I have to say, the keys are my favourite part of Florida. While seeing Mickey Mouse can be a lot of fun, I’d rather have the wind on my face while cruising down Route 1, a highway that is the only road connecting Florida’s mainland with the keys and connects the keys with each other, of course. The highway parallels the route of the old Overseas Railroad, which was once called the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The keys are a collection of nearly one thousand islands, and each of them is wildly different. Some are uninhabited, others are just beaches, and others are as loud and crazy as the Vegas strip. Because of their latitude, the keys have a weather climate more like the Caribbean islands than of mainland Florida – which will not immediately feel different, but when the humidity gets rough to the north you’ll be thankfully for those breezes. But how to choose out of a thousand islands? Here are a few of the highlights you can explore during a road trip around south Florida.
Elliott is the northern most key and is actually one of the few “true” keys of Florida – those that are remnants of coral reefs. Elliott is the largest island in what is known as the Biscayne Bay National Park, one of the few American national parks that is almost entirely water. You’ll have to boat to get around here, but if you book with one of the campgrounds they can help arrange your transport.
Key Largo was made famous by both the mention in the Beach Boys song as well as the Humphrey Bogart film named after it. It’s a popular tourist stop and a great place to overnight if driving the islands. The main highlights are the killer sunsets as well as the island’s diving – it’s known as a diving capital and plenty of operators are based here. There are also options for kayaking and ecological tours. We noted a superfluous supply of fishcakes – and tasty ones at that – so if you are hungry while driving through, don’t hesitate to stop.
Big Pine is just past the Seven Mile Bridge, a gorgeous strip of highway that is indeed seven miles, as the name implies. It’s the perfect place to get friendly with some of the keys’ local residents: key deer. As cute as bambi, these deer are endangered and it is illegal to feed them, so please don’t. Big Pine also has several options for diving and snorkelling, and if the presence of deer was any indication, it’s a quiet and relaxing place.
Last but not least is Key West, the furthest point south in the keys and just a short swim to Cuba. It’s also known as the Conch Republic – a nod to the fact that island declared independence from the United States in 1982 and managed to setup its own flag, money, and all the other accoutrements of a sovereign nation. It didn’t last very long, and today Key West resumes its party playground status. It’s one of the few cities where I’ve seen family-friendly, gay-friendly, and all-night-long-drinking-friendly clubs, pubs and bars all lined up on the same street. You can go in whichever one seems to suit – nobody seems to care. There’s great food, beaches, boat tours, and everything else in between. Kind of like most of the keys in general – that’s why, as I mentioned earlier, they are my favourite thing in Florida.
Posted : Monday, August 2nd, 2010 at 13:01
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not criss-crossing the world to have his next travel adventures, he is spending time hanging out on his own website, Sharing Travel Experiences.