so far away there is an exceptional getaway, The
Florida Keys. It’s an extraordinary place full
of intriguing history, geology, wildlife, and adventure
The Keys extend south
from the southeastern tip of Florida then west to
the Dry Tortugas. Discovered
in the early sixteenth century by the Spanish the
islands were populated at an early date by the
Indians. The British followed the Spanish and settled
in the Keys for the fishing and turtle hunting.
Bahamians developed the wrecking industry in
the early 1800’s.
Farming was also an industry in the upper Keys,
when Methodist fisherman began growing pineapple,
and melon. The Overseas Railway was built, and
the bridge connecting Florida to the islands
in the 1930’s. Both the railway and the bridge
contributed to today’s tourism and commercial
fishing economic success.
Geology & Climate
The Keys are, in essence,
coral rock deposits. The islands of the Keys have
accumulated over the years, upon on a skeleton coral
reef. The waters around the land are very shallow.
Those waters offshore are just an introduction to
the gorgeous deep blue waters found a short distance
from the coast. Sandy beaches in the Keys are few
and far between due to the reef that extends up to
five miles off shore. There is also a void of waves
along the coastline, not good news for surfing souls.
The weather in the
Keys is very typical of a subtropical region. Closely
surrounded by water, the islands are
humid, and tend to be five to ten degrees warmer
than the mainland of Southern Florida in the winter
and five to ten degrees cooler in the summer months.
Although humid, the islands do not get as much rain
as the mainland, and can even be a bit dry.
Flora & Fauna
The flora of the Keys
is a bit varied from that of mainland Florida. The
Australian pine trees, which were imported from Australia
years ago, are taking over the landscape in the Keys.
You will still see plenty of palm tree including
coconut palms. In addition, near the water, you will
encounter red, black, and white mangroves every direction
you turn. While there’s the gumbo limbo, which
isn’t so popular, the ever appreciated key
lime remains. The islands are very well known for
their key limes, which make unforgettable tropical
pies, especially when they are picked fresh off the
Protected by the only
living coral reef in the continental United States,
the Florida Keys is abundant in wildlife both on
and offshore. Offshore, the reef gives life to hundreds
of varieties of fish. On-shore, the Keys beam with
life also. Birds thrive in the skies. Pelicans, egrets,
ibis, blue herons, cormorants, and many other bird
species can be seen often. The man made nests built
on top of abandoned telephone poles are especially
for nesting ospreys. The effort at assisting these
spectacular birds demonstrates the level of respect
the people of the Keys have for wildlife.
If you don’t
have much time to spare, the one place you should
go to see the spectacular bird life
of the upper Keys, is the wild bird sanctuary. Located
on the gulf side of Key Largo, the sanctuary rescues
injured birds from the islands, and is home to birds
of all types, including wood birds, which can be
seen decorating the trees at the entrance. For a
visitors may tour the facility for a close up look
at some unique birds.
For encounters with
other wildlife, swim with the dolphins at Theatre
of the Sea marine park, where
sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles also make home.
Guests to the park can also visit with injured
and disabled species, such as blind crocodile
Nature lovers could
spend months in the upper Keys and never get bored.
For first time visitors, a trip to Lignumvitae Key
State Botanical Site is worth the effort. The location
is full of unforgettable, gorgeous foliage. Capt.
Sterling's Everglades Eco Tours in Key Largo offers
eco tours in the Everglades. Their guided boat tours
are environmentally focused, and take only up to
six people at a time. The tours make their way into
Florida Bay and the Everglades National Park. Along
the way, the Captain visits a 130 million year old
petrified reef. The tour is a sure way to see wildlife,
including dolphins. At night, Captain Sterling takes
brave souls out with hopes of sighting the endangered
American Crocodile. Captain Sterling’s web
site reminds readers of the rarity of these animals.
It states, “There are only 500 to 700 of these
Rare Prehistoric animals left, and they are ONLY
FOUND IN KEY LARGO!”
Although the Keys’ beaches aren’t
as sandy as the beaches in Florida, there are some
areas for beachcombers. Plantation Yacht Harbor is
one of them. It has a unique beach and a suitable
swimming area. On shore, there are bathrooms and
Enthusiasms for fishing
in the Keys started quite some time ago, and was
an inspiration for individuals
as writer Zane Grey who fished in the upper Keys.
It is said that he even made popular the catch
technique. As a great deal of people have heard,
Earnest Hemingway lived in the Keys, and fished
there also. Big game fishing is the specialty in
the region. Private charter boats can take parties
best locations for deep-water fishing. Fishing
can also be done from party boats, and bridges. Fishing
from a bridge requires a license, though. Bring
fresh catch to most restaurants in town and they’ll
prepare it for you.
Key West is the most
far reaching Key, and a very familiar destination
to countless travelers. Somewhat less talked about,
but no less stirring, are the upper Keys. The upper
Keys include the towns of Key Largo, Tavernier, Ocean
Reef, Plantation Key, Long Key, Lower Matecumbe,
and Islamorada. Islamorada is one town in the upper
Keys that beams with culture and activity. Daryl,
of Caribbean Water Sports based in Islamorada says, “It's
a Great Slice of Paradise. The water, the people,
and the history makes for an interesting place to
live and work, and is close enough to Miami, the
Grove and the airports to change pace. We've been
in business since 1983 and still love ‘Living
and Dying in 3/4's Time’ like Buffet says.”
Based at Sheraton Beach
Resort in Islamorada, Caribbean Watersports offers
numerous guided activities, such
as snorkeling, parasailing, enviro-tours, island
adventure tours, and sunset and reef cruises. They
equipment enough to provide a lively day on the beach.
Whether its zooming on top of the water in a WaveRunner,
sailing with the wind in a Hobie Cat, muscling your
way through the waves in a kayak, or sitting back
and taking it easy in a paddleboat, all pursuits
up a sunny day in Islamorada. Perhaps the most irresistible
quality of Caribbean Watersports is that they pride
themselves on customizing their clients’ visit.
There are numerous
other tour operations in the upper Keys. Some just
stand out from them rest. Caribbean
Watersports is one, and so is Tranquil Adventures.
Captain Mike Nealey and crew of Tranquil Adventures
cater to individuals who desire an escape from the
standard busy life that most individuals encounter
these days. Captain Mike ensures that each and every
guest has a relaxing time while fishing, snorkeling,
kayaking, or sightseeing with his company. Tranquil
Adventures’ most unique feature is that they
offer services for the handicap. Their boats are configured
to assist with getting disadvantaged individuals on
board so that they can enjoy the same fun and sun that
others have at hand. Tranquil Adventures’ web
site states their mission as, “To be the people
who finally help you relax and enjoy the moment to
the best that it can be. We offer the most reliable
and upfront service in the industry, providing peace-of-mind
so you can leave your everyday life behind and have
the peace of mind that your are well taken care of.”
can also be fulfilled in Islamorada. The tragic results
of several hurricanes are memorialized
at several locations, including Whale Harbor dining
room, where a tower made of stone stands at the entrance.
This tower marks the high-water levels that were
present there from the 60’s Hurricane Donna.
The geology of the Keys is celebrated at the Windley
Reef State Geological Site. Its here that far-reaching
walls of fossilized coral reef can be discovered
via one the monthly tours conducted to the area,
Long Key State Recreation Area, or Lady Cyana Divers,
where you can access the park on your own.
Dining in Islamorada
Restaurants in Islamorada
are endless. Daryl of Caribbean Watersports recommends
Tree Tops at the Sheraton, Snappers, The Fish House,
SunDowners, Old Taverner Restaurant, Bentley's, Morada
Bay/Perriers/Islamorada Fish Company complex. He
says, “…and there are loads more of keysie
little places like the Hideout, Crazy Flamingo, Mandalay,
Dillions and Lorilie.
Lodging in Islamorada
As far as lodging is
concerned, Daryl offers his suggestion as well. He
says, “The Sheraton Beach Resort Key Largo,
of course! But we also have some nice smaller ones:
Kona Kai, Bay Harbor, Rock Reef, Dove Creek Lodge
to name a few. Other lodges specialize in diving
or fishing, some are for older guests.”
The tract of water
surrounding the islands of the Keys is an official
National Marine Sanctuary, which should
be respected by all when present. There are rules
regarding all water sports, and they should be obeyed.
the main rules is that no humans should touch or
step on the coral. The rules have yielded positive
by conserving the beauty of the underwater world.
Today. snorkeling and scuba diving are the main attraction
in the Keys. A great number of travelers may not
though, that some of the best diving is done in the
upper Keys. When in Islamorada, why not visit the
place voted one of the best dive shops in the Florida
by “The People’s Choice Awards”?
Holiday Isle Dive Shop is that place. The shop is owned
and operated by Captain Terry Newth, and has been around
since 1972. Living his passion for the sea, the Captain
took over the business eight years ago, hoping to share
his knowledge and enthusiasm with others.
Holiday Isle Dive Shop
is a full service resort with dining, pools, and
entertainment options on property,
in addition to the many dive and scuba services.
Kristi Newst, of Holiday Dive Shop proudly describes
on location explaining, “We have three main restaurants
to choose from, two with ocean views for land or sea
food, and one with a variety of steaks, seafood, etc,
all within walking distance from your room. The hotel
has a variety of rooms and views to choose from, including
garden views, marina views and ocean views. All views
are great and just steps away from the ocean.”
Holiday Isle Dive Shop
offers an adventure option for just about anyone.
Visitors can choose from one of
the standard scuba dive trips, leaving the dock at
9:00am or 1:00pm every day.
They offer two tank or one tank dives, and snorkel
trips. Prices range from $30.00 to $50.00 for these
trips. They also offer full scuba and snorkel gear
Holiday Isle Dive Shop
offers several varieties of scuba dive courses. The
most basic is their Discover
Scuba Diving program, which is a full day trip including
two dives led by the instructor, and gear. The shop
also offers an Open Water Certification class, a
one-on-one course, Open Water Referral Dives (also
Dives”), an Advanced Open Water Certification,
and Advance Rescue.
up many magnificent underwater doors for the diver
who seeks them out. Holiday Isle
Dive Shop can take scuba enthusiasts to some of the
most outstanding dive sites in the world. Locations
such as The Fish Bowl and The Aquarium at 30 feet,
Secret Garden at 25 feet, Hamasaurus, which the shop’s
web site describes as “a nurse shark and moray
eel traffic jam.” A dive site that guarantees
a rewarding experience for both beginners and experts
is Victory Reef. It is a V shaped formation, along
which sea life reveals itself at varying depths. For
family dives or snorkelers there is Hens & Chickens
at a depth of 10 to 20 feet. The shop says, “its
like a forest of purple trees.” Newst describes
a typical day of diving in Islamorada, as “full
of tropical fish life, living corals, Nurse Sharks,
eels, rays, and turtles.” While these dive sites
can sound very predictable on paper, each day can turn
out to be a once in a lifetime adventure. Captain Terry
has proof of that. The most memorable dive he ever
had was diving with whale sharks while at the Wreck
of the Eagle site, right in Islamorada.
To make taking a trip
with Holiday Isle even more attractive, they offer
several other options to partake in. Their
dive packages include a dive trip with tanks and
weights, and hotel accommodations at the resort.
more relaxing and romantic is in the cards, Captain
Terry will take you on board his boat, Capt. Scuba,
for a sumptuous sunset cruise that includes a champagne
toast. For $30 per person no one should pass up the
Holiday Isle Dive Resort
is a fabulous destination for families also. Newst
says, “Here at Holiday
Isle we have plenty of activities to choose from, therefore
it suits all needs. Perhaps a family may want to dive
or snorkel in the morning and fish in the afternoon,
or rent a kayak, jet ski or even go parasailing, or
just hang at the beach and end it all with a great
dinner all without leaving the resort.”
Whether an individual,
family, or group comes knocking on the shop’s door, Captain Terry and crew will
help to create the essential dive experience for them.
A visit to their web site is worth a trip also. Currently,
Captain Terry and crew our offering a discount on trips
through their Internet Special.
Isle Dive Shop
84001 Overseas Highway
Islamorada, Florida Keys 33038
(800) 327-7070 x644
(305) 664-DIVE (3483)
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