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Unlocking The Magic of The Florida Keys: Key Largo and Islamorada
by Maureen Austin, PassPorter Message Board Guide and Guest Contributor

When thinking about South Florida, many think about Miami and Miami Beach. However, keep heading south and you’ll discover a part of Florida that is unique and positively special in its own right. Welcome to 106 miles of island beauty known as the Florida Keys. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay, the Keys have rich history that includes Spanish, British exploration and occupation. Pirates were also known to be found around these parts back in the day, too. Equally notorious as the Keys are some of its better known residents, such as Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and of course, Margaritaville’s own Jimmy Buffet.

Some refer to the Keys as America’s Caribbean. To write a comprehensive article covering every aspect of what the Florida Keys have to offer is like trying to eat a piece of key lime cheesecake in one sitting - too rich to do all at once. In this article, we’ll visit Key Largo and Islamorada.

Just about an hour’s drive south of Miami International Airport, you can find yourself in what some consider to be the dive capital of the world. Home of the Florida Marine National Sanctuary, Key Largo has a long history of marine preservation. Key Largo’s many dive spots are known for exquisite coral and friendly fish, making diving here an experience unlike any other. Known as the “Dive Capital of the World,” Key Largo is at the forefront of marine conservation. The nation’s first undersea preserve, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, was created here in 1960. Spear-fishing and coral collection has been banned here for over 40 years, resulting in incredible marine life – an underwater photographer’s Eden!

If you have a fondness for staying on top of the water with a reel, you’ll feel right at home in Key Largo. Although many areas in the sanctuaries are off limits with respect to fishing, there are other areas to cast into. Charters offer many outstanding opportunities to take in deep sea fishing, where the catch are some of the world’s most sought-after fish. Tarpon and grouper are just a couple of the prized catches in Key Largo.

Animal lovers and eco-enthusiasts will enjoy many activities and tours in Key Largo. Many private tour operators conduct guided expeditions exploring wildlife and environments, including animals and plant life indigenous to the Keys.

If shopping or art are more your style, you’ll have no trouble finding paradise in Key Largo.  Each April, Key Largo hosts the Art Guild Outdoor Festival, showcasing works of local artists. In any season, quaint stores await the shopping enthusiast.

Accommodations range from charming cottages and family run motels to camping at John Pennekamp State Park, which has some of the best diving the Keys has to offer.

Continuing south, you’ll reach Islamorada. Sport fishing reigns supreme here, with most marinas hosting some of the best pro fishers anywhere, available as guides. Choose between flats or tackle - you are sure to land a catch you’ll remember!

Sport divers aren’t left out here either. Tropical marine life along the coral reef abounds, providing underwater photographers with colors one can only dream about. Alligator Reef is the home to the sunken USS Alligator, a 12-gun schooner scuttled in 1822.

Boat enthusiasts will find a wide variety of watercraft rentals for plying the blue waters of Islamorada.

You can also take in ecotourism in Islamorada. Head to the back country and check out alligators and manatees. Florida sea grasses and flats also abound here. Nearby Indian Key is only accessible by boat or private tour, and is worth the effort to get there. Here, Native Americans walked for thousands of years.

Accommodations in Islamorada also include camping, hotels and motels as well as condo rentals.  For a change of pace, you can also call a bed and breakfast home during your stay. Many are traditional masonry conch houses that have unique décor and styles all their own.

Both Key Largo and Islamorada offer activities for everyone in the family. Children will love feeding tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada as well as Founder’s Park. In Key Largo, the little ones will be sure to love the water park at Jacob’s Aquatic Center, for a very reasonable admission price.

Savvy travelers and travel enthusiasts will find these Keys web sites helpful.

This article appeared in our May 3, 2006 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 04/06/07 

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