. Ride in style: rent a cool convertible such as the Ford Mustang, and for peace of mind take out car hire insurance before your trip.
The Overseas Highway
The start of the route is fringed by classic Americana such as burger joints and kitsch gift shops. However, the Overseas Highway will also take you through the lush green vegetation of the Everglades and over expanses of blue-green water studded with distant keys. Speed limits are only 45-55mph for most of the route, so watch out for “Smokey Bears”, the highway patrol cars. If the gps lets you down, locals will put you back on track by referring to the mile markers that count down from south to north.(Image by Have Fun SVO)
A Diver’s Paradise
The shallow waters surrounding the Keys hide coral reefs that are home to brilliantly-coloured tropical fish, and there are many easily-accessible dive sites. Key Largo describes itself as the dive capital of the world! At the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (MM 102.5) you can practise snorkelling from the expanses of soft white sands, before setting out on a dive boat. The Spiegel Grove is a wreck deliberately sunk to a depth of 39m, where it now forms an artificial reef, home to a dazzling array of underwater life.
Marathon and Pigeon Key
The Seven-Mile Bridge, with the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, is a highlight of the drive, and the old Seven-Mile Bridge at Marathon is another must-see. You can walk over the bridge for free, or hire cycles. Picnic and swim from the beach, and explore Pigeon key’s museums and historic houses. The Turtle Hospital, funded by visitors’ entrance fees, rescues injured sea turtles and nurses them back to health before releasing them back to the ocean. Visitors get a 90-minute tour and can help feed the injured animals.(Image by clarkmaxwell)
Ecotourism offers visitors a chance to experience the peace and beauty of remote tidal creeks, Everglades backwaters and remote sandy beaches. At Islamorada, take a trip on an ecotour boat and spot dolphins, manatees, alligators and roseate spoonbills. Alternatively, hire a kayak or paddleboard and visit Indian Key, only accessible by boat. Lignumvitae State Park, the highest point of the Keys at just 18′, is a tiny Key where a tropical forest grows on top of the remains of a coral reef.
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Feature image by Christian_from_Berlin