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Your guide to Key West

Key West is an island, sure, but not in a conventional sense. It bears all the signatures of an island – clad in coastline, surrounded immediately by the ocean – but is actually connected to mainland Florida via bridge, making day trips here as easy as it gets.


For a tiny island there's plenty to do, though beaches are surprisingly few and far between. You'll still have all the other amenities a famous island needs, including maritime museums, watersports and a whole lot of seafood.

Beaches

Because of Key West's island status, you might think it's privy to wrap-around beaches, but unfortunately a huge barrier reef off the coast keeps any wave activity out, and thus prevents natural beaches from forming. There are a couple of manmade beaches though.

Smather's Beach is a large set of shores with a four-kilometre long promenade at its back. There are watersports rental facilities here, and the beach itself can get busy. One of the best of the few beaches in Key West can be found at the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. There's a small fee for admission, but with it you'll also gain access to walking trails and a 19th-century fort.

Wining and dining

For such a tiny island, there are a staggering number of restaurants in Key West. A good number of them fall in line with the island culture, offering Caribbean, Latin fusion, seafood and Cuban cuisine – not much of a surprise, seeing as Cuba is basically on the horizon.

And because there are a handful of beaches, another dining option is bringing a picnic and snacking along the sand. Then again, a number of little takeaway food shacks can provide you with nibbles minus any effort on your part.

Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum

This quirky museum details the wrecking industry that thrived along Key's West coast. Men would sit in high towers, monitoring the treacherous reefs until a ship crashed ashore, before scrambling out to sea to bring the goods in – for a price. This history is now detailed through actors, live shows and actual remains from the Isaac Allerton, which crashed along the reef in 1856.

Boat cruises and watersports

While there might not be a plethora of beaches, there's plenty of water surrounding Key West, and the locals know how to use it. You can take advantage of any number of watersports here, including parasailing, snorkelling and scuba diving, not to mention boat cruises.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Located 110 kilometres from Key West and reachable by ferry or sea plane, Dry Tortugas National Park is a 260-square kilometre park that consists of seven islands. The landmark of the park is undoubtedly Fort Jefferson, which once guarded the waters from ships passing up to the US. Nowadays it's excellent for snorkelling and scuba diving, as just below the surface is the Windjammer Wreck, all that's left of the ship The Avanti.

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Famed author Ernest Hemingway had a fair number of homes, one of which was in Key West, as he grew fond of sport fishing here. Since converted into a museum, the house still contains some of Hemingway's personal artefacts, along with more than 40 six-toed cats, some of which are descendants of Hemingway's original cat Snow White.

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