A Road Trip across the Florida Keys
A road trip through the Keys is no everyday drive. Following the Overseas Highway as it passes from island to island, it’s a journey dominated by the blue of the Florida Straits. Naturally, of course, it’s far from being monotonous. The Keys themselves, once home to the likes of Truman and Hemingway, remain a byword for tropical glamour and outdoor activities. The fishing, scuba diving and snorkelling are particularly strong. And by starting this four-hour, 200-mile Miami road trip, you’ll also be able to incorporate the Latino vibrancy of the big city.
Sitting forty miles or so north of Miami proper, Boca Raton is a classy spot known for its beaches, high-end resorts and Mediterranean Revival architecture. Play a round at one of the area’s golf courses before heading south through Fort Lauderdale to Miami itself. It’s a city of Latin music and beachside neighbourhoods – you’ll have the chance to cruise along Ocean Drive. Sports fans can bag a ticket for Miami Heat, one of the country’s top basketball teams (the season runs until April), while foodies can sample the city’s Cuban cuisine. Debate rages over the best pan con bistec in town. The road then leads out on to Key Largo.
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Famed for the Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall film of the same name, Key Largo has plenty to offer in its own right. It’s the largest of the islands and plays home to the extraordinary John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Daily snorkelling tours showcase just why the park is so highly rated. Glass-bottom boat trips are also available. Back on land, the seafood chefs at Snapper’s work wonders with the lobsters you’ll have seen under the waves. From here, Islamorada is just a short drive away.
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This so-called “Village of Islands” comprises five separate Keys, which together form a chain some 20 miles long. It’s long been popular for fishing trips. Charter vessels are easy to find, and the waters are well known for their huge sailfish. Also close by is Indian Key Historic State Park, where mangroves and shallow flats make it a great place for kayaking. Continuing down the archipelago, you’ll cross the Seven Mile Bridge before reaching Big Pine Key.
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Big Pine Key
The main settlement in the Lower Keys, Big Pine Key is a laid-back island covering just ten square miles. Its National Key Deer Refuge gives the chance to see the tiny deer found only on the Keys. Within the refuge you’ll also find the filled quarry known as the Blue Hole, where alligators can be spotted. Call in too at the No Name Pub, decorated with thousands of signed dollar bills.
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No car-hire trip to the Keys would be complete without continuing to its southernmost island. Key West has been dubbed “The Conch Republic”, thanks to a Caribbean feel and an often quirky individuality. It draws around a million visitors each year. Head downtown for local designer shopping, tuck into sea scallops at Blue Heaven Cafe or visit Ernest Hemingway’s former home, where A Farewell To Arms was written. And if you make your way to the marker at the bottom of Whitehead Street, you’ll be at the most southerly point in continental USA.
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