Just a Start in the Florida Keys

When we say we are in “the Keys” most people assume we are partying in Key West. In fact, we are over 100 miles away from the party town and have spent a busy two weeks exploring the “upper keys.” The Florida Keys are made up of 1,700 little islands beginning about 15 miles south of Miami and extending westward beyond Key West. The word “key” is derived from the Spanish “cayo.” With so many little islands, we have a lot of territory to explore! We started with Key Largo.

Luckily, we snagged a two-week reservation at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park campground, which made this a more affordable stay than other options in the Keys. Our next-door neighbors in the campground, Dave and Cinda, were from Arizona, and we had a lot in common. The four of us enjoyed excursions, happy hours, and dinners together, which really made our stay here even more special. 

The park itself is mostly underwater. We took the snorkeling excursion to the reef twice and were amazed with the clarity of the water and the health of the reef. The water temperature is about 76 degrees, so it’s possible to swim and snorkel with just a swimsuit. We have our wetsuits with us, so we used those just for a little extra comfort. Lots of colorful fish, calm blue waters, and plenty of sunshine made for two perfect afternoons, one of which we shared with Dave and Cinda.

The park is also known for its kayaking trails through the mangroves. We took the Botē kayaks out several times to paddle around and look for cool things in the water.

Steve also set out on a few mornings to fish from the kayak. He caught a tree and a small pinfish, but that was about it. He had better luck fishing from a nearby bridge.

The Wild Bird Sanctuary is a small, local refuge for a variety of birds. We checked it out one afternoon while we were out poking around. There are a number of these little environmentally focused organizations through the Keys and we always try to stop and support these important organizations. 

One day we had the opportunity to travel back to the Miami International Airport to meet up with our dear friend Lucia Idarraga and her nephew Alvaro who were passing through on their way back to Colombia. There weren’t many options for breakfast in the very crowded airport terminal so we set up our own breakfast cafe curbside. It was a beautiful morning and we were thankful to spend some time with our special friends. 

A highlight of every day here in the Keys is sunset. Many of the area bars and restaurants have a sunset celebration so we checked out as many as we could! That means we’ve got A LOT of sunset pictures! We’re only two weeks into our six week Keys tour, so you can expect a few more sunset photos coming your way!

Key Largo has a warm, community feel. Steve got a haircut, I got a pedicure, we went to the library, and even gave blood one day in typical Keys fashion—there were chickens!

We met a number of locals along the way who were happy to recommend sunset watching locations and favorite restaurants. The Holiday Lighted Boat Parade was a fun local event we shared with our friends Dave and Cinda.

We’ve got a lot more Keys to check out. Soon we are heading to the southernmost point in the USA. 

One Week in the Keys

We are beyond lucky to have landed in the Florida Keys with two weeks of sunshine, water, and holidays ahead of us. After two months of travel, ten states, and twenty different campsites we’ve stationed ourselves at the beautiful BlueWater Key RV Resort just outside of Key West. We booked this stay nearly a year ago, pre-COVID, and were fortunate to get a site at that time. 

Our site is kind of like a condo in that it is individually owned and designed. Our particular site is not on the water, though many of them are.

We have a large, private area with a tiki hut. In our tiki we have a nice dining table, comfy chairs, a bar, TV, and full refrigerator. The tiki is a great extension to our living space, which is nice after the last two months on the road. 

For our first week here, which was Christmas, we were on our own. However, during the second week my cousin Mitch and his daughter Lauren will be joining us for New Years celebrations. We are excited to have the company!

Bluewater Key is located about 15 miles north of Key West. We’ve gone into “town” almost every day for some reason or another. Twice we took the bikes in and toured Key West in the most efficient way possible. The town is compact and very congested, so bikes are a great way to see the sites.  We also followed a small portion of the 90-mile Florida Overseas Heritage Trail, which is right outside of our resort and links Key West to Key Largo.

One day we rode the length of Duval Street (the main drag with all the bars and shops). Another day we used the bikes to get to Truman’s Little White House, the 1890s house President Truman used for 175 days during his administration of 1945-1953.

While in Key West you can’t miss the landmark sites we were introduced to in Jimmy Buffett songs so long ago. Captain Tony’s, Sloppy Joe’s, and the Blue Heaven are all must-see haunts that we haunted a few times! 

The other must-do in Key West is sunset at Mallory Square. We spent our Christmas Eve here watching a parade of boats say farewell to the day with a beautiful sunset.

Entertainers and vendors set up around the large public area every evening. We were lucky that the crowds were not very large on Christmas Eve, which allowed us to also get into the nearby El Meson de Pepe for Cuban food immediately following the sunset. 

We’ve also explored a few of the other Keys. One day we headed for Big Pine Key to search for the little Key deer and to hike the nearby trails of the National Key Deer Refuge. The trails were short and flat and nothing too strenuous but we enjoyed getting out into a habitat that is so different than what we are used to in Arizona.

We didn’t see the deer in the refuge but we did see one right outside of Walgreens! They are the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer and stand between 24” to 28” at the shoulder. Super cute!

On another day we headed to Marathon to hit the beach for a little while and to have lunch at Keys Fisheries.  Keys Fisheries is known for its lobster rueben so Steve had to partake. We also left the marina-side restaurant/fish market with a Florida spiny lobster and some incredible fish dip.  

Marathon has a lot going on. We actually visited there on a second day to take a tour of the Turtle Hospital. The old motel/nightclub turned rescue takes in injured or distressed turtles from all over and rehabilitates them with the goal of returning them to the sea.

We saw five species of turtles and witnessed the incredible work they do here to treat various illnesses and injuries. Some turtles come here with boat strikes and others have a type of tumor that is caused by pollution. The on-site veterinary staff performs surgeries and rehabilitates each individual to the extent possible so they can have a full and long life. This place is doing some really great work!

Mitch and Lauren are here now, so we’ll have more news and photos in the coming days. Believe me, there’s plenty to report.

In the meantime we hope everyone has a safe and happy New Years!