The Florida Keys and Key West – A Traveler’s Primer

Mother Nature carved out some 1700 land masses in a hundred mile stretch of islands. These are what we now call “The Keys”. There are 43 of these islands connected by bridges which we now occupy and consider the mainland of the keys. On these islands we have built cities like Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West.

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Calusa Indians clashed with the Spanish

Historically, these islands were inhabited by the Calusa Indians possibly as far back as 3000 BC. As the 16th century approached, the French and Spanish began exploration of the Caribbean and the Florida peninsula. They found the Calusa throughout southwest Florida with well organized societies and strong hierarchy. Tribes inhabited the region from Sarasota to the Keys with village leaders and a king to solidify governing. Explorers considered the Calusa fierce fighters and foes so formidable that many areas were not explored until several decades later because of the Calusa hostility. Eventually the Spanish influence brought more and more challenges for the Calusa including constant war and disease. By the 1700’s few Calusa were left in Florida. Today, you still see remnants of Spanish attempt at dominance in some architecture, language and heritage in the Keys and south Florida.

The rumors about the Keys and pirates are just that. Yes, there were a few that shipwrecked here, or came to find food, fresh water and shelter, but most of the Keys were relatively free from the “privateers” operating for various governments in the Caribbean. These privateers were commissioned by countries to find ships of their enemies and pirate the cargo and sometimes the whole ship.

Keys Pirate

Today is Far From the Hardships of Early Days

From Key Largo to Key West exceptional food can be found with some of nature’s best fish found just off the shores of the island. In every restaurant you can find grouper, mahi, hogfish and yellowtail snapper fresh off the fishing boats. In July each year, lobster season brings thousands of people to search for these “bugs” in the shallows around the Keys.

The Keys are now the playground of Florida (and much of the world). The islands offer world class fishing, the best reefs in the northern hemisphere for diving, resorts renowned for their hospitality, beaches everywhere, entertainment, and some of the most famous restaurants and bars in the world. Cruise ships arrive daily in Key West dumping thousands of world travelers for the day, and expanding the international allure of the island.

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Great restaurants and bars abound. Places like Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill in Key Largo along with the Marriott Resort’s fabulous sunset bar, Breezer’s Tiki Bar. On down the road, in Islamorada you will find the brand new Tiki Bar at the Post Card Inn (completely renovated after Hurricane Irma). In a few more miles at mile marker 77.5 you will find Robbie’s Marina. Robbie’s is less of a Marina and more of a collection of shops surrounding docks full of people feeding hungry Tarpon! By the time you get to Marathon, Florida, around mile marker 53, you will be hungry. Try TJ’s Tiki Bar at Tranquility Bay. You will be dining right on the beach!

At mile marker 47 be prepared for one of the most beautiful rides for the next 7 miles on the Seven Mile Bridge. As you travel you will see the original bridge structure built in 1912 running parallel. The current structure was built during the period 1978-1982. The beauty of the ocean is south and the beauty of backwaters is on your north. The horizons are gorgeous!

Beginning around mile marker 35 you will start seeing signs to watch out for the KEY DEER. They are a deer species about the size of a large dog and are protected all around Big Pine Key. It doesn’t take but a few miles to spot one along the highway. The Key deer are protected by law, since the species is indigenous to these islands.

Finally, Key West

You have about 30 miles to Key West. Your anticipation levels will heighten no matter how many times you have been here, you always look forward to your return! And why not? You can see Mallory Square and the sunset celebration, Sloppy Joe’s, Captain Tony’s, Half Shell Raw Bar, Schooner Wharf, Hog’s

running of bulls key west
Running of the Bulls – Key West Annual Event

Breath Saloon, Key West Aquarium, Hemingway House and a ton of events scheduled every year………it would take a book to list all of the attractions and you will find most of them described here on Relax here in the Conch Republic at 0 mile marker and have a cocktail at sunset!

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