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Published: July 16th 2008
Fort Jefferson at Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park
(Panorama above is the view of the outer walls of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park)
Shreya and I visited South Florida for 4 days during July 4th weekend. Summer is not the right season to visit Southern Florida. It is the wet season with some occurrences of hurricanes. But, the bright side is the benefits of the “off-season”. That is, relatively less rush, cheaper hotels, etc.
Key West is the southernmost city of Continental United States. It is 4 hours South West of Miami, accessible by the Overseas Highway (US Route 1). This scenic highway consists of 42 bridges connecting number of islands to the mainland USA.
Key West holds a lot of historic significance. This city was a Spanish colony until Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. In 1982, Key West declared its independence as Conch Republic to protest against US Border Patrol blockage.
Today, Key West is a prime tourist location due to the scenic route, fishing and snorkeling opportunities, night life, nearby beaches, and warm tropical weather.
We drove to Key West from Boca Raton on July 3rd evening. Due to some pre-long weekend traffic, we reached Key West around 11pm.
Lower level archway through the fort
We stayed at a historic hotel - Key Lime Inn in the old town. This area is considered very touristy due to historic landmarks and nightlife nearby. Duval Street, most famous tourist attraction, was just 2 blocks away. The hotel was quite cozy but a bit noisy. However, it didn’t bother us much. Parking could an issue here. If you don’t arrive on time, you might have to park on the street. Fortunately, we got the last available parking spot. The receptionist asked us not to move the car and use other means of transport while we were in the town. Good advice! Key West is a very small town. You can literally walk everywhere. If you don’t wish to walk, there are other options like taxi, cycle-rickshaw, trolley, etc.
We had a reservation for Dry Tortugas National Park ferry with Sunny Days Catamarans next morning. We woke up quite early, partly due to the roosters just outside of our rooms! We called a taxi and reached the Historic Port, our ferry departure point. Taxi was quite affordable - $6.5!
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas are a group of small islands approximately 70 miles west
of Key West. The national park consists of these islands and surrounding water. Since, this national park is at a remote location into the ocean, it is one of the less accessible national parks. Only ways to reach them are either seaplanes or ferries. Main attraction of this national park is Fort Jefferson built on the Garden Key. This national park is very famous for abundant sea life, colorful coral reefs, shipwrecks, and legends of treasures sunk in the ocean.
Fort Jefferson was built primarily as a naval station to fight with the piracy in the Caribbean. Before the fort was built, a lighthouse and a cottage for the lighthouse keeper were built on the island. Apparently, US Navy Commodore David Porter, who was sent here to inspect the area, notified the navy that this place was unfit to become a naval station due to no freshwater and scarcity of enough space. Others in the navy still continued with their plans and built the fort. This fort was under the union rule during the Civil War. During the peak years, approximately 2000 people (including military and their families) lived here. Ironically, no battle was fought around the fort and
Very nice snorkeling spot
not a single bullet was shot! This fort served as a prison after the Civil War. Most famous inmate at the Fort Jefferson was Dr. Samuel Mudd who had been convicted of the conspiracy in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. In 1888, the army decided to use this fort as a marine quarantine station only due to less usefulness and high maintaining costs.
We were served continental breakfast on the ferry. It took approximately 2 hours to reach the fort. When we reached, they provided us a guided tour of the fort. After the guided tour, Deli style lunch was served on the ferry. Post lunch, we took a short walk in and around the fort and decided to hit the beach! Sunny Days had provided us the snorkeling gear. Shreya also got a life jacket from them.
Florida Keys and surrounding area has the only living coral reefs in the continental US. This made snorkeling so much fun! We saw number of colorful fishes just a few feet off the shore! Some of them were really inquisitive and came really close to us. I tried to take a few photographs using a disposable waterproof camera; however the result was
Blue & Yellow Fish
One of the many colorful fishes we saw while snorkeling
not so great.
After snorkeling for about 2 hours, it was time to leave the island! Both of us were so much enjoying the beach and the reefs that we were the last ones to board the ferry! The return journey was a bit bumpy. We reached the Historical Port at 5 pm.
We had 3-4 hours before the sunset. We decided to walk back to our hotel to explore the downtown. Our first stop was just across the port - Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe
! This historic desert shop has been featured on Food network and many other travel related channels and magazines. Key Lime Pie is a native Florida Keys desert which is really famous all over USA currently. I was damn sure that my visit to Key West was incomplete without a slice of the Key Lime Pie! I got a slice for me and it was yummy! The best pie ever!!!
We walked about a mile through the historic town and did some window shopping before we reached our hotel. Quickly after leaving our stuff in the room, we left for another attraction of Key West - the Southernmost Point of the Continental United
Key West, FL
States. It was a short walk from our hotel. Before reaching the southernmost point, we also saw the Southernmost Hotel and the Southernmost House and surprisingly a Southernmost Southernmost House!! Looks like, in Key West “Southernmost” is they keyword for anything!
Since we were exploring everything “Southernmost” here, we decided to have a dinner at the southernmost Indian restaurant! Nah... it’s not called the Southermost Indian restaurant. It is called Duval Street Indian Café. We just figured that there won’t be any Indian Restaurant in continental US southern to this one!
When we reached the hotel at night, we were so tired that we crashed the bed around 10pm! We had a fantastic start of our Florida trip, and had another 3 big days to look forward to! Some useful information:
How to get there?
• Key West is the west most tip of the Overseas Highway of Florida Keys. Approximately 130 miles south of Miami.
• Nearest major airport would be Miami; however, there is also an airport in Key West.
What to do?
• If you have a full day, Dry Tortugas is a must do!
• A lot of guided snorkel and scuba trips are available.
• Nightlife and shopping at Duval Street.
Where to stay?
• There are number of Motels and Hotels in Key West. Duval Street is a major street, anything within 2-3 blocks away from it would be considered a central location!
• We stayed at Key Lime Inn which is part of the Historic Key West Inns
Where to eat?
• So many restaurants in the historic city of Key West!
• No restaurants at all at Dry Tortugas. However, if you go to the national park by a ferry, they would provide you Deli style lunch and cold drinks.
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