Amazing Day Trips to Take From Key West, Florida by Boat

Explore the beautiful places surrounding Key West by boat and witness epic sights like this
Explore the beautiful places surrounding Key West by boat and witness epic sights like this | ©  Sergey Chernyaev / Alamy Stock Photo
Celia Topping

Many call Florida the boating capital of the world and it’s not hard to see why – with the Keys, the Gulf and the Atlantic all there for the taking. One of the best spots to use as a base to explore the region is Key West. This characterful island city has a wealth of things to do – with pastel-hued shops, restaurants and bars lining the streets and festivals running throughout the year. But, as you bob along the coast, you’ll find there are many more gems to discover. Here’s our guide for some of the best day trips to do by boat from Key West.

Unlock the Florida Keys.

Marathon Key

If you’re an animal lover with a penchant for turtles, then this should be your first port of call when cruising the keys. The Turtle Hospital here has been open since 1986 and has cared for more than 1,500 loggerhead turtles. It’s possible to take a guided tour of the hospital to see how they rescue, rehabilitate and release sea turtles of all ages. Just know, it’s quite an emotional experience.

Indian Key

In the 1830s, this pint-sized 11-acre (4.45ha) island was home to a community of “wreckers”, who would salvage the many wrecks on the nearby reefs. But in 1840, the island was attacked by Native Americans, killing 13 of the residents and razing many of the buildings to the ground. The island – now a Historic State Park – is no longer inhabited but it makes for a great afternoon’s adventuring among the ruins. When visiting, beware of the precious seagrass beds and use the mooring buoys at high tide. From here, you can kayak or take a dinghy over to the island.

Elliott Key

Don your hiking shoes for a trip to Elliott Key – the northernmost of the true Florida Keys – and set off on a beautiful loop trail that takes you around the whole island. Take your time as you navigate the mile-long (1.6km) track through the mangrove coast, Spite Highway and Point Adelle – remember to take plenty of water. You’ll find around 30 berths at Elliott Key Harbour, but not much else – and it’s all the better for it.

Islamorada

A halfway point between Miami and Key West, this small group of islands – including Tea Table Key and Lower and Upper Matecumbe Key – is a fantastic destination if you’re a sport fishing fan. Don’t miss stopping off at the Hungry Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina for a plate of tuna tacos and investing in a bucket of bait to feed the huge tarpon fish that surround the deck.

Boca Grande Key

This small, uninhabited island is west off Key West and part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The key is covered with mature mangroves with a mysterious inner salt pond lurking in the middle. Bird-lovers flock here to spot several endangered species – as well as herons, brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants and even the odd osprey. Come sunset, head to the beach on the east side to soak up the dreamy views.

Dry Tortugas

The 64,701-acre (26,183ha) Dry Tortugas National Park is a small group of islands, about 70mi (112km) due west from Key West that was once used as a military fort. The imposing red-brick 19th-century Fort Jefferson is impressive, but since the islands’ rebirth as a national park in 1992, you’ll only find wildlife here – rather than soldiers. There are no luxury hotels nor fancy boutiques here either, but you can get a cup of top-rated coffee from the Cuban Coffee Queen.

Marquesas Keys

Between Key West and Dry Tortugas lies the beautiful Marquesas Keys – a circular chain of islands, teeming with marine life. Off the north side is a shipwreck and to the south are reefs with incredible coral formations – both are superb for snorkelers. Be sure to keep an eye out for the dolphins and sea turtles that swim here, too. Jump off and wade ashore to enjoy the soft white sand – so typical of the Keys – and explore the wild Caribbean landscape.

Key Largo

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – the country’s first underwater park – serves as a scuba diver’s paradise, with more than 250 species of tropical fish and 85 types of coral shimmering under the water. Back on dry land, refuel with lunch at the iconic Snappers Oceanfront Bar and Restaurant. If you’re feeling brave ask for the “gator bites” or bring in your catch of the day and they’ll cook it up, just the way you like it.

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