The Florida Keys are a chain of islands that extend in a curve off the tip of Florida, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Although some of the larger islands have reputations as tourist traps, each of the forty-five keys has its own personality, and most are remote and unpopulated enough to be home to a variety of wildlife, including birds, plants, and marine life. Connected by the 113-mile Highway 1, visitors driving from Miami can reach the first of the Keys, Key Largo, in about an hour. The jewel of the Keys, Key West, is the western-most island and a major destination for visitors. Its peak season lasts from January to April, when the temperatures and ocean breezes are especially fine, and the island is free from hurricanes. Visitors can stroll through historic sites and maritime museums in the Old Town section and eat key lime pie and conch salad at the island’s many restaurants. They can visit the pub where Ernest Hemingway used to drink and the beaches where Tennessee Williams used to swim. They can shop for cigars and local art in the island’s high-end shops or slum their way through the hundreds of t-shirt and trinket shops. Other popular Key West activities include snorkeling, diving, boating, lying on the beach, or visiting the Dry Tortugas National Park, a protected archipelago just sixty-nine miles south of Key West. From Miami, travelers to Key West have many transportation options.
For those interested in getting to Key West and avoiding the other forty-four islands, flying is the way to go. Round-trip flights from Miami to Key West International Airport are relatively inexpensive, at $150-$200. Many of the major fliers, including American, Delta, and Continental Airlines, as well as local charter companies service Key West from Miami, often with several flights a day. Fliers must be prepared, though, to embark on a small “puddle jumper” rather than a jet. Key West’s Old Town is a $10 taxi ride from the airport.
Traveling by bus is perhaps the cheapest way to get from Miami to Key West. At least two Greyhound buses depart daily from Miami to Key West. Non-refundable Greyhound fares start at around $30. Refundable fares are a little more expensive. The trip by bus is about four and one half hours.
Shuttle buses are also available. More than half a dozen Florida Express shuttles leave the Miami airport for Key West every day. Round-trip tickets are $200, and the ride is about three hours and forty-five minutes long.
For those seeking an adventure, driving from Miami to Key West is the best option. Drivers should head south on I-95 and connect to Highway 1 (Overseas Highway). The 160-mile trip takes about three hours, provided you don’t stop along the way to eat fried conch or listen to bluegrass music. Traffic is often a major problem, as Highway 1 becomes a two-lane road once you reach Key Largo, and it is the only road in or out of the islands. Once you get to Key West in your car, however, you may want to get out and walk or rent a bicycle or moped, as the Key has narrow streets and limited parking.
Although ferry services are no longer available from Miami, experienced boaters are welcome to sail from Miami to Key West. Boaters may cruise along the Keys on either the Atlantic side or the Gulf side, and make stops in the marinas along the way, provided they have made reservations in advance. Keep in mind that much of the trip after passing Key Largo takes place in international waters, and boaters should have experience navigating them.