Key West and The Florida Keys Vacation Guide

If you are still searching for moments of excitement and discovery but in socially distant destinations much closer to home, plan a vacation in the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys are an archipelago of 1700 tropical islands stretching about 120 miles off the southern tip of mainland Florida, between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

With warm temperatures and sunny skies, the Florida Keys are great to visit any time of the year. Given that Miami is a big and crowded city, it is better to fly directly into Key West International Airport. However, Ft. Lauderdale/ Miami is often cheaper to fly into, and it allows you to drive through the famous Overseas Highway and explore the northern Keys by road.

Sucheta Rawal in Key West
Make sure to check out the murals and street art around Key West

More Than Just Beaches…

It is true that most people come to the Florida Keys for the beaches and resorts, while that is not all that the Florida Keys offer. In fact, there are no beaches in Key West so you may want to stay in the other Keys or Miami area. The history, architecture and food are bigger highlights here.

There is a Bohemian vibe to the city of Key West, with colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, orange colored Framboyant trees, Cuban cafes and rooster running around the crosswalks. Whenever possible, stay away from the crowded bars and enjoy a socially distant vacation in the Florida Keys at these places…

Oceans edge Key West marina
Water sports are included with your stay at Oceans Edge Key West

Oceans Edge Key West

First, check in to a spacious resort away from the hustle and bustle of Old Town Key West. Suites with separate living rooms and private oceanfront balconies overlook a contemporary marina at Oceans Edge Key West in Stock Island. The property is gated, has free parking, and a free shuttle for whenever you want to pop over the narrow Cow Key Channel into town for dining or sightseeing.

Also, there are a number of activities included in your stay at Oceans Edge Key West so you could easily spend a day here swimming, paddle boarding, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, or take a fishing charter into the sea.

Hemingway house cats
Resident polydactyl cats at the Hemingway House gift shop

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

If you are a fan of literature and cats, the Hemingway House in Key West is a must stop. The home of Ernest Hemingway is a walk-in museum where guides lead you though his life’s important events, while about 60 polydactyl cats roam free through his bedroom, pool and gift shop! Due to COVID-19, the number of people allowed indoors is restricted and masks are mandatory.

Ernest Hemingway books
The Old Man and the Sea is is one of Ernest Hemingway most famous works. It tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba.
Key West butterfly garden
Watch butterfly up close at the conservatory in Key West

Key West Butterfly Garden and Nature Conservancy

Next, the small butterfly conservatory in Old Town Key West is one of the most beautiful place for nature lovers. Picture being surrounded by 50-60 species of colorful butterflies frolicking on tropical plants and pink flamingos, some even settling on your clothes! A walk through the glass enclosed butterfly garden takes only a few minutes, but if you are in awe like me, you would want to relax and admire these little creatures for a few hours.

Key west food tour
Take a socially distant walking food tour in Key West

Key West Food Tour

When you want to know where to find the best local seafood or world’s best key lime pie, follow a resident food expert. Seafood Lover’s Food Tour led by Key West Food Tours is a perfect way to sample sangria, royal red shrimp, spiny lobster and conch, while learning about the history and culture of the place, and getting some exercise along the way! Set aside 3-4 hours for the tour and plan to walk along the famous Duval and Petronia streets. The woman-founded food tour company specializes in showcasing mom and pop restaurants you may otherwise not hear about.

Florida Key lime pie mystery novel
Here’s a good mystery novel to inspire your travel and tastebuds in Florida.
Up the keys ecotour in Florida Keys
Key deer are native to the Florida Keys

Up The Keys Eco Tour

In general, visitors tend to stay in the Key West area and take a day trip to explore the other Florida Keys. If you want to check out some of the hidden gems along the way and stay away from the tourist traps, book a private eco tour with Kim Stamps from Up The Keys. Kim knows exactly where the local wildlife (look for key deer, turtles and cormorants) hang out. Wildlife refuges, lighthouses, historic neighborhoods and mangroves are a few spots you will stop at along the Keys, while also learning about the railroad and trading history of the Conch Republic.

Florida Keys have manmade white sandy beaches
Enjoy the white sand beaches at Isla Bella Beach Resort

Isla Bella Beach Resort

End your Florida Keys vacation relaxing at the white sand beaches of Isla Bella, a 24-acre lush Mediterranean style resort located in the middle keys in Marathon, Florida. The five star destination resort boasts 5 swimming pools, spa and fitness center, on-site water sports, fishing pier, marina and stunning Atlantic Ocean views from all 199 one to five-bedroom rooms and suites. Sit under the cool shade of coconut trees, resting your feet in sand, while watching the evening sunset.

If you do feel like venturing out of the property, visit the nearby Turtle Hospital in Marathon where you can learn about rescue and restoration.

Historic streets of Key West are great for walking
Look around the historic homes in Key West

Play It Safe

Finally, the Florida Keys and Key West reopened to visitors June 1, 2020 with county ordinance requiring that facial coverings must be worn by visitors and residents while in business establishments and other public settings where there is a roof overhead. Keys officials’ messaging also encourages visitors to take personal health responsibility and embrace protective measures such as social distancing and frequent handwashing.

Key West is the southernmost point in the continental USA
Beat the crowds and go early in the morning to the southernmost point landmark.

Isla Bella Beach Resort and Oceans Edge Key West adapted a new “Safeguarding Our Guests” strategy meticulously crafted to adapt and implement precautionary hygiene protocols directed by the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) “Safe Stay” initiatives, along with State, Federal and local guidelines to ensure that a clean, safe and healthy environment is provided for guests and staff. The Keys visitor website at fla-keys.com offers comprehensive COVID-19 guidelines for visitors planning a vacation.

How Your Visit Can Help Rescue Turtles in Florida

When you travel on vacation, a visit to the hospital may be the last thing on your mind. But this particular hospital for turtles in Florida is a great place to learn about different kinds of turtles and to see them up close!

The turtle hospital in Marathon, Florida is located halfway between Miami and Key West, on the grounds of the old Hidden Harbor Motel. The old motel rooms serve as living quarters for the rehab staff and storage.

turtles
One of the patients at The Turtle Hospital.

During Your Visit

There are 7 species of sea turtles throughout the entire world. Five of the seven are found in Florida: Green, Loggerhead, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley. Volunteers and student guides give visiting guests a brief history about the location and the work the nonprofit does around rescue, research, rehabilitations and education. They also tell you about different species of sea turtles, their characteristics, and the kinds of illnesses and traumas they face. Most of the turtles that The Turtle Hospital has rescued were victims of boat accidents, entangled in fishing nets, ingested plastics and debris, or acquired skin conditions due to chemicals in the water. Similar to humans, sea turtles get cancers, amputations, tumors, eye infections, and loose their ability to swim.

turtles
You can minimize your impact on sea turtles by following a few basic guidelines.

The most fun part of the tour is seeing the turtles up close! You will get a chance to learn about each one’s life, their names and recovery process. You can also feed them food and watch them come up to the surface, or swim around the pools.

turtles
Guides will pass out special turtle food for you to feed the rescued turtles.

Have you watched turtles lay eggs? Only 1 in 1,000 of these sea turtles actually survive!

Watch a Release

The Turtle Hospital has successfully treated and released over 1500 Sea Turtles since its founding in 1986. Public releases are held in the Florida Keys, some from the shore, others from a boat. Hundreds of people cheer for the turtle returning back home, where it belongs. You can follow The Turtle’s Hospital social media page to learn about release dates and plan to attend it.

turtles
Watch a recovered sea turtle swim back into the ocean.

Ways To Help

Visiting The Turtle Hospital is a small step toward rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles, since all of your ticket price goes toward supporting the nonprofit organization. You can also purchase cute souvenirs, jewelry, t-shirts and bags from the gift shop to remind yourself of these amazing creatures. I purchased this super cute turtle crossbody bag from the gift shop at The Turtle Hospital, but you can order it through Amazon.com too (click on the picture).

Adopt a sea turtle yourself or gift to an animal lover for only $35 a year. Five of the permanent residents (sea turtles that are deemed non-releasable) are currently available for adoption. You can also make a tax deductible donation directly to The Turtle Hospital.

Stay at the Tranquility Bay resort located next door, a proud supported of The Turtle Hospital. The beachfront all-suites resort offers townhome style accommodations with private kitchens, multiple bedrooms and balconies. There are few swimming pools, restaurants, and water sports on site so you can make the most of your Florida Keys vacation. Tranquility Bay also has one of the best sites to see the sunset, so make sure to relax with a key lime martini by the beach!

Watch the best sunset in Florida Keys at Tranquility Bay.

Tranquility Bay encourages their customers to visit The Turtle Hospital, and will make a reservation for you. You can also get a free plush toy during your visit.

If you spot a sick or injured Sea Turtle in Florida, you should immediately contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (*FWC or #FWC on your cell phone).

Wear biodegradable sunscreens when doing any water based activities.

Awareness at Home

Eat sustainable seafood. Make responsible consumer decisions when it comes to the purchase of seafood and know how it was obtained or caught. Visit www.seafoodwatch.org for a free guide on sustainable seafood you can buy at grocery stores or restaurants.

Help keep the beaches and water safe and clean. Do not throw garbage, especially plastic on land and in the sea. Often times, trash blows away with the wind and ends up in the digestive tracks of wildlife. A recent study found that on average our oceans are littered with 47,000 pieces of plastic per square mile!

Reduce, reuse and recycle. Reduce your consumption of packaging and one-time use products. Travel with aluminum water bottles, wear washable masks, and recycle what you cannot reuse. 

Buy eco friendly products. Avoid using non biodegradable sunscreens and lotions when swimming in the ocean.

Be a responsible boater. Avoid crossing seagrass beds and be aware of your speed limit. Use a chart or GPS, stay alert and look out for floating sea turtles. A floating sea turtle is often sick and cannot dive down to escape an oncoming boat.

Dispose fishing line properly. If you enjoy fishing at home or on your vacation, make sure to not discard fishing lines in the water, and pick up a fishing line if you see it. Recycling bins are now located on every fishing bridge, beach and marina in the Florida Keys. Instead of tossing your fishing line in the garbage, hold onto it and place it in a recycling bin instead.

Due to social distancing restrictions, The Turtle Hospital is allowing only up to 20 people at a time, so make sure to make a reservation ahead of time. Masks or face coverings are required, and guests are asked to stay 6 feet apart from each other.