After talking with a few Florida natives, we determined that Key West itself might be a bit crazy, that the Floridians go to Islamorada instead. (which thankfully is a much shorter drive!) So we based ourselves out of Islamorada, which also happens to host some fabulous watersport activities. Actually, all of the Keys seem to be home to fabulous watersports, so I would highly recommend partaking in them if you go.
|Alligator lighthouse about 3 miles off the coast|
|The shallow reef near the lighthouse|
Fish love to hang out in the shade of the lighthouse and there are THOUSANDS!! (Unfortunately I didn't take an underwater camera, but a few highlights were: Blue Tang, Sergeant Major fish, Yellow Tail Snapper, grunts, little minnows, Rainbow Parrotfish - if you listened underwater you could actually hear the Parrotfish biting coral!, etc) We saw quite a few Barracudas, a Moray eel, and just after sliding off the boat near the lighthouse (our 2nd stop - first we stopped in a deeper reef for 45 minutes) I spotted a 5 foot grey nurse shark! I came right back up and yelled, "Shark!" and Jonathan was able to see it, but no one else was really in the water yet and thankfully the shark decided it didn't like humans that well (and I personally don't like sharks that well, even if they are supposed to be harmless like this type was).
Speaking of sharks and watersports, we also did a little stand up paddleboarding - well, about 3 hours worth - which was plenty! (all my little foot intrinsic muscles were very tired and sore after that! ...ok, so they were already sore from ultimate frisbee in cleats, but anyways) While SUP'ing, however, I saw 2 more, smaller sharks, about 2 feet long Black Tipped Sharks like this little guy:
|I did not take this picture...but it looks the most like what I saw!|
We based our snorkeling and SUP'ing adventures out of Robbie's Marina, just a few miles from where we stayed in Islamorada. There are other activities such as deep sea fishing, kayaking, and feeding the tarpon you can do there. Feeding the tarpon?! Yup, you can see these 100 lb fish fighting over the food you throw them from the dock at Robbie's. Costs you a dollar, but would be highly entertaining for small children... OR, if you happen to have rented a SUP or kayak from them, you might actually want to stay a little further away as I was a little scared paddling back in as these HUGE fish thrashed around as people fed them that I might just get bumped off my paddleboard into the water with all them!
So yes, we did go down to Key West for a little while one day, hit up the historic sites, which was fun! We saw mile marker 0, Hemingway's house, the "southernmost part" of the US, were closer to Cuba than a Walmart, lots of chickens walking around the town, the Key West lighthouse, and a few endangered Key Deer on the drive home!
And off course we also sampled some more Key Lime Pie...
So overall, I would say if you're looking for a more laid back approach to the Florida Keys, Islamorada is an excellent (and cheaper!) way to go, but if you like a more lively "scene" then Key West would be a better choice. Also from Key West you can visit the Dry Tortugas (if you have a reservation far enough in advance) which look pretty awesome!! If we had been in Key West longer, however, I would have loved to have tried the all inclusive beach pass for a day which had a parasail, kayaks, SUPs, Windsurfing, Sailing, etc!
So a recap/words of advice if you're heading to the Keys? Stay atleast part of the time in Islamorada, take lots of bug spray and sunscreen, and indulge in various water activities besides sunbathing! (and eat lots of fish and Key Lime pie!!)