Keys in Hand
South of Miami, the Florida Keys offer more than 120 miles of beachside scenery, underwater marvels and a distinctive island air.
Text: YINED RAMÍREZ-HENDRIX map: MANUEL CÓRDOVA @thechumbeques
photos: AFP, Corbis
1. KEY LARGO
58 miles from Miami
Despite miles of coastline, the Florida Keys aren’t famous for their beaches, but for the incredible living coral reefs that surround them. Key Largo is the first and largest of the island chain, and its status as the World Diving Capital is well earned. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, part of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, is perfect for exploring a marine environment filled with living reefs, beds of seaweed and mangrove swamps. One of the most popular sights is Christ of the Abyss, an underwater bronze statue that has become a local icon and is accessible to novice snorkelers as well as skilled divers.
There are dozens of tour operators, boat rental agencies and even glass-bottomed boats for observing the reef without getting wet. Those who prefer to stay on dry land can enjoy bird watching and trekking. Hungry for more natural wonders? Check out Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical Park. If you’re looking for a whimsical souvenir, visit the Shell World shop.
111 miles from Miami
Although it’s a bustling community by local standards, Marathon’s roots lie in fishing and sailing. The island is packed with marinas, fishing tours and excellent restaurants serving up the catch of the day: mahi-mahi, stone crab and lobster. The magnificent Sombrero Beach is a real treasure: tranquil waters provide the ideal setting for standup paddleboarding and kayaking, and impeccable facilities have made it a popular family attraction. The Crane Point Museum and Reserve take visitors on a trip back through time to the region’s past, with pristine trails and the well-preserved homes of the first settlers. For shopping, restaurants and an atmosphere recalling the island life of yesteryear, Key Colony Beach is well worth a visit. In March, the 39th edition of the Marathon Seafood Festival will offer music, live entertainment and crafts, in addition to an endless variety of delicacies. For a different kind of attraction (and one free of charge), check out the EAA Air Museum at the airport.
photo : Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
3. LITTLE TORCH KEY
138 miles from Miami
This tiny island is known for the ultra-exclusive, luxury resort Little Palm Island. A favorite among honeymooners, the hotel often tops the lists of the United States’ most romantic lodging. It’s only accessible by boat and is famous for its first-class service and excellent restaurant, The Dining Room. The lovely private bungalows set it apart from the competition, and the clear waters and white sands that surround the resort are great for snorkeling, kayaking and standup paddleboarding, whether on the resort grounds or nearby. For a more relaxed atmosphere, spend the evening at Kiki’s Sandbar, a terrific restaurant with a great happy hour, accessible by boat and the highway. The keys of Little Torch Key, Ramrod and Summerland all serve as gateways to Looe Key, a popular diving destination thanks to its range of depths and a sunken British warship. Little Torch is also ideal for those who want to be near Key West without being in the middle of all the action.
photos: Rob O’Neal Photography, Corbis
4. KEY WEST
159 miles from Miami
Key West is the site of Mile Marker 0, the southernmost point in the continental United States. Perhaps because it’s closer to Cuba (89.5 miles), Key West is unlike anywhere else in the U.S., with a wealth of tradition, culture and architecture seen in the island’s unique homes, historic sites and local museums. Famous residents have included playwright Tennessee Williams and novelist Ernest Hemingway, whose home is one of the island’s biggest attractions, and Key West remains a haven for artists to this day, like musician/writer Jimmy Buffett. It’s also great for romantics who stay in boutique hotel options like Azul Key West and spend their time strolling hand in hand down sidewalks lined with colorful houses, hanging pansies and climbing Bougainvilleas. It’s also the destination of bohemian souls who want to get away from it all while finding themselves, whether through the thrill of SCUBA diving or witnessing the perfect sunset between street art performances in Mallory Square.
Daily flights to Miami from Santiago, Lima, Buenos Aires, Bogotá and Quito. Local transportation from Miami via car.
More information lan.com
Daily flights to Miami from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. One flight a week flight from Belém, Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza, and four flights a week from Manaus. Local transportation from Miami via car.
More information tam.com.br