Here are 10 great things you can do on your holiday in South Florida:
The Shark Valley entrance to the Everglades is located at the north side of the National Park. This area has a 15 miles (24 km) loop road with at the far end an observation tower. The road can be taken by tram that goes several times per day, but more fun is to rent a bike and cycle the road through the ‘river of grass’ and past the many gator holes and hammocks. We saw deer, alligators, lots of birds and even a wild pig! The bikes are very comfortable and come with handy baskets that you can put your stuff in. The oberservation tower in the middle of your journey gives a beautiful and very far view of the park. For more information see www.nps.gov/ever.
When you enter Everglades National Park from Homestead and pass the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, you’ll follow a long road all the way to Flamingo at the south side of the park. Many of the facilities at Flamingo are now closed indefinitely due to the 2005 hurricanes, but the harbor and shop remain open. You can rent a canoe and take it through the mangroves of Buttonwood Canal down to Coot Bay, where you have a chance to see manatees, alligators, dolphins and even sharks. Alternatively you can take the organised boat ride on the Pelican and have an experienced guide point out all the animals and birds along the way. For more information see www.nps.gov/ever.
Key Largo is surrounded with some of the world’s best dive sites, including John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and to the north Biscayne National Park. Key Largo has many dive shops that will typically take you on a two dive trip in the morning, or a two dive trip in the afternoon. We had a bad experience with Rainbow Reef dive center, so don’t take them, but instead I recommend Quiescence Diving Services.
The Overseas Highway carries U.S. Route 1 through the Florida Keys, about one hundred miles from Key Largo to Key West. Large parts of it were built on the former alignment of the Overseas Railroad, the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. The original construction of the Overseas Highway used many of the bridges of the former railroad, including truss bridges, where the roadway was built on top of the trusses. You can still stop at places and view or walk on parts of the old bridges, which are often used as fishing piers. It’s a great way to spend the day to drive down the Overseas Highway and stop here and there to take a short walk. One time when we walked down an old bridge we saw two large rays swim underneath.
Key West is a city and an island and is the southernmost tip of the United States. There is a marker you can walk to that indicates the southermost point, and it is only 90 miles from Cuba. Key West is a nice small town with beautiful tin-roofed conch houses. It is great to stroll the palm-lined streets and walk in the footsteps of Thomas Edison, Harry Truman, and Ernest Hemingway.
The channel between the old and new Bahia Honda bridges is one of the deepest natural channels in the Florida Keys. Bahia Honda is unique among other islands in the Keys because it has extensive sandy beaches and deep waters close enough offshore to provide exceptional swimming and snorkeling. A nature trail at the far end of the park’s Sandspur Beach follows the shore of a tidal lagoon, then twists through a coastal strand hammock and back along the beach. There are some very nice bungalows and a very good visitor center / shop and nature center. When we were here in October this year we saw a Loggerhead Sea Turtle rise to the surface in the old quarry in front of the bungalows.
The Key Deer, smaller than all other White-tailed Deer, is an endangered deer that lives only in the Florida Keys. Its range originally encompassed most of the Florida Keys, but is now limited to a stretch of the lower Florida Keys of about 9.7 km (6 miles). Recent estimates put the population between 300 and 800, putting it on the list of endangered species. Road kills from drivers on U.S. Route 1, which traverses the deer’s small range, are also a major threat, averaging between 30 and 40 kills per year! When you go here be EXTREMELY CAREFUL and drive VERY SLOWLY!
A thing to do when you’re driving the Overseas Highway to Key West or back to Key Largo is to stop at Robbie’s on Islamorada at mile marker 77.5. You shouldn’t normally feed wildlife, but here the tarpons are used to it and it’s a lot of fun trying get the large fish to jump up. Make sure you bring some wet wipes to clean your hands, because they’ll stink like fish for days afterwards. 😉 For more information see www.robbies.com.
Located at 907 Whitehead Street and nestled in the heart of Old Town Key West, this was the home to one of America’s most honored and respected authors. Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote here for more than ten years. Step back in time and visit the rooms and gardens that witnessed the most prolific period of this Nobel Prize winner’s writing career. Educated tour guides give insightful narratives and are eager to answer questions. Wander through the lush grounds and enjoy the whimsy of the more than sixty cats that live here; about half of the cats at the museum are polydactyl, which means they have extra toes! For more information see www.hemingwayhome.com.
Everglades National Park has many great hiking trails, most of them very short ones of only one or a couple miles. The trails are nicely marked, usually with all or some part made of nice boardwalks over the swampy terrain. Our favorite trails are the Aningha Trail and Gumbo Limbo at the Royal Palm Visitor Center. For an overview of all trails see http://www.everglades.national-park.com.