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The Florida Keys: Dolphin Watching and Island Hopping | Roadtrip USA (17)

South of Miami, at the very bottom of Florida and at the very bottom right in the USA, lie the Florida Keys. An archipelago of about 1700 small islands. There is a road called Route 1 from Key Largo, the most northerly island, to "the last" island of Key West in the south-west. On the islands you are not far from the Bahamas and Cuba. The tropical atmospheres will meet you! In this blog we give you tips about where to go, what to do and where to stay.


Plan your vacation to America here


Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a major one-year journey that we (Chris and Malou van Wereldreizigers.nl), are currently making by the United States en Canada† We started in New York City and are through Washington DC en Baltimore (where we shipped our RV), first traveled south (Florida) and then made a full round of the country.

Organizing this trip took a lot of time and energy. So we had to US B1/B2 visa of one year and we spent weeks working on it renovating our 4×4 camper† Then we got to work on the RV to America to ship and in hindsight it turned out to be a Dutch vehicle insurance in America to be one of the biggest challenges.

When that was all over, we could finally focus on the anticipation: figuring out and planning all the beautiful places we want to visit. I built the ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada of roughly 50.000 kilometers in Google maps and we are now making our dream come true! The interactive map can be viewed below.

More blogs from our trip through America and Canada

The route from Key Largo to Key West

The route from Key Largo to Key West takes at least 2,5 hours and is a beautiful route to drive! Our advice is to take it easy and stop occasionally during the ride on one of the islands. This can be done in a day trip, but it is also worth staying longer. It is advisable to choose a few places in advance and save them on Google Maps where you want to stop. Below is a small preview from the air.

Google Maps | the Florida Keys
Google Maps | the Florida Keys
360 degree drone view of Highway 1 - Click on the picture! † the Florida Keys
360 degree drone view of Highway 1 – Click on the picture! † the Florida Keys

Tip:: Click on the image above to open the 360 ​​degree drone view of Highway 1. Click it again for full screen. On your phone you can also click the compass at the bottom left, then you can look around with a 360 degree view.

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Parks and Beaches on the Keys

At several islands they have parks on the water, here you can walk, cycle, snorkel and swim. Below is a small selection of places that are definitely worth visiting!

1. Big Pine Key (blue water hole & refuge)

On the island Big pine key you will find the National Key Deer Refuge Nature Center. They have several walking and cycling routes where there is a good chance that you will see the deer. You have the best chance at sunrise or sunset. You will also find the Blue Water Hole there. This freshwater lake attracts turtles and alligators.

2. Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park has two beautiful beaches, Loggerhead beach en Calusa Beach† They are some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida! On one side you look out on the ocean and the other on an old railway bridge. Both beaches will not disappoint. From the old Railroad Bridge you have a view over the beach and the island, below is a photo I took with my drone.

The Old Railroad Bridge - Bahia Honda State Park - The Keys
The Old Railroad Bridge – Bahia Honda State Park – The Keys

You pay a small entrance fee to enter the park. For example, you pay USD 8 for a car with two occupants. You can also camp in the Park. See further on in the blog, where to stay. There is more information about the how and what.

Loggerhead Beach Bahi State Park | † The Florida Keys
Loggerhead Beach Bahi State Park | † The Florida Keys

3. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach

Another State Park with a beautiful beach, but not only… Fort Taylor is pre-Civil War and a National Historic Landmark with the largest stockpile of Civil War armaments in the world. Walk through the red brick corridors of the Fort, past cannons and cannon gates, and history becomes real. At the entrance you pay an entrance fee of USD 6 for a car with two occupants.

4.Dry Tortugas National Park

Although Dry tortugas is not entirely on the Keys, which is still 109 km west of Key West, this special place (and also one of the US National Parks), as far as we're concerned, it's still on the list. Fort Jefferson is located on the island and partly due to its remote location, the national park has one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world. North America† You can get there by boat or seaplane. There are several providers of day tours in Key West.

Activities

1. Dolphin Watching and Snorkeling

We strongly (!) recommend that you set aside a part of the day for a snorkeling and dolphin tour in Key West! Many different tours are offered. Honest Eco is the best in our opinion. They are the only ones with a fully electric boat that is both quiet and good for the environment. The fact that you don't smell diesel odors on the way also helps many against seasickness and nausea.

Honest Eco Tours' Quiet Electric Boat in Key West
Honest Eco Tours' Quiet Electric Boat in Key West

Dolphins mock

The tour itself is great. It is indescribable what a feeling you get when you spot dolphins in their natural environment and they are curious about you too! We fell silent on the boat and quietly watched the animals around us for a while.

Dolphin Watching in Key West
Dolphin Watching in Key West

Honest Eco is more than just a tour. They have a marine biologist on board to tell you about the behavior of the sea animals and to answer all your questions. During the trip they also provide you with delicious fresh fruit and vegetables, organic and local of course.

When we approached the dolphins, they were calm. The marine biologist told us that the animals were sleeping. They do this by turning off half of their brains, while the other half keeps an eye on things. Moments later, they were awake and circling the boat. You could see them turning a quarter turn while swimming to get a good look at us. They were just as curious about us as we were about them!

Dolphin Watching in Key West
Dolphin Watching in Key West

Wereldreizigers.nl consciously chooses not to visit animals in captivity or not to promote animal entertainment. It WWF talks about the situation of dolphins taken from the wild and used for entertainment. We from wereldreizigers.nl would therefore strongly advise you to cannot going to ocean parks and swimming with dolphins. You can spot them at sea, in countless places around the world. Make sure you have a guide who respects the animals and keeps enough distance. A good guide does not chase or lure animals.

Snorkeling at Coral Reef

After at least an hour of spotting dolphins, we sailed to a coral reef. Here we got our snorkeling gear and went into the water. To our surprise we immediately saw stingrays! That's not dangerous as long as you keep enough distance and don't chase them. Once we got used to the water and looked again, it was littered with rays. You have to look closely, because they like to hide in the sand at the bottom.

One of the many stingrays we saw while snorkeling. They often hide in the sand | Key West
A stingray while snorkeling. They often hide in the sand | Photo taken with GoPro Hero 8 | Key West

Also read: What is the best camera for a world tour? And why?

Some of us had never snorkeled before, but with the help of Honest Eco, they quickly felt like a fish in water. We swam from colorful coral, to parrot fish, to tarpon fish, sea stars and much more. While snorkeling, our marine biologist checked if everything was okay, pointed us to different animals, provided us with information and answered our questions. How cool is that?! Your own marine biologist at hand.

Recommended!

2.Key West

At the bottom of the Keys you will find the well-known town of Key West. During the day, visit Key West Old Town.

If you like it, there is a tourist train or trolley† They will drive you along all the important places in Old Town, while telling you about the history and architecture. They will take you to the Hemingway Home & Museum, the Shipwreck Museum and Sails to Rails Museum, among others. The price depends on which tour with which provider you choose. For a day tour you pay for an adult between 35 and 50 USD.

Colonial Homes in Key West | The Florida Keys
Colonial Homes in Key West | The Florida Keys

It's great to wake up around sunset Mallory Square to be. Every evening the sunset is celebrated there with musicians, acrobats, magicians and of course tents where you can get something delicious to eat or drink. That while you can see the beautiful sunset in the background.

Another good choice to enjoy the sunset is at the colorful Tiki bar Sunset Pier† There is a relaxed atmosphere here, not to mention ice cold cocktails!

In the evening it can be done on duval street, where several bars can be found. There is a lot of live music every night. Choose the bar that best suits your group, or go on a pub crawl! Among the Americans, a number of bars are very well known and popular. It can therefore be pleasantly busy.

Sloppy Joe's Bar | Key West
Sloppy Joe's Bar | Key West
Whistle Bar | KeyWest
Whistle Bar | KeyWest

For all the fun things to do in and around Key West, check out here the offer.

3. Enjoying the sunset

A few places in Key West have already been mentioned above where you can enjoy the sunset. However, if you're heading north again, there are other places on the Keys as well.

Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, the name says it all, is one of them. It is an attractive restaurant with delicious food and a swimming pool. On Sunday they make it a party with a pool and beach party.

Sunset Grille & Bar | The Keys
Sunset Grille & Bar | The Keys

A little more towards the mainland, on the island of Marathon you will find Island Fish Co and a little further on, on the island of Islamorada is Morada Bay Beach Cafe† At these restaurants you can enjoy the sunset and delicious food!

4. Fishing and canoeing

Do you love fishing and boating? Then there are also plenty of places to do that. During our day-tour we visited Robbie's† From the pier we saw Nurse sharks, tarpon fish and manatees! It is a place where you can eat, shop for souvenirs and do many different activities.

manatee! In other words: manatees | The Florida Keys
manatee! In other words: manatees | The Florida Keys

If you have a little more time, you can easily spend the day at Robbies. They offer many different boat and fishing tours and you can rent a jet ski or canoe.

Souvenirs at Robbie's | The Florida Keys
Souvenirs at Robbie's | The Florida Keys

Where to stay

Camping

You can find camping spots at some of the State Parks, such as Bahia Honda State Park and Curry Hammock State Park. However, you will have to book in time (a few weeks in advance), because the campsites are popular!

Tip:: Reservations can be made on the website of Florida State Parks.

There are also private campgrounds, especially near Key West. Expect to pay more than the average price and expect to be close to your neighbor. These campsites are also popular, so booking ahead of time is recommended.

Hotels

There are many hotels, motels and holiday homes on the islands. It is therefore difficult to make a suggestion. What we do know is which island you should be on!

  • Are you looking for a quiet and romantic environment? Then is Big pine key the place for you.
  • Do you want to do a lot of activities as a couple? Then is Key Largo the place where you will find the best accommodation.
  • Are you looking for a small-scale stay with a relaxed atmosphere? Then you will definitely find it on Key West, but that is not for the small wallet…
  • Are you out with the kids? then are Marathon en Islamorada the best islands to stay in.
A typical street of beautiful colonial houses in Key West| Florida Keys
A typical street of beautiful colonial houses in Key West

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Conclusion

A roadtrip Making over The Keys to the tip in Key West is an insanely popular activity and I can see why! The Florida Keys are a truly unique piece of America. Not only because of its history (because it was always an important, strategic point because of its location), but also because of the bizarre bridges and roads that connect the islands. Driving here is an experience in itself.

A roadtrip over The Keys to Key West from Miami is easy to do. Those who leave early have a great day and plenty of time to stop at a number of places. Those who want to stay longer in Key West can sample the nightlife on the island or take a snorkel or dolphin tour. The latter is a unique experience that you will never forget.

Also read: Why Florida is Great | Roadtrip USA (9)
Also read: Street Art in Wynwood, Miami | Roadtrip USA (14)


Plan your vacation to America here


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Malou

From an early age 👶 I have been fascinated by distant travels and other cultures. Seen many a country 🗺️, but certainly not ready yet! At this age (31) I often think about how to organize my life further. When I travel, I quickly let go of that and I can fully enjoy the here and now 🧘.
At home 🏠 I have a job in childcare, but at the moment I have a year off to go on an adventure with my husband Chris and the camper 🚐 in the US 🇺🇸 and Canada 🇨🇦

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