Where to Stay – Key Largo is our favorite for snorkeling or diving on the reefs. Marathon is a good semi-halfway point in the keys if you are wanting to do activities in Key Largo and Key West or Big Pine Key.
When to Go – Since the Keys get hit with hurricanes and tropical storms quite frequently, your best bet is to go between December and May.
Getting Around – There is plenty to see and do in the Florida keys. This is a location where I would highly recommend getting a rental car as the keys are spread far apart and cabs can get really expensive. The keys stretch a little over 100 miles long (excluding the Dry Tortugas) from Key Largo to Key West.
Cost – The Keys in general are fairly pricey compared the USA mainland. Most seafood restaurants will charge $17-30 a plate.
Things To Do
Go Snorkeling or Diving – The keys are home to the only coral reefs within the 48 states. Surprisingly the quality of reefs in the keys can be better than some reefs found in the Caribbean when it comes to coral health and fish diversity/population. The only downside about snorkeling the reefs in Florida is that they are all located 3-9 miles off shore, so a boat is needed to get there. There are many options to get to a reef from private charters to group trips.
There is some shore snorkeling, but it does not compare to the offshore reefs. If you dont want to get on a boat to snorkel I would suggest shore snorkeling in the upper keys such as Key Largo or Islamorada vs snorkeling in the middle/lower keys. I tend to find that the water clarity in the middle lower keys is slightly more cloudy than the upper keys. However there are some exceptions such as Bahia Honda State Park.
Rent a boat – If you are somewhat adventurous like we are, I would suggest renting a boat. You can rent your own boat for about $150-$200 for the entire day. Typically most boats will come with a GPS so it will show you how to get to different hot spots around the keys. One of the great things about the keys is that if the water is choppy on one side of the island, it will most likely be calm on the other side; so wind doesnt have to be a deal breaker.
Take a kayak tour – This was our favorite part about our last trip to the keys. There are numerous guided tours available to take you through a mangrove forest. It is an unforgettable experience and doesnt break the bank either.
Bahia Honda State Park – This park was another highlight of our recent trip. Located in the middle keys not far from Marathon, it has some of the best beaches in the keys. You can also rent a kayak here, swim, and snorkel. For decent shore snorkeling- once entering the park take a right at the split, park, and enter the beach by the restrooms. Best snorkeling will be directly out and to the right about 50 yards.
Old Seven Mile Bridge – This is an old bridge no longer meant for automotive use that has turned into a cool pedestrian walkway. The walkway is actually only 2 miles long so its great for a quick morning walk or jog. The water below is very shallow and you can spot sea turtles, sharks, and other wildlife cruising around below you. Seven Mile bridge is also where they shot a scene in the movie “True Lies”. You can also see the bridge while driving on your way to the lower keys or Key West.
Other things to do – There are tons of other things to do while in the keys: Dolphin tours, offshore fishing, Duval Street in Key West, the Turtle Hospital (make an appt well in advance) Key West Butterfly Conservatory, and Mallory Square just to name a few. Find more information about all of these HERE.