When you are looking at reasons to visit Florida Keys, most people think fishing, diving, and snorkeling, and they are certainly right. Key Largo is, in my opinion, one of the best places to dive and snorkel in the Keys. Islamorada has the best fishing, with a plethora of fishing tournaments and Marathon is home to two of the top eco-tourism attractions in the Keys: The Turtle Hospital, and Aquarium Encounters. Scattered throughout all of the Keys are nature trails for the outdoor enthusiast and dozens of marinas and mooring fields for the boating aficionado. There truly is something for everyone if Florida Keys is your travel destination.
The reasons to visit Florida Keys extend far beyond the common reasons of fishing and snorkeling. Here is your guide to visiting Florida Keys!
It only makes sense to start with one of the best things to do in the Florida Keys!
There is nothing more thrilling than to spend a day fishing – whether you are fishing in the backcountry or deep sea fishing. Being closer to Key West means that you have many more opportunities for deep sea fishing – including the Marquesas Atoll, which is less than 30 miles from Key West.
There is quick access to deep sea fishing, which gives you access to pelagic fish like Sailfish, Marlin, Wahoo and Mahi-mahi. In the Gulf Stream is an area that is called the Marathon Hump, which offers some of the best fishing around.
Some of the best backcountry fishing is in The White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. There is an abundance of Permit, Snook, Mangrove Snapper, Redfish, Shark, and Barracuda. Bring your camera – there is plenty of wildlife for you to see.
Diving and Snorkeling
Key Largo is known as the Dive Capital of the World and home to America’s first underwater preserve. Resting just a mere 25 feet below the surface looms a 4,000-pound bronze statue. This statue, known as Christ of the Abyss, was donated to the Underwater Society of America in 1961 by Italian scuba entrepreneur Egidi Cressi.
The statue is easy for divers and snorkelers to view. Standing at 8.6-feet, Christ of the Abyss can found at Key Largo Dry Rocks in the
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. With seagrass draped over its arms, and fish darting around, it is a surreal, breathtaking sight.
Diving or snorkeling in this area you may encounter sharks, barracuda, and the ever graceful stingrays. Surrounding the statue are brain, staghorn and elkhorn corals. Schools of colorful fish can be seen darting in and about the coral formations. There are many dive and snorkel tours available in the Key Largo area. Our favorite dive charter is Blue Water Divers out of Key Largo.
The Turtle Hospital
As you are driving down the Overseas Highway, headed towards Key West, in Marathon is a nondescript green one-story building. If you are looking for it, despite the huge roadside sign, you would miss it.
The Turtle Hospital is a working hospital. There are daily tours that take you through the hospital and rehabilitation areas. The goal of the Turtle Hospital is to treat injured turtles, rehabilitate and release them, and to educate the public on these fascinating sea creatures.
One of the most severe and debilitating injuries that the Hospital treats is shell damage caused by collisions with boat propellers. These encounters leave lasting scars and can take out chunks of the turtle’s shell, causing “Bubble Butt Syndrome.”
A desire to introduce people from all walks of life to the magic of the ocean and its graceful and majestic creatures is the goal of Aquarium Encounters. With lots of options to choose from, you can make a day of it at Aquarium Encounters.
During our visit, we chose to “dive right in,” and donned our wet suits and snorkels for the Coral Reef Tank Encounter. While in the 200,000-gallon saltwater tank we had an opportunity to feed the reef fish – which by the way, like to crawl on your wet suit and tickle you.
Feeding the predator fish – sharks, barracuda and giant grouper – was by far one of the scariest, yet exhilarating experiences for me. Mike, our snorkel guide was fantastic and helped to create a great experience for us.
Getting to touch a shark has never been high on my bucket list, but I certainly could not pass up feeding a nurse shark off a stick and would highly recommend adding it to your list of reasons to visit Florida Keys. The Big Shark Bay Encounter lets guests pet two or three of the adult nurse sharks, and help train them with fish on a stick. While the shark’s skin looks so smooth and soft, it feels like sandpaper.
Our last encounter was by far the most fun. Donning our wetsuits again, we jumped right in the shallow stingray tank. Our instructor, a marine biologist, showed us how to hold the fish in our fist, protecting our thumbs, and hold it out for the Rays to suck out of our hands.
Big Mama, a huge Southern Ray took an immediate liking to Jim, literally swimming right up on his chest and “hugging” him. Gracefully circling the tank, she came to me, sucked the fish out of my hand, and hugged me! These delightfully magnificent creatures love to be touched and rubbed. Like the sharks, their skin feels a bit like sandpaper.
The Florida Overseas Heritage Trail is a great trail to explore. The trail begins with railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. Flager built his railroad, the Florida East Coast Railway from Miami to Key West. The devastating Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed most of the railroad. The state of Florida then purchased the land and used the surviving structural bridges to build a new road – Highway 1.
In the 1980s the state rebuilt Highway 1, and many of the old bridges were converted to fishing piers and became part of the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail. Walking or biking the trail you will see spectacular water views, and many species and varieties of birds and reptiles.
Beginning at Mile Marker 0, marked by the large buoy signifying the southernmost point in the USA, the trail wanders through Key West. As you meander along the trail in Key West, you’ll see Hemingway’s House, the Little White House, and Mallory Square. The Seven Mile Bridge is the longest bridge on the trail, though it seems much longer! The official end of the trail is in Key Largo.
When you visit the Keys, locals will tell you that life in the Keys is all about the water.
From the Dry Tortugas to the backcountry of the Keys, to Marathon and Key Largo, you can fish, dive, snorkel, sail, waterski or just get out and stick your toes in the warm surf.
There are 20+ marinas scattered throughout the Keys making boating one of the popular reasons to visit Florida Keys. Some can handle larger boats, some can only handle small runabouts, and many of them have fishing charter boats, rental boats, and tours.
We love Marathon Marina – it has a pool, on-site restaurant, and lodging. It is the perfect location for diving, snorkeling or exploring all of the Keys. With on-site lodging, you can choose to stay at the marina and moor your boat!
In Key Largo, Pilot House Marina is a great stop. Shopping and tours are only a short distance away, and you have your pick of restaurants just a short walk up the pier. And who knows, you may get lucky and see the African Queen plying the waterway!
Paddle boarding or kayaking may be more your style, and there are a plethora of rental companies. If you are driving, throw your board or kayak on top of the car, and when you find a promising spot, pull off the road, launch your kayak, and spend the day exploring. (How is THAT for reasons to visit Florida Keys?) There is nature galore, but you do have to be a bit careful in the back country – there are alligators and other predators lurking in the Keys.
As you can see the reasons to visit Florida Keys are numerous!