Travel Guide to the Florida Keys, USA

What to do if you’re a nature lover in the Florida Keys

1. Snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Christ of the Deep (Stephen Frink)

Opened as the first underwater park in the United States in 1963, the 48,000 acres of protected waters at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park are a snorkeler’s and snorkeler’s dream. Spying on the haunting, submerged Christ of the Deep statue nearby is a must, flanked by coruscating brain and elkhorn corals, while the shallow waters around the Greek rocks teem with tropical fish, conch and barracuda.

2. Spot birds at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

Spot a variety of bird life at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center (The Florida Keys & Key West)

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center at Tavernier treats and rehabilitates injured birds and also provides a natural refuge for injured or displaced birds that cannot be safely returned to the wild. A walk along the boardwalk path will reveal avian residents, from hawks to shorebirds.

3. Visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon

The Turtle Hospital (Florida Keys and Key West)

Moving to Marathon more than 30 years ago, Richie Moretti became one of the Florida Keys’ greatest environmental heroes, transforming his motel into Turtle Hospital. The waters of the Keys are home to five species of turtles – the hawksbill turtle, green turtle, Kemp’s ridley turtle, loggerhead turtle and leatherback turtle, all of which are endangered. Whether it’s because they’ve been hit by a propeller, tangled in nets or fallen victim to illness, the hospital team, led by Bette Zirkelbach, saves dozens of turtles every year. Since 1986, the center has helped rescue and rehabilitate over 2,000 turtles. A 90-minute tour gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the great work he does. You can even participate in a feeding session and on certain occasions it is possible to see rehabilitated turtles released into the wild on the beaches of the Keys.

4. Kayak the lower keys

Kayaking with Big Pine Kayak Adventures in the Lower Keys

Known as the Lower Keys, the cluster of tiny islands before reaching Key West is best explored by kayak. It’s a nimble way to paddle through mangrove tunnels, slender channels and shallow creeks in the wilderness areas of National Key Deer Refuge and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, getting up close with horseshoe crabs, waders and endemic Labrador-sized deer. that are unique to this area of ​​the Florida Keys.

5. Watch dolphins in the wild

Wild dolphins spotted off Key West

For something truly unmissable, take a dolphin-watching cruise off Key West. Hundreds of bottlenose dolphins treat the clear blue waters as their personal playground and a cruise with an eco-conscious Blue Star tour operator will ensure you watch them dance and frolic ethically at a nose width of your boat. They might also be joined by sea turtles and eagle rays.

Where to Stay in the Florida Keys

Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Playa Largo Resort & Spa, Key Largo: Surrounded by greenery and directly on the waterfront, enjoy luxurious rooms with views of Florida Bay.

Cheeca Lodge & Spa, Islamorada: The decor of this relaxing beachfront hotel reflects the laid-back Islamorada lifestyle. Expect spacious accommodations, first-class restaurants, lush gardens and adventures at your doorstep.

Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort, Marathon: Escape the crowds at a private beach house and wake up to the sound of the Gulf of Mexico lapping the sand outside your front door.

Deer Run on the Atlantic, Lower Keys: This boutique bed and breakfast is named after the Key Deer Refuge in which it is located, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in nature.

The Gardens Hotel, Key West: Dubbed the “prettiest hotel in Key West,” a stay here gives you easy access to adventures like biking, snorkeling, hydrobiking and more.

Where to eat in the Florida Keys

Mrs. Mac’s kitchen is adorned with license plates

Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, Key Largo: Founded in 1976 and named after the owner’s mother, this charming restaurant is now world famous for its original recipes that appeal to locals and visitors alike. The walls are covered with license plates from all over the United States, which makes for interesting reading while you eat.

Chef Michael’s, Islamorada: Local ingredients and chefs with experience cooking in America’s top restaurants combine to create a dining experience you’ll remember long after you’re gone.

Castaway Waterfront, Marathon: With 52 beers on tap, a sushi bar and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’ll be spoiled for choice at this popular restaurant and bar. Be sure to book at least two days in advance.

Hogfish, lower keys: This bustling open-air restaurant offers fresh seafood, water views, heaps of character, and a glimpse of what the Florida Keys were like years ago.

El Meson de Pepe, Key West: For over 30 years, Chef Pepe Diaz and his family have been dedicated to serving authentic Cuban cuisine and preserving Cuba’s conch heritage in Key West.

make it happen

America As You Like It (0208 742 8299) offers a seven night stay Wandering in the Keys Florida Keys self-driving multi-center itinerary. Priced at £2,229 per person, the package includes return flights from LHR to Miami, car hire and seven nights’ accommodation (two nights at Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, three nights at The Gardens in Key West and two nights at Marathon at Tranquility Bay). Price is based on travel in November 2022.

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