Travel

Travel idea: Visit the Florida Keys

Image courtesy of www.fla-keys.com Author: Canadian Living Credits: Image courtesy of www.fla-keys.com

Travel

Travel idea: Visit the Florida Keys

Kingdom of cool
A Halcyon Highway to the mythical Kingdom of Cool, the incredible 112-mile (180-km) long trip down the Florida Keys' Overseas Highway leads to a world so different in style and temperament from mainland America that it feels like a country all of its own. The road itself is one-of-a-kind, connecting the curved line of lush, green islands that form the keys like a string of tropical pearls; its causeways crossing vast stretches of open water that offer dazzling, 360- degree vistas of the Caribbean blue sea. Every mile marker you pass beckons you to shed stress and inhibitions, while pleasant stops along the way give you time to culturally decompress.

John Pennekamp State Park on Key Largo protects one of America's few coral reefs and lures visitors to put on a mask and fins and spend an afternoon exploring the kaleidoscope of colours below the waves. Key Largo offers the opportunity to take a ride on the original African Queen boat, a working prop from the 1951 Bogart and Hepburn movie of the same name. Farther along, Bahia Honda Park with its fabulous strand of flour-like white sand, offers a place to stroll and wade in the azure water and feel the truly tropical breezes flow across your skin.

But the ultimate destination is the weirdly wonderful other world of Key West that awaits at the end of the road. Actually, despite its reputation, Key West is only as weird and wild as you want it to be. It all depends on where you look. Those with partying in mind will want to join the boisterous throngs along Duval Street. And everyone should experience the carnival-like atmosphere of chainsaw jugglers and stilt walkers that appear at sunset on Mallory Square.

Families can find plenty of attractions here too. The island's seafaring history comes alive in the cases of treasure on display at Mel Fishers Maritime Museum. And the Hemingway House preserves the aura of Key West in the 1930s when the famous author lived here and wrote To Have and Have Not. Today the laid-back, near mystical paradise that once lured him and so may other is alive and well ... and waiting.  

Island diary
February is the best time to explore the Florida Keys. While the rest of North America is experiencing the winter, the Keys are wrapped in sunny warmth and tropical breezes. Four days allows plenty of time to see the highlights, with an optional fifth to visit the National Park or enjoy relaxing on your favourite key.

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Excerpted from Where to go When, copyright 2007 by Dorling Kindersely Limited. Used by permission of Dorling Kindersley Limited.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher. Five days in the Keys
Day 1 – On Key Largo, snorkel or scuba dive in the waters of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where the reef teems with 260 varieties of tropical fish. Later, take a ride in the African Queen, famous for its role in the 1951 Humprey Bogart film.

Day 2/3 – Swim and play with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins during an amazing Dolphin Encounter at the nonprofit Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key.

Hike on trails through tropical forests at Crane Point Hammock Botanical Preserve and visit the museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys.

Kayak through quiet tidal lagoons and exotic mangrove forests to see wildlife on a guided eco-tour from Marathon or Big Pine Key.

Day 4/5 – Visit some of Key West's famous Museums including the Ernest Hemingway Home, Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, Audobon House and Garden, and the Key West Shipwreck Historeum.

Join the fun at Mallory Square as street performers provide fascinating entertainment, then watch the sunset and take part in the applause.

Fly on a seaplane or take the Ferry to Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park for a fascinating day trip on these remote islands.

Dos and Don'ts
Make reservations early as the best accommodation fills up quickly and the Dolphin Encounter sells out in advance.

Don't forget that the sun is very intense, so wear a hat and sunglasses, and use plenty of sunblock.

Read the regulations for fishing and diving, which can be obtained from the Florida Marine Patrol. Florida is very serious about coral reef protection, fish management and regulation enforcement.

Getting there
The Florida Keys are a chain of islands extending 112 miles (180 km) from the southern tip of Florida in the USA. Miami has the region's largest international airport which is about an hours drive from the Upper Keys. Cars are available for rent at the airport.

Getting around
Car is the best way to travel between keys. Key West is great for walking, but parking is limited. You can take the shuttle or a taxi across town.

Weather
February is warm and sunny with occasional rain. The average high temperature is 75F dropping to around 66F at night.

Accommodations
Rock Reef Resort, Key Largo, is a beachfront resort with gardens and fishing pier; family rooms from $180

Eden House Hotel in Key West is nice and quiet; family rooms from $360

The Gardens Hotel is a small historic hotel with gardens, near Duval Street in Key West; family rooms from $580

Eating out
Seafood and Caribbean cuisine are the staples but key lime pie is the dessert to try. Blue Heaven is a local favourite, around $20, offering legendary banana pancakes for breakfast.

Price for a family of four
$480-560 per day including accommodations, food and car rental.

Further information
www.fla-keys.com

Nuestra Señora de Atocha
On July 20 1985, the legendary treasure  hunter Mel Fisher discovered the treasure of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. A Spanish galleon heavily laden with New World riches, the Atocha sank off Key West during a hurricane in 1622. The ship's cargo included incredible riches from Peru, Mexico and Columbia; precious metals and stones; as well as everyday articles from the 17th century. Today hundreds of pieces from the Atocha are on display in Key West at the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum.

Read more:
Sun in the fun vacations
Tips for women on travelling solo
7 reasons to visit Sanibel, Florida

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Excerpted from Where to go When, copyright 2007 by Dorling Kindersely Limited. Used by permission of Dorling Kindersley Limited.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.
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Travel idea: Visit the Florida Keys

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