Essential Holiday Information For The Florida Everglades & Keys

The final major region of the Sunshine State is far and away the most natural, encompassing as it does several rare ecosystems and environments, including the unique Everglades, the vast acreage of swamps, marshes and lowlands, otherwise known as the ‘River of Grass,’ that sit over much of southern Florida, creating an enormous wildlife sanctuary. This huge area – in excess of 2,000 square miles – is how all the rivers and lakes to the north drain into the Gulf of Mexico, and it feeds and houses an incredible variety of flora and fauna. It provides a wealth of ways to explore and appreciate it, but is also part of a major ongoing preservation project to protect it against creeping erosion, which could have a devastating effect on the region as a whole.

Immediately to the south, the state becomes a string of shallow tropical islands trailing off the mainland like a jewelled chain for 128 miles. At the end (just 94 miles from Cuba) is the main city of Key West, a former isolated fishing community that was finally incorporated into Florida proper in 1912 when Henry Flagler’s visionary Overseas Railway extension reached it at the end of an incredible seven-year project to connect the Keys via rail and bridge. The railroad was fatally damaged in the great hurricane of 1935, but the route with all its bridges was taken over by the state government, who created the Overseas Highway, an amazing 113-mile drive from Key Largo, the northernmost city in the Keys.

Today the Keys are very much a tourist destination unto themselves, the self-dubbed ‘Conch Republic’ (conch being a major marine mollusc that is a hugely popular dish) where things are ultra-laid back and flip-flops are official wear. Key West was home to Ernest Hemingway for many years, hence it has a reputation for a largely open, carefree attitude, with lots of bars. Florida is very welcoming of the LGBTQ community in general, but especially so in Key West, hence the annual Pride festival each June, among a series of special events that take the city’s party style to a whole new level.

The Keys are definitely the place to come for a totally chilled out holiday, but they offer a great variety of activities, too, with fishing and scuba-diving top of the list and seemingly omni-present. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park off the coast of Key Largo is home to the third-largest coral reef in the world and is a huge draw for snorkellers, divers and boat tours.

Key West is a good three-hour drive from Miami Airport. It does have its own regional airport (just a 45-minute hop from Miami International), but it would be a shame not to do the exhilarating scenic drive along the Overseas Highway, with its amazing bridges and views. Here you can really admire the crystal clarity of the sea and the million variations of turquoise that the sea can provide in a timeless tableau of marine perfection.

Miami Beach Watch Tower