6 Not-to-be-Missed Islands in the Florida Keys

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6 Not-to-be-Missed Islands in the Florida Keys

Beach paradise in Key West, Florida (photo via FotoMak / Getty Images)

There’s just something about crossing that Seven Mile Bridge into the Florida Keys. It’s as if you’re entering another world – a tropical paradise where worries and cares disappear with the receding tide.

We’ve been traveling to the Florida Keys for years, especially being blessed by having grandparents who retired there. And each time we’d get catch a glimpse of the old bridge, part of the original passage to the Keys, our hearts would do a little flip-flop.

A surprising 1,700 islands make up the Florida Keys of which 882 are charted and 30 inhabited. Though we’ve enjoyed exploring many of the island treasures found throughout the Keys, we have a few that you shouldn’t miss.

Key Largo

There’s a reason the Beach Boys and Bertie Higgins wrote songs about Key Largo. This is the first of the Keys greeting travelers on Highway 1, and it makes quite a lasting impression. Only 18 miles from Miami, this area with protected waters features thriving coral reefs teeming with marine life, especially those located in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the U.S. It’s an absolute snorkeler’s and diver’s dream.

Islamorada

Just 30 minutes from Key Largo, this chain of six islands is known as the ‘Sportfishing Capital of the World’ and boasts the largest fishing fleet per square mile in the world.

You’ll find Theater of the Sea with its dolphin encounters along with geological and botanical state parks and the Indian Key Historic Park with 1800s ruins. The atmosphere here is ‘Pure Keys.’ And Islamorada is an up-and-coming foodie hub with craft breweries and plenty of oceanfront seafood restaurants.

Marathon

This former fishing village was founded by New Englanders in the early 1800s, making it one of the most historic stops along U.S. 1 aside from Key West. It’s also right smack in the middle of the Florida Keys making it an ideal home base from which to explore both north and south islands.

Marathon has a myriad of picture-perfect beaches, coral reefs, and some truly exceptional waterfront dining with postcard views. Don’t miss The Turtle Hospital where injured sea turtles are rescued, rehabilitated and released back to their natural habitat.

Key West

Famously billed as the southernmost point on the continental U.S., Key West is actually closer to Cuba than Miami. The island manages to seamlessly blend elements of the Caribbean, Latin and U.S. cultures into a flip-floppy relaxing Margaritaville-like lifestyle.

Ernest Hemingway put Key West on the map and his presence still looms over the town. Filled with vibrant nightlife, fascinating bars, great food and white-framed conch cottages, there’s honestly no other place like it in the world.

6 Not-to-be-Missed Islands in the Florida Keys

The southernmost city in the continental U.S., Key West lies at the tip of the 125-mile Florida Keys island chain and is located just 90 miles from Cuba. (Photo by Rob O’Neal courtesy of Florida Keys News Bureau)

Dry Tortugas

This national park is one of the most underrated places in the U.S. National Park system. Located 70 miles east of Key West, there are only two ways to get to these incredibly gorgeous uninhabited islands, by ferry or seaplane from Key West.

The Dry Tortuga’s seven islands bursting with wildlife above and beneath the tourmaline waters are a siren call to those looking for peace, serenity and a true tropical escape. The islands are fringed with idyllic white sand beaches and its coral reefs are the least disturbed of all throughout the Florida Keys making this an incredibly perfect spot for divers and snorkelers.

Guests can explore Fort Jefferson, the 19th-century fort and prison used during the Civil War. Though there are no hotels on the island, campsites are available on Garden Key.

The Marquesas Keys

For those who love the remote charm of the Dry Tortugas but don’t want to travel quite that far from Key West, the Marquesas Keys are located only 20 miles from Key West.

This group of 10 utopic mangrove-filled islands is uninhabited, undeveloped, and protected as a national wildlife refuge. Travelers can get to the island by boat charters from Key West.

A shipwreck off the north side of the island is located in less than 10 feet of water with the wreck coming within one foot of the surface. Because it is loaded with scores of tropical fish, it’s a nirvana for scuba divers. Rays, sharks, sea turtles and bird life abound in this natural secluded sanctuary.

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