THE Florida Keys are a chain of stunning coral islands, all connected by the 113-mile-long Overseas Highway, which descends from America’s southern coast to the Gulf of Mexico like a scorpion’s tail.
Made up of five unique neighborhoods – Key West, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo – the Keys are truly an American gem.
Whether your dream vacation involves action-packed watersports or uninterrupted relaxation, this is an idyllic world of marinas, mangroves and heavenly beaches.
For us Brits, it’s also an off-season paradise best enjoyed in autumn or spring, away from the thunderstorms and summer humidity. Even in January, average temperatures do not drop below 16°C.
Bikes are a great way to explore the Keys. Do it in style by renting a Baja Fat Tire – perfect for cruising the sand with ease – from Bike Marathon Bike Rental.
Cycle the ocean on the old historic Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key. Rental costs £21 per day and includes a basket, padlock and helmet (Bikemarathonbikerentals.com).
13 slimming swimsuits for last-minute vacations
After all these steps, have lunch at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, directly on the beach, at the foot of the bridge.
Sit by the pool under a thatched tiki hut and enjoy a grouper sandwich, £17, followed by a homemade key lime tart, £6. Don’t miss happy hour – daily from 3-6pm (Sunsetgrille7milebridge.com).
west is best
Key West is the southernmost point in the United States and at different times has been both one of the poorest and richest places in the country.
Now the self-proclaimed capital of the Republic of Conch (pronounced “konks” – and named after the beautiful seashells that were once common here), the island spans just two by four miles.
Conor McGregor relaxes in striped Dunnes Stores pajamas as fans say the same
Life has never been the same since we lost our children, says Micheal Martin
SANS FRILLONS AND KATE
Wills and Kate spend their first weekend in a new home after moving to Windsor
GOODBYE TO TV
Virgin Media star Simon Delaney bids farewell to the Ireland AM team
Dunnes Stores fans get ready for a new €35 cardigan frenzy with a quirky print
I let the trolls bother me, but now I know the truth, says Pat Spillane
Get oriented with a hop-on, hop-off tram tour, with expert guides blending quirky anecdotes and history to give you a real insight into this quirky city. Day passes cost from £42 (Trolleytours.com/key-west).
Don’t miss the house where Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his greatest books – the resident six-toed cats are direct descendants of his own furry friends. Entry costs £14 per adult (Hemingwayhome.com).
While on the history trail, visit the Little White House where Harry Truman ruled the United States for much of his presidency. You can even ride in one of the presidential limos.
Tours cost from £21 (Trumanlittlewhitehouse.org). As the sun goes down, watch the charming street party in Mallory Square, then head to Duval Street, where the bars bustle with live music and dancing.
If heart-pounding action is your idea of a great vacation, then there’s no better place to get stuck than John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.
Unleash your inner adventurer by hiring kayaks and exploring one of the trails in the mangrove wilderness, from £17 per hour. Just make sure you have clear instructions or you could end up in the ocean!
If diving is your thing, take a snorkel or scuba trip to the haunting Christ of the Abyss statue, which featured in Netflix’s Bloodline. Tours cost from £32 per adult and £29 for under-18s (Pennekamppark.com).
If you prefer to live this underwater experience on dry land, be sure to meet the most charming residents of the Keys: the turtles. Take a tour of the Marathon Turtle Hospital, where the amazing team helps animals recover from illness or boat collisions.
Tours cost £25 per adult and £13 for children under 12, with all proceeds going to turtle conservation. Book in advance, as places are limited (Turtlehospital.org).
Food in the Keys is all about the sea, and you’ll soon be an expert on local fish like grouper, mahi mahi, and yellowtail snapper. The Fish House in Key Largo is a local institution that serves an elaborate array of local catches in a relaxed atmosphere.
Portions are huge, so skip the starters and dive straight into the legendary baked stuffed mahi, £28, or the marinara mussels, £20 (Fishhouse.com).
In Key West, a long al fresco lunch at Blue Heaven is a must. Sit in the leafy courtyard among the wild chickens (yes, really) and enjoy a Caesar salad with local prawns, £19 (Blueheavenkw.com).
For a very special dinner, visit nearby Bistro 245 for its exquisite seared tuna, £15, washed down with a perfect agave margarita, £10 (Bistro245.com).
The Keys also has plenty of excellent micro-breweries, and beer lovers should head to the Florida Keys Brewing Company for a delicious tasting session and very generous samples, £13 for five 5oz pours (Floridakeysbrewingco.com) .
With so much to explore, having a good base is essential. Banana Bay is a resort located in the center of Marathon, making it ideal for exploring the Upper and Lower Keys. The hotel rooms are spacious and modern and overlook the marina or the ocean.
It also has one of the deepest swimming pools in the archipelago and a world-class breakfast. Rooms cost from £210 per night including breakfast (Bananabay.com).
For a more affordable but still brilliant option, Captain Pip’s at Knight’s Key Inn is just around the corner and has an outdoor pool, barbecue grills, kayaks, and bikes for rent. Rooms cost from £104 per night (Captainpips.com).
Carol Vorderman reveals curves in no-makeup snaps as she strips down for a day at the spa
THIS IS THE BREAST
I’m really flat chested but I fished my boobs – people always ask me how
A stone’s throw from both hotels, you can rent a jet ski at Banana Bay Marina. We guarantee that speeding under the Overseas Highway at 80 km/h with the glistening Gulf of Mexico on the horizon deserves to be on everyone’s bucket list! Rental starts at £100 (Chartered-rentals.com).
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Plan your trip at Fla-keys.co.uk.
Purely America is offering seven nights in the Florida Keys from £1,899 pp, including return flights from London Heathrow to Miami with BA, luggage and car hire, insurance, fees, mileage unlimited and hosting.