The Florida Keys, the home of the sunset and a place of dreams.
If you fancy a sun-soaked trip of a lifetime then The Florida Keys & Key West has it all, it’s the perfect blend of reef snorkelling fun, beautiful sunset cruises, delicious delicacies positioned on every corner and a brilliantly thriving nightlife for a small group of islands.
The Florida Keys are made up of an archipelago of 1,700 tropical islands, located off the southern coast of Florida, a 90-minute drive from Miami to Key Largo in the northern Florida Keys. The Islands lie along the Florida straits dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico. The subtropical island chain is home to the continental USA’s only living coral barrier reef and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary helps protect 2,900 square nautical miles of marine habitat surrounding The Keys.
The Florida Keys just has an amazing feel to it – it is a beautifully secluded community of islanders that do their best to look after their local ecosystems and spread the word about the island chain’s ‘Connect and Protect’ initiative. The locals are really keen for visiting tourists to get on board with their efforts to protect and restore the environment and care for local wildlife that play such an important role for the destination.
The ‘Connect & Protect’ scheme currently running in The Keys encourages visitors to discover the Islands through experiential and soft adventure activities, as well as fostering a greater understanding of how they can help in preserving the unique natural environment.
Our oceans currently cover 70% percent of the Earth’s surface and to protect the waters around the Keys, locals are doing amazing things such as replanting coral all over the beautiful reef to encourage natural growth, encouraging visitors to use reef friendly sunscreen that doesn’t damage the reef whilst swimming and promoting the importance of protecting their wildlife.
They are even implementing seemingly smaller but just as vital changes, such as swapping plastic straws for paper or metal straws. These small changes truly can make a huge difference and they’re an easy swap to make in our daily lives.
The positive impact that locals are having in regenerating the oceans was clear for all to see after spending the day with the amazing Coral Restoration Foundation. We took a beautiful boat from their main visitor centre and sailed over 7 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean to bare witness to their stunning coral nurseries, where corals are grown and then out planted back into the reefs to regrow from the already damaged sites, kick-starting the natural process of recovery.
We were able to witness this all whilst swimming and making friends with some of the Atlantic Ocean’s most beautiful wildlife, including baby turtles and stunning marine fish of all shapes and sizes.
Alongside the beauty and nature of The Keys are some of the most wonderful and luxurious hotels that host a vibrant nightlife and offer stunning views from every angle – not to mention the world class restaurants which serve locally sourced produce.
Perhaps the most special thing about The Keys is the beauty of the people that call it home. There is a sense of warmth and strong community that is felt in The Keys. We were welcomed as old friends, it truly is a place of dreams and somewhere that as soon as your toes sink in the golden sand, instantly feels like home.
Must try activities and adventures in The Keys
The Coral Restoration Foundation
Stop by to learn about their amazing efforts in protecting the stunning waters that surround The Keys. The Coral Restoration Foundation is dedicated to creating offshore nurseries and restoration programmes for threatened coral species.
You can get hands-on experience at what the coral nurseries look like and can even learn how to plant coral out in the ocean allowing you to see some wildlife along the swim – exploring young turtles, manta rays and marine life along the way.
The Turtle Hospital
The Turtle Hospital an incredible non-profit which is dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles.
In 1986 The Turtle Hospital opened its doors with four objectives, to rehabilitate injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools, conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles and working towards environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.
It is a wonderful place to visit and take a guided educational tour of the facilities and sea turtle rehabilitation area. The experience lasts around 90 minutes and provides a presentation on sea turtles as well as a behind the scenes look at the facilities. At the end of the program guests are invited to feed the permanent residents. Tours are incredibly popular and it is advised to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
A dolphin watch and snorkel adventure with Fury Water Adventures
Experience the sparkling azure waters off Key West and go wild dolphin spotting. If you’re lucky, you might see these fascinating mammals dive and play in their natural habitat with the help of a fantastic crew from Fury Water Adventures who guide you as you travel through the glimmering waters.
Lunch at Hungry Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
Robbie’s Marina is an eclectic mix of outdoor shops, food vendors and tarpon feeding where you can grab a bucket of fish to feed the tarpon or enjoy watching others get up close and personal with the huge majestic fish. All of this whilst enjoying fresh local seafood and feel good food at Hungry Tarpon for your well earned lunch.
Ernest Hemingway Museum
Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West every winter between 1928 and 1931. In April 1931, he purchased a vast home at 907 Whitehead Street with his wife, which remained their residence until December 1939.
Hemingway found great inspiration and tranquility in Key West. At this great museum you get to step back in time and visit the rooms and spaces where the Nobel Peace Prize winner spent most of his time writing during the 1930s when he lived in the island city.
Take the afternoon to walk to the water, listen to the sea crashing against the sand and really absorb the sheer beauty and tranquility of The Keys. The views are like something out of a book or film and The Keys has a special way of making you feel as though you belong no matter where you’re from.
The Land’s End Sunset Sail with Sebago Watersports
Here we jumped aboard a fast 70′ catamaran with over 2,300 foot of deck space and enjoyed the stunning, world famous Key West sunset and it did not disappoint.
The sun slowly drifting out of the sky, the specs of orange, purple and hazy sunshine filled the sky, almost replicated a painting that only the best of artists could have painted.
Dinner at Elements Lounge and Restaurant at the Islander Resort
Dinner at Elements Lounge is a fabulous culinary experience in a beautiful tropical ambience under the sound of the palm trees and Keys evening breeze.
The food was sublime from the beautifully tender steaks, the exquisite mushroom starter, crisp tasting wines for every course and the delicate sweet trio of desserts. This recently opened lounge and restaurant is a must experience when staying in the area.
Cocktails at The Green Room Eco Bar
The Green Room Eco Bar is an amazing local pub that serves up unique frozen cocktails and full bar drinks executed with environmental sustainability and efficiency.
The Green Room recycles glass, cardboard, plastic and cigarette butts and donates funds raised through branded merchandise to local environmental organisations like the Turtle Hospital. Most of the bar is covered in reclaimed wood from a large tropical almond tree that fell in 2014 truly supporting the local efforts in The Keys as well as live acts performing, you can enjoy an evening here.
Sloppy Joe’s is an icon in The Keys, located on the famous Duval Street. A Key West tradition, Sloppy Joe’s truly is a unique experience where you can be up and dancing along to live performances on the stage – everybody moves together as one and you can sing and dance until your heart’s content long into the night.
Open since 1933, Sloppy Joe’s has it all: music, dancing, great drinks and an unbelievable atmosphere.
Where to sleep / rest your head in The Keys:
- Islander Resort, Islamorada – www.islanderfloridakeys.com
The beautiful oceanfront getaway has stunning views of Islamorada’s gorgeous native gardens and you can fall asleep listening to the soothing waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing outside your room.
The 24-acre, 114-room Islander Resort recently unveiled its new full transformation that includes massage and wellness services, two beautiful pools and a restaurant called ‘Elements Lounge and Restaurant’ situated within the resort that will take your culinary experiences to new heights.
The charming cottage style rooms offer dreamy views and are a great place to stay for an eco-friendly getaway as the property is a greenhotels.com member.
- Marquesa Hotel, Key West – www.marquesa.com
The Marquesa is perfectly positioned in the centre of the historic district of Old Town Key West and stands as a beautiful, deluxe property. It is one of the finest hotels on the small island built around stunning interior gardens, a beautiful swimming pool and a grand water fountain – all of which is just five minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Duval Street, one of Key West’s most thriving attractions.
Landing itself in the Conde Nast Traveler Magazine’s Gold list of ‘World’s Best Places to Stay’ and sitting in the top 500 of the world’s best hotels list, this hotel truly is a bucket list place to stay for any traveller who enjoys the finer things in life.
- Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort, Marathon – www.tranquilitybay.com
Overlooking the scenic waters of Florida Bay, the 103 unit hotel offers a beautiful secluded atmosphere and provides stunning tranquility for any traveller. Stunningly nestled among palms and the lush gardens, the hotel also offers an onsite dining experience called The Butterfly Cafe and beautiful cocktails at the beachside TJ’s Tiki Bar.
The white sandy beaches are clearly inspired from their neighbours in the Caribbean with a host of tropical palm trees dancing alongside the turquoise waters. Tranquility Bay is a paradise that is worlds away from everyday life.
Top Places to Eat in The Keys:
- Chef Michael’s, Islamorada: https://foodtotalkabout.com – a local’s favourite
- No Name Pub: https://nonamepub.com – a hidden gem in the Lower Keys
- El Mason De Pepe: www.elmesondepepe.com – a great spot for Cuban fare
- Mrs Mac’s Kitchen, Key Largo: www.mrsmacskitchen.com/Home – offers hearty eats and operates by the motto ‘Eat Well, Laugh Often, Live Long’
- Butterfly Cafe, Tranquility Bay: www.tranquilitybay.com/dining/butterflycafe – sophisticated eats inside Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort
For more information on The Florida Keys, visit: fla-keys.co.uk.
Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Heathrow to Miami. For further information contact virginatlantic.com or call 0844 2092 770.