Though Key West is certainly the best known of the Florida Keys, there is also plenty to do and see on the other Keys. This chain of islands is ideal for visitors who enjoy the water or want to learn more about marine life. We surfed the Web to find five ideas for exploring this area.
The Keys, which are situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, are known as for premier saltwater sportfishing. Fishing captains and guides are available to help visitors come home with the very best catches. Charter boats can be booked throughout the island chain.
For more about fishing in the Keys, call 1-888-FISH-KEYS or visit www.fla-keys.com.
Scuba diving and snorkeling
Every year, more than 800,000 people visit the Keys to go scuba diving and snorkeling. The coral reefs in the area are home to a wide variety of marine animals. Shipwrecks and statues can also be seen underwater.
One of the most popular underwater attractions is "Christ of the Deep," a 9-foot-tall statue of Jesus by Italian sculptor Guido Galletti. It stands on a 20-ton base in 25 feet of water in an undersea park adjacent to Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary.
Snorkelers and divers often visit the ruins of two sunken 1733 Spanish galleons, located in the San Pedro Underwater Archeological Preserve off Islamorada.
For more about diving in the Keys, visit www.florida-keys.fl.us/divesite.htm.
It's possible to get up close and personal with dolphins at several attractions in the Keys. The Dolphin Research Center specializes in behavioral research and the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals. It offers educational programs about dolphins and sea lions, as well as opportunities to swim with them.
The center, located at mile marker 59 on Grassy Key, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. General admission is $19.50 for adults, $16.50 for senior citizens, $13.50 for ages 4 to 12 and free for ages 3 and under. The rate for the Dolphin Encounter swim is $180. Call 305-289-1121 or visit www.dolphins.org.
At Dolphins Plus, one-on-one or group swims with dolphins can be scheduled. Reservations are required. Rates range from $125 to $245, depending on the type of swim and the season. Observers may watch dolphin swims for $10. Dolphins Plus, located at mile marker 100 on Key Largo, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call 305-451-1993 or visit www.dolphinsplus.com.
At Theater of the Sea, visitors can swim with dolphins, sea lions or stingrays. The theater also has a full schedule of shows featuring parrots, sea lions and dolphins.
Admission is $23.95 for ages 13 and up, $15.95 for ages 3 to 12 and free for ages 2 and under. The price of the sting-ray swim is $50, while the sea-lion swim is $125. The swim with dolphins is $165. Theater of the Sea is located at mile marker 84.7 in Islamorada. It is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 305-664-2431 or visit www.theaterofthesea.com.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Scuba and diving enthusiasts should be sure to visit this spot, which is the first underwater state park in the United States. It covers about 2,800 square nautical miles and includes coral reefs, seagrass beds and a mangrove swamp. More than 600 species of fish and 55 varieties of coral live in the area. Diving and snorkeling are two ways to see the park. Visitors can also take tours in a glass-bottomed boat, a canoe or kayak.
The park is located at mile marker 102.5 on Key Largo. The entrance fee is $3.50 for one person, $6 for two people and 50 cents for each additional person. Call 305-451-1202 or www.pennekamppark.com.
If you would like to learn more about sea turtles, take a tour of this facility, which treats injured turtles. Though the hospital was damaged during Hurricane Wilma, it recently reopened to the public.
Admission is $15 for adults, $7.50 for ages 4 to 12 and free for ages 3 and under. Reservations are required. The Turtle Hospital is located at mile marker 48.5 in Marathon, which is on Vaca Key. Call 305-743-2552 or visit www.turtlehospital.org.