Let’s imagine you’ve got only two or three days to explore the entire Florida Keys (which would clearly be a planning mistake, since the island chain’s five diverse regions should be explored at a leisurely pace).
But in today’s crazy-busy world, some people can only escape their “real world” responsibilities for a few short days.
If that’s your situation, “The Keys Can’t-Miss List” here will help you maximize enjoyment in minimal time.
Where to start? On the northernmost island of Key Largo, renowned for diving, snorkeling and backcountry touring.
Can’t Miss #1: Take a snorkeling or scuba excursion, and see stunning coral formations and brilliant tropical fish, in Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park — America’s first underwater preserve and predecessor to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Can’t Miss #2: Head for Islamorada, renowned as the Sportfishing Capital of the World. Join one of Islamorada’s charter captains or guides for world-class fishing in offshore, reef or shallow backcountry waters. The Keys lay claim to more saltwater world fishing records than any other angling destination on the planet.
Can’t Miss #3: After catching your fish (maybe yellowtail snapper, tuna or dolphin fish, also called mahi-mahi), turn it into a meal. Bring it to one of the Keys restaurants that “cook the catch.” There’s nothing like savoring a perfectly prepared and seasoned fish, and knowing you reeled it in.
Can’t Miss #4: Meandering through Marathon, meet rescued sea turtles at the world’s only licensed veterinary hospital specializing in sea turtles (yes, really!). A dedicated team at The Turtle Hospital rescues, rehabilitates, and nurtures sick and injured turtles — and whenever possible, releases them back into the ocean realm. Don’t miss taking a guided behind-the-scenes tour of this one-of-a-kind facility.
Can’t Miss #5: Now drive down the Overseas Highway to Big Pine Key where, if you’re lucky, you can spot (and photograph) a real-life “Bambi.” Tiny, shy Key deer are an endangered species that live only in the Lower Keys. They’re about the size of large dogs and can be found grazing around Big Pine — especially in the early morning hours and at dusk. Spotting them isn’t always easy, but it’s a real treat when you do.
Can’t Miss #6: Once you reach Key West, you can do anything from taking an art stroll to visiting a Hemingway hangout. But one of the very best activities is wonderfully simple: rent a bicycle and pedal around historic Old Town past colorful Victorian homes, white picket fences and luxuriant foliage. Biking down the narrow lanes, you can smell exotic flowers and peek into hidden gardens, marvel at architectural beauty and exchange smiles with people you pass.
As you’ll discover on your Florida Keys journey, the islands boast a lively seafaring history, flourishing creative community, balmy subtropical climate, and natural wonders that include continental America’s only living coral barrier reef.
But the Keys’ most important asset is intangible: a laidback vibe that seems worlds away from everyday cares. Soak up that vibe whether you have two days or two weeks to spend in the magical island chain — and you’ll find yourself refreshed, renewed, and ready for more.