From Dry Tortugas to Key West: A Guide to Exploring the Florida Keys

From Dry Tortugas to Key West: A Guide to Exploring the Florida Keys

Key West, Florida is a destination known for its beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lively nightlife. However, just 70 miles west of Key West lies a hidden gem that many tourists overlook: Dry Tortugas National Park.

This remote national park is a 100-square mile park that is mostly open water, with seven small islands and historical Fort Jefferson as the main attraction. The park is only accessible by seaplane or ferry, making it a unique and unforgettable experience for those who make the journey.

Visitors to Dry Tortugas National Park can explore the crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, and diverse marine life through snorkeling or diving. The park is also home to a variety of bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers. History buffs can take a tour of Fort Jefferson, a massive 19th-century fortress that was once used as a prison during the Civil War.

Getting to Dry Tortugas

By Boat


If you're interested in visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, you'll need to take a boat or seaplane from Key West, Florida. The most popular way to get there is by taking a ferry. The Yankee Freedom III is the only authorized ferry that provides daily service to the park. The ferry departs from Key West at 8:00 a.m. and returns at 5:30 p.m. The ride to Dry Tortugas takes about 2.5 hours each way.

The Yankee Freedom III is a state-of-the-art ferry that has air-conditioned cabins, restrooms, and a snack bar. The ferry also has a National Park Service ranger on board who provides information about the park during the journey. You can also bring your own food and drinks on board.

It's recommended that you book your ferry tickets in advance, especially during peak season. The cost of the ferry ride includes admission to the park, but you'll need to pay extra if you want to participate in any of the park's activities, such as snorkeling or camping.

By Seaplane


If you're looking for a more adventurous way to get to Dry Tortugas, you can take a seaplane. Key West Seaplane Adventures provides daily flights to the park from Key West. The seaplane ride takes about 40 minutes each way and offers stunning views of the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico.

The seaplane can accommodate up to six passengers and is operated by a seasoned pilot who provides information about the area during the flight. The seaplane lands in the water near the park, and passengers can snorkel or swim in the crystal-clear waters before returning to Key West.

The cost of the seaplane ride is more expensive than the ferry, but it's a unique experience that you'll never forget. It's important to note that seaplane flights are weather-dependent and may be canceled due to inclement weather.

Exploring Dry Tortugas

Fort Jefferson


One of the most popular attractions in Dry Tortugas National Park is Fort Jefferson, a massive brick fortress built in the 19th century. The fort is open to visitors for self-guided tours and offers stunning views of the surrounding ocean. Visitors can explore the fort's many rooms, which include a museum, prison cells, and a hospital. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water, as the fort can be quite hot and humid.

Snorkeling and Diving


Dry Tortugas is home to some of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the world. The crystal-clear waters are teeming with colorful fish, coral reefs, and other marine life. Visitors can rent snorkeling gear on the island or bring their own. For those interested in diving, there are several dive shops in Key West that offer guided tours of the area.

Some of the most popular snorkeling and diving spots in Dry Tortugas include:

  • The Windjammer Wreck
  • The Little Africa Reef
  • The North Coaling Dock

Whether you're an experienced diver or a first-time snorkeler, Dry Tortugas is sure to offer an unforgettable underwater experience.

Traveling from Dry Tortugas to Key West

By Ferry


The most popular way to travel from Dry Tortugas to Key West is by ferry. The Dry Tortugas Ferry is a high-speed ocean-going catamaran specifically designed for the trip. The ferry departs from Key West and takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach Dry Tortugas. The ferry offers a comfortable and scenic ride with spacious seating and on-board amenities including a snack bar, restrooms, and air conditioning. The ticket includes roundtrip transportation, both a buffet breakfast and lunch onboard.

It is important to note that the ferry operates on a limited schedule and reservations are required. It is recommended to book in advance to secure your spot. Additionally, the ferry only operates during the day and does not offer overnight trips to Dry Tortugas.

By Private Boat


If you prefer a more flexible and private option, you can charter a high-speed private boat to travel from Dry Tortugas to Key West. This option allows you to customize your itinerary and schedule. However, it can be more expensive than the ferry and requires more planning and preparation.

Before embarking on a private boat, it is important to check weather conditions and ensure that the boat is equipped with all necessary safety equipment. It is also recommended to hire a licensed captain to navigate the waters and ensure a safe trip.

Overall, both options offer unique experiences and stunning views of the Florida Keys. Choose the option that best fits your budget and travel preferences.

Things to Do in Key West

Museums and Historical Sites


Key West is a city with a rich history, and there are plenty of museums and historical sites to explore. One of the most popular is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where visitors can see the famous writer's former home and learn about his life and work. The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum is another popular attraction, offering stunning views of the city from the top of the lighthouse.

For those interested in military history, the Key West Naval Air Station and the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park are both worth a visit. The former is home to a museum that showcases the history of naval aviation, while the latter is a well-preserved fort that played a key role in the Civil War.

Outdoor Activities


Key West is known for its beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Snorkeling and scuba diving are both popular activities, with many companies offering tours to the nearby coral reefs. For those who prefer to stay above water, there are plenty of opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing.

The island is also home to several parks and nature reserves, including the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens. These are great places to explore the island's flora and fauna and get a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Nightlife and Entertainment


Key West has a vibrant nightlife scene, with plenty of bars, clubs, and live music venues to choose from. Duval Street is the epicenter of the city's nightlife, with many of the most popular bars and clubs located along this famous street.

For those looking for something a little more low-key, there are plenty of options as well. The Key West Theater hosts a variety of performances throughout the year, including plays, concerts, and comedy shows. And of course, no visit to Key West would be complete without taking in a sunset at Mallory Square, where street performers and vendors gather each night to celebrate the end of the day.

In Conclusion

Exploring the Florida Keys is an unforgettable experience that should be on everyone's bucket list. From the pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters of Dry Tortugas to the vibrant culture and laid-back atmosphere of Key West, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you're a history buff, a water sports enthusiast, or just looking to relax and soak up the sun, the Florida Keys has it all. Use this guide to plan your next adventure and experience the magic of the Keys for yourself.

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London, UK

Hi there! My name is Marcus, and I'm thrilled to be a Content Writer at Arctrav.

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