When you think about a trip to Key West, your first thoughts are usually about all the shenanigans that will be had while bar hopping on Duval Street. You are always guaranteed good times with fuzzy memories at places like Sloppy Joe’s, Captain Tony’s and my personal favorite, Irish Kevin’s.
Make it a point to see John Solinski’s set at Irish Kevin’s on your next visit. He is HILARIOUS!
But did you know there is more to Key West than just the standard pub crawl?
Located 70 miles west of Key West is a national park full of history, beauty, and wonder. Welcome to the Dry Tortugas.
Here are my top five reasons why you should make the Dry Tortugas part of your next Key West experience.
1. History & Fort Jefferson
Fort Jefferson sits on Garden Key, the main island of the seven that make up the Dry Tortugas. Though it was never completed, Fort Jefferson is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States. The fort was built to protect the nation’s gateway to the Gulf of Mexico and was also used as a prison during the civil war. Be sure to take the guided tour through Fort Jefferson to learn more interesting facts such as these.
If only I was a history buff back when I was in school. In those days you would usually find me sleeping in the back of the classroom. These days, visiting a historical landmark is a must during my travels. I make it a goal to visit at least one per trip.
You can also walk all the way around the moat of the fort and gaze out at the clear blue waters of the Gulf. Keep your eyes open for Parrotfish swimming throughout the moat.
If you love roughing it — and I mean REALLY roughing it. Camping on Garden Key is the the perfect spot for you. Picture being on a secluded island 70 miles away from civilization. No electricity, no fresh water, no stores nearby to buy supplies. You have to bring EVERYTHING with you! It’s primitive camping at it’s finest with the best tropical scenery you could possibly imagine. It’s like being a real life Robinson Crusoe! Well, for the weekend anyways.
3. Bird Watching
On the east end of Garden Key are two adjoining islands, Bush Key and Long Key. Migrating birds make their pit stop on these islands when they are traveling between South America and the United States.
Only 7 species of birds nest on Bush and Long Key full time but there have been records of almost 300 different species spotted during the seasonal migrations.
Even though Bush Key is closed seasonally to protect nesting birds you can still get pretty close to the action. But if you long to get a little more up-close and personal, bring your binoculars and telephoto lens. Watching the mass amount of birds flying around these islands is quite a sight to see. If you are a lover of birds and wildlife, you will not be disappointed. Plus it seriously looks like something out of a Hitchcock movie.
4. Snorkeling & Diving
The water that surrounds Fort Jefferson is some of the bluest and clearest I have ever seen in Florida. The Dry Tortugas is one of the best places to snorkel and dive. With an abundant amount of shipwrecks to explore, along with hundreds of tropical fish species, corals and other sea life–you’ll find yourself in an underwater playground.
You don’t have to go far off shore to view the treasures that lie within the Gulf. As soon as I walked off the beach at Fort Jefferson, a huge school of fish passed by me. I spotted a barracuda who kept his eye on me while I explored the marine life around the old dock pilings on the south side of the fort.
No need to worry about bringing your own snorkel gear, if you take the Yankee Freedom III ferry to the Dry Tortugas like I did, they supply complimentary gear plus lunch. What a deal!
5. One of a Kind Experience
Visiting the Dry Tortugas is truly a unique experience. On such a small spec of land you’ll be able to observe a vast amount of beauty and wildlife, have an in-depth history lesson, relax on a beach, or explore the underworld of the Gulf of Mexico. Make sure to add this destination on your “#JustGo” list.
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