Although it takes only 45 minutes to fly from Miami to Key West, a leisurely
drive allows a true Southeast Florida experience. The 113-mile Overseas
Highway, sometimes called the "Highway that Goes to the Sea,"
leapfrogs from key to key, treating travelers to turquoise seascapes and
deep green landscapes under a brilliant blue Florida sky. The highway
can be traversed in fewer than four hours from Miami, but many visitors
prefer to get into the spirit of the islands and take time to explore
the treasures along the way.
hopping down to Key West along the scenic Overseas Highway, travelers
will encounter numerous parks and special attractions sure to enchant
and excite the entire family.
The jumping-off point to the Florida Keys is Key Largo, 42 miles southwest
of Miami. After leaving the city behind, visitors will want to head straight
for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park the first underwater preserve
in the United States and the adjacent Key Largo National Marine
Sanctuary. A combined 20 miles long, these refuges feature 55 varieties
of delicate corals and almost 500 different species of fish. And the 9-foot-tall
"Christ of the Deep," a 4,000-pound bronze statue, presents
an unexpected underwater shrine. Diving is the best way to tour the underwater
paradise, but many of the wonders are visible from the glass-bottom boat,
snorkeling and sailing tours also offered at the parks. For those who
prefer snorkeling in an enclosed in-shore lagoon, the Key Largo Undersea
Park offers a unique array of undersea adventures. Visitors can study
the remains of a shipwreck, explore an underwater research laboratory
and view a bizarre underwater art studio. If one day isnt enough,
how about spending the night at the Jules Undersea Lodge, the worlds
first underwater hotel, anchored 30 feet beneath the lagoons surface.
In Islamorada, families can visit the famous Theater of the Sea, where
porpoises and sea lions cavort in spacious, coral rock-lined natural ponds,
and barracuda, tarpon and shark can sometimes be spotted.
as the "Sportfishing Capital of the World," Islamorada is heralded
for its angling diversity and features the Keys largest fleet of
offshore charter boats and shallow water "backcountry" boats.
Across the breathtaking Seven Mile Bridge, the Lower Keys provide an easygoing
respite, with wide-open settings bordering breathtaking ocean views. Here,
visitors can camp beneath the tropical island skies, take a night dive
or spot the tiny Key deer that reside in the area. Take a kayak excursion
through the Keys shallow-water backcountry environment, ranging
from mangrove communities to turtle grass flats to sponge flats. Wildlife
and rare birds abound in these unspoiled areas. Visitors can explore the
backcountry from a rented kayak or take a guided tour, which promises
to be a fascinating mixture of field trip, natural history lesson and
just plain fun.
a close encounter of the unforgettable kind, try swimming with friendly
dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key. The center is one
of three facilities in the Keys that provide visitors with an opportunity
to interact with the intelligent and curious animals. The center also
features a number of educational and entertaining programs focusing on
marine mammals and the environment.
Marathon Key, heart of the Florida Keys, is home to Crane Point Hammock,
a 63-acre land tract that is one of the most important ecological, historical
and archaeological sites in the Keys. The area contains evidence of pre-Colombian
and prehistoric Bahamian artifacts and was once the site of an entire
Indian village. Vacationers can explore these and other historical landmarks
at the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys and the adjacent
childrens museum, the first of its kind in the Keys.
On Big Pine Key, a dwindling herd of tiny Key deer each no larger
than a medium-sized dog can be spotted in the National Key Deer
Refuge and are sure to charm the kids. The refuge provides ample hiking
and bird watching among tropical forests and alongside Blue Hole, the
largest body of fresh water in the Florida Keys, where Key deer are joined
by various birds, turtles and alligators for nourishment.
At the highways end lies Key West, the southernmost city in the
continental United States.
Key West offers the ultimate island vacation, with scuba diving, sailing,
fine dining and historical museums. Visitors can now enjoy all the islands
amenities and stretch their vacation dollars with the Key West Guest Card
and Guide. The $5 card offers discounts on attractions, restaurants, bars,
shopping, watersports and fitness. The card is accompanied by a Guest
Guide and a fold-out map of Key West highlighting major traffic routes
and listing the 60-member Key West Innkeepers Association, made up of
guest houses and attractions. Cards are available by calling toll free
1-800-KEY-INNS (U.S. & Canada) or by faxing (305) 296-7170.