The Florida Keys are an on-the-water playground offering superb snorkeling and scuba diving as well as world class fishing. The party never stops in Key West, and the cast of characters in this ends of the earth destination spices up your onshore entertainment. Close to home for most Americans, this is a great destination for a quick and easy getaway.
Florida is located in the southeastern USA and has an area of 58,664 sq. miles (151,939 sq. km.). The Florida Keys are offshore islands extending from the state's southern tip into the Gulf of Mexico.
On May 15, 1513, Spanish explorers Ponce de Leon and Antonio de Herrera's futile search for the elusive Fountain of Youth ended with the serendipitous discovery of the Florida Keys. The islands were then inhabited by the Caloosa Indians. The Spanish did disembark here and procured Mahogany wood, but the region being very inhospitable, there were no attempts of settlements made.
However, a number of Spanish ships that sailed by the islands wrecked here. British settlers from the Bahamas salvaged these wrecks, and when the native population perished, they began occupying the islands perpetrating gradual development. The local marine life led to the establishment of a shark processing and sponge harvesting industry, while the islands' proximity to Cuba prompted the set up of cigar factories. Soon, Key West became the wealthiest city in the U.S., while Henry Flagler further modernized it with the extension of the railroad down the east coast of Florida to Homestead, Everglades and into Key Largo.
The golden run ended with Key West going bankrupt during the Great Depression and a devastating hurricane consuming the region, along with the railroad, in 1935. But the scenic Keys still had the potential for a resurgence. The Florida Keys Overseas Highway replaced the railroad in 1938 and opened the doors to the Keys' tourism industry. Today, with over 3 million visitors annually, the Florida Keys is a landmark American retreat.
By Air: The Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and Miami International Airport (MIA) connect to numerous international destinations with direct and stopover flights. Connecting flights are available to Key West (EYW).
By sea: Ferry services are available from Ft. Myers Beach and Marco Island in southwest Florida to Key West.
Best Time to Go
Florida and the Keys are a year-round travel destination with the best time to go being from October to July. Hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30 with mid-August to mid-October being the active hurricane months.
Local Customs to Observe
The Florida Keys are very laid back where the idea of dressing up is putting on a clean T-shirt. “Come As You Are” is their official slogan. The same relaxed vibe is present in parts of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, with Miami having a strong international beat and more upscale nightlife.
Helpful Fast Facts
Currency: US Dollars.
Time Zone: UTC-05:00.
Local language: English.
Population: The total population of Florida is around 19.9 million.
Airport: The Miami International Airport (MIA) is the main airport of mainland Florida. The Key West International Airport (EYW) is the gateway to the Florida islands.
Entry Requirements: US and Canadian citizens do not need a passport to travel to Florida and the Keys. A valid passport is however required by all other nationals. Citizens of the member countries of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) can stay here for up to 90 days without a visa. The VWP includes Andorra, Austria, Australia, Brunei, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Departure Tax: None.
Legal Drinking Age: 21 years.
Smoking Regulations: It is prohibited in all enclosed public places and public transports in Florida and the Keys.
Staying in touch: Superior telecom services cover Florida and the Keys, and Internet
coverage is also very good.
Medical Information: The Lower Keys Medical Center is an advanced hospital in Key West, offering specialized services. A number of world-class hospitals exist in mainland Florida.
Public Holidays: New Year's Day (January 1), Martin Luther King Jr. Day (the third Monday in January), Presidents' Day & Washington's Birthday (the third Monday in February), Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (the first Monday in September), Columbus Day (the second Monday in October), Veterans' Day/Armistice Day (November 11), Thanksgiving Day (the fourth Thursday in November) and Christmas (December 25).
Tourist Office: The official website http://www.fla-keys.com/ contains detailed information on Florida Keys attractions and tourism.
Shopping Information: Duval Street in Key West is chock full of shops ranging from t-shirts and trinkets to high end artist galleries and crafts. The Bahamas Village in Key West has an open air market with local fare. Duty-free shops exist at the airports in mainland Florida.
Top Ten "Must Do's"
Salute the sunset at the nightly funfest at Mallory Square in Key West
Recreate some Discovery Channel moments, scuba diving at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Drop anchor in the Dry Tortugas National Park – a nature lover’s paradise
Reel in a wahoo or mahi mahi and have sushi at Happy Hour
Have a close encounter with dolphins at Hawks Key
Float lazily over the colorful coral reefs at Looe Key
Hop on the waverunners and head into the mangroves for a sun-splashed circumnavigation of Key West
Get up-close and personal with the alligators, crocodiles and manatees at Everglades National Park
Discover the best bars in Key West from Sloppy Joe’s to the Green Parrot
Catch the drag queen cabaret at La The Da in Key West
Major Local and Regional Events
Marathon Seafood Festival – a two day festival celebrating the amazing sea food of the region
Florida Keys Island Fest – a popular event featuring music, food and arts & craft shows
Key West Fantasy Fest – a ten day event that includes masquerade balls and costume competitions
Hemingway Days – a six day event celebrating the life and work of Ernest Hemingway
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