13 November 2018 by Debbie Mayger
Ah the Florida Keys! Swaying palms, golden beaches, islands framed by vibrant coral reefs and an average daily temperature of 25.5ºC. Perfect for a fly-drive holiday, this chain of 1,000 islands, linked by a series of spectacular highway bridges, stretches some 126 miles off the USA’s south-eastern tip – the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. But with so many choose from, deciding which island to visit can be a daunting proposition. To help you decide, Florida aficionado Debbie Mayger picks out her favourites.
Its distinctive tin-roofed houses were home to the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Jimmy Buffett, famous faces drawn to this sub-tropical paradise by its palm-fringed shores, impossibly clear seas and cool blend of Bahamian and Cuban culture. Indeed, this southernmost island in the Florida Keys, which has its own international airport, is closer to Havana than Miami.
Key West, Florida
The Lower Keys
Moving northwards up the chain, this quiet collection of tiny islands is home to two nature reserves as well as a national marine sanctuary and a state park. As you’d expect, wildlife takes centre stage in the form of endemic wild key deer, turtles and a whole host of marine species. Take it all in on guided dives and kayak paddles, before relaxing on the sandy beaches of Little Duck Key.
Bahia Honda, Lower Keys, Florida
Life revolves around the ocean on this 10-mile-long island community, situated right at the heart of the Florida Keys. Waterside restaurants serve up fresh lobster and crab harvested from the surrounding sea, and the island’s rich seafaring heritage is celebrated at annual festivals. Things also take on an educational slant at the Dolphin Research Center and the world’s first turtle hospital.
Marathon, Florida Keys
Tucked away between the Everglades National Park and the deep blue waters of the Florida Strait, this thin strip of palm-fringed sand is the world’s self-proclaimed sport fishing capital. Head out with an expert guide to try and hook a tarpon or snook, or watch them in the wild on a scuba diving trip between the island’s wrecks and reefs.
Islamorada, Florida Keys
Closest to the mainland, Key Largo is just an hour’s drive from Miami International Airport. But, with its tropical forests, winding creeks and marine sanctuary host to turtles, stingrays and manatees, it’s a world away from the golf courses and theme parks of its parent state. The Everglades are close at hand, while to the west, the USA’s only coral barrier reef offers everything from world-class diving to dolphin encounters.
Key Largo, Florida Keys