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    Florida Keys: Breathtaking tour along the Overseas Highway

    Who I am
    Joel Fulleda
    @joelfulleda
    SOURCES CONSULTED:

    wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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    Not many people know, but deep South Florida is an idyllic area, with white sand beaches, clear water, coral reefs, protected nature reserves and mouth-watering cuisine. The ideal area for refreshing baths and water activities of all kinds.

    All this is the Florida Keys, an infinite archipelago of islands that stretch for 160 km between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, all united by a breathtaking panoramic road, the Overseas Highway (US-1), which allows you to explore these beautiful islands with bewildering ease. The road is not only the only way to get to Key West, the southernmost point of the continental United States, but it is also a pleasant opportunity, especially in the southernmost stretch, to admire panoramic views of the sea and take some photos at the old disused railroad that once went all the way to Key West.



    So let's leave behind the beaches of Miami and the fun of Orlando's parks, it's time to let yourself be touched by the wild and persuasive nature of the Florida Keys!

    Index

    • Upper Keys
      • Key Largo
      • Islamorada
    • Middle Keys
      • Marathon
      • Seven Mile Bridge
    • Lower Keys
      • Bahia Honda State Park
      • Big Pine Key and the other smaller islands
    • Key West
    • Where to sleep in the Florida Keys
    • Tour map
    • Video

    Upper Keys

    After hiring a car (have you already read our advice on this?) We then take the Overseas Highway, which starts south of Miami and runs 127 miles up to Key West. The first area we will encounter is called the Upper Keys and includes Key Largo, Tavernier, Islamorada and a series of islets accessible only by sea.



    Key Largo

    The first island we will encounter is also the largest. The town of Key Largo may not be memorable, but the stop is worth it for the treasures that this island hides underwater: the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in fact it represents a unique opportunity to enjoy the Florida Reef, a world famous coral reef that stretches for 78 square miles, reaching as far as Dry Tortugas. Of course, you can go on snorkelling tours, guided dives or excursions on glass bottom boats here. For more details here is our guide on how to visit Key Largo.

    Accommodations available in Key Largo

    Islamorada

    Rain Barrel Village

    Continuing along the US-1 it is impossible not to notice the welcoming Islamorada, a complex of islands of about 30 km dedicated to fishing and the most varied marine activities. If you want to enjoy a beautiful beach with a clear sea, go to Anne’s Beach, while Long Key State Park, with its canals and lagoons, it is an interesting place for excursions. I also recommend that you take a moment to stop by Rain Barrel Village, a curious village of artisans announced by an imposing lobster on the side of the Highway, a picturesque attraction, which for a moment could make you think you are on Route 66. Even if you don't have to buy anything, wandering and browsing among the shops is still worth it. the stop. For more information on the island here is our guide to Islamorada.


    Accommodation available in Islamorada

    Middle Keys

    beach hat

    The Middle Keys, the islands in the central area of ​​the entire archipelago, can be accessed by crossing the Long Key Bridge, which runs alongside the disused Long Key Viaduct, where the old railway once ran. The most famous bridge, however, is at the end of the stretch, the Seven Mile Bridge, one of the most spectacular points of the entire Overseas Highway.


    Marathon

    beach hat

    The Long Key Bridge will take you directly to the largest town in the area, Marathon on the island of Key Vaca. Here the attractions are not lacking: if the experience of Key Largo was not enough for you, you can dive or snorkel among the tropical fish of the coral reef reef hat; if you are in the mood for a nice bath, take a trip to beach hat, a beautiful beach equipped with crystal clear water and picnic tables.

    But perhaps the most fulfilling experience you will find at Dolphin Research Center, a unique opportunity to swim with dolphins, as well as to enrich your knowledge of these incredible animals. Finally, lovers of hiking in the wild will be able to explore Crane Point, a tropical forest of 25 hectares where you can find tropical trees, some interesting historical buildings (Adderley House Historic Site) and an interesting natural history museum. For more details here is our in-depth analysis on Marathon.


    Seven Mile Bridge

    Built between 1978 and 1982, this 7-mile long bridge runs parallel to the old railroad segment of the Overseas Railroad, a monumental work conceived by Henry Flager and fallen into disuse after a hurricane hit it violently in 1935. Today the stretch that runs alongside the Seven Mile Bridge can be covered on foot or by bicycle. There are some suggestive viewpoints to admire and photograph the old bridge, especially near Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys, so I talk about it in the next paragraph.

    Lower Keys

    Calusa Beach a Bahia Honda State Park

    The southernmost area of ​​the Keys is even denser in vegetation and remote. It is accessed, as mentioned, by crossing the magnificent Seven Mile Bridge, the city center of reference is Big Pine Key, but the flagship of the Lower Keys can only be Bahia Honda State Park.


    Bahia Honda State Park

    Here we are finally at the most sought after strip of sand of all the Keys, where you will find clear water with two shades of color and not surprisingly always present in the top 10 of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. The beauty of the place is not only given by the quality of the water but also by the scenographic context: one of the beaches of Bahia Honda (yes there is more than one, as you can read in our guide) is in fact "framed" by ancient Overseas Railroad, which in its own way provides an evocative element of the landscape; moreover, a section of the old railway can be covered on foot, allowing you to enjoy a beautiful raised view of the Calusa Beach cove.

    There is also another vantage point to enjoy a splendid view of the old railway and it is theOld Bahia Honda Bridge. This is the bridge that you find shortly after the State Park (just over 2 km) but it is easily accessible by going back north from Key West towards Miami: past Big Pine Key, after about 4 km you will find a small open space on your right, park and take the small path that will lead you to the bridge breaking point. Below is the map with the exact location.

    Big Pine Key and the other smaller islands

    Past Bahia Honda you come to Big Pine Key, which is home to the National Key Deer Refuge, the place to admire an endangered specimen such as the white-tailed deer. Here, even near the inhabited districts, it is quite easy to spot these animals (especially at sunrise and sunset) and you need to be careful when driving. If you are looking for a cult venue, know that, in an unlikely residential context made up of driveways and residential houses, the No Name, a historic pub dating back to 1936.

    Upon entering, you will immediately understand that you are not in just any place: you will be greeted by the words "You found it" on the sign (which self-jokes about the unlikely location of the place) and the ceiling completely covered with dollars, there are thousands of them, ask the manager at what figure they arrived. If you want, you can ask for a stapler, pull out a dollar and contribute. If you can't get through the No Name you can still console yourself in Key West with Captain Tony’s Saloon o Willie T’s, both with dollar-carpeted ceilings just like the Big Pine Key pub.

    In the southern islands, the main attraction is another fascinating coral reef, Loe Key Marine Sanctuary, a protected area of ​​5 miles rich in corals and colorful fish, which can also be visited with an organized tour from Key West.

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    Key West

    Continuing south is the legendary Key West, the end point of the Overseas Highway, the liveliest and most inspiring city of all the Keys. Park your car and stroll downtown, especially on Duval Street, where you can breathe that sophisticated and unmistakable atmosphere that deeply characterizes the town. In the evening find a good location in Mallory Square, because this is where you will see one of the best sunsets of your life! If you want to learn more about this beautiful town, I recommend you read our article on what to see in Key West.

    Where to sleep in the Florida Keys

    There are basically 2 ways to visit the Keys: stop and sleep at an intermediate point, for example in the Middle Keys, to calmly enjoy the many attractions along the way, or travel the entire Overseas Highway in one day and sleep directly in Key West.

    It may be useful to know that the widest offer of cheap accommodation can be found at Key Largo while excellent places to stop and break the path in 2 are Islamorada and, especially, Marathon. For an overview of the accommodations available along the entire route of the Keys you can take a look at the following link:

    Hotels on offer in the Florida Keys

    For Key WestInstead, take a look at our article linked below, taking into account that here the prices are much higher, especially in the high season.

    Where to sleep in Key West

    Tour map

    On the map you will find all the points mentioned in the itinerary.

    Video

    To get an idea of ​​the beauties that await you in the Florida Keys, you can take a look at this video.

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