Located between Cuba, ninety miles to their southeast, and the Florida mainland to the northeast, the chain of small islands known as the Florida Keys has been attracting visitors since the 1500s. The first noteworthy visitor was Juan Ponce de Léon, who found the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas instead of the Fountain of Youth. This lengthy chain of ancient coral islands now offer a unique combination of adventure travel options and elegant cultural attractions. The only way to reach the tip of the Keys--Key West--by road is via U.S. Highway 1, although flights and ferries are also available.
Traveling southward toward Key West, the first large island you encounter is Key Largo. The island, which starred in the 1948 film by the same name, is not very far from Miami, only about one hundred and sixty miles. At once, you notice the change in atmosphere from the hustle and bustle of a city to a more laid back vibe.
If you think that you have to go to the Bahamas or Hawaii to enjoy a tropical vacation close to the U.S., you’re wrong. In the Florida Keys you can do and see an endless array of warm weather attractions. There are isolated beaches for those who want a more private time alone, in the form of Islamorada or Marathon Island. If you want nightlife, Key West is perfect for you. And up and down the Florida Keys you’ll find natural wonders that attract sport fishing charters, scuba divers and snorkelers.
As for accommodations, there is a range of selection to pick from. If you want a luxury setting with five star standards, there are plenty of places that fall in that bracket. Even in a high-end destination like Key West, you can still find friendly campgrounds. And with the Gulf of Mexico on the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, no matter where you are in the Keys, the beach would most probably be right outside the door.
If your only vacation goal is to take it easy, you’ve come to the right place. The sounds of the ocean and the famed sunsets make for a tranquil getaway. How about a relaxing ocean swim or catching some rays on the beach? But if you want a more heart-thumping holiday, they Keys have something for you, too. If you hunger for a tropical adventure, there’s an Eco Tour or dolphin watching tour for you.
Sport fishing is one of the most popular things to do in the Florida Keys. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "From 2007 to 2008, more than 400,000 visitors to and residents of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary engaged in over 2 million person-days of recreational sports fishing. These recreational fishers spent $262 million in Monroe County/Florida Keys, approximately $103 million of which was directly spent on fishing items."
There is plenty to see too, if culture and the arts of more to your liking. The Keys are home to a number of artisans and artists for those who are interested in things of that nature. The high income of the area supports a thriving nightlife and restaurant scene. And of course, Key West is known for its nightlife and bars like Margaritaville, which inspired Jimmy Buffett’s song of the same name.
The Florida Keys has a lot of things to experience. The beautiful tropical climate, cultural attractions, natural wonders and simple relaxation make this string of islands one of North America’s most popular vacation destinations. The only thing you may not like about the Florida Keys is that you have to leave at the end of your vacation.