Fly into Miami and within 90 minutes you could be making friends with turtles in the wild, living the carefree island life and eating the Key Lime pie of your dreams. Welcome to The Florida Keys.
Comprised of more than 1,700 islands, the tropical, 125-mile island chain is home to North America’s only living, coral barrier reef but sadly like reefs worldwide, it’s been affected drastically by climate change and is increasingly under threat.
MTV travelled to The Florida Keys to see their ‘Connect & Protect’ ethos in practice, eat ourselves silly, fall in love with sunsets all over again and learn about how we can all be a bit more Greta Thunberg when we travel…
WHAT TO DO
Kayak through the mangroves
Just one of the many environmentally friendly options of travelling around the Keys, kayaking offers a low impact, up close, unique way of seeing the islands.
Hit up Big Pine Kayak Adventures to have their expert guides lead you through the enchanting and labyrinthine paths though the mangroves of Big Pine Key for one unmissable experience.
‘What’s a mangrove?’ you say? We gotcha below…
Take a sunset sail from Key West
Sunsets are kind of a big deal in the Florida Keys, so much so that there’s a Sunset Celebration every single evening at Key West’s Mallory Square, featuring food vendors, street performers and of course the nightly spectacle of the sun sinking below the horizon into the Gulf of Mexico.
What better way to watch the sunset though than on board a 69-foot catamaran? Sebago Watersports offer their ‘Land’s End Sunset Sail’ which sails elegantly past the Mallory Square party as well offering a glimpse at the high-end homes of Sunset Key plus the historic Fort Zachary Taylor – all with appetizers and a free bar included in the ticket price!
Visit a real-life Turtle hospital
The Florida Keys’ world-famous Turtle Hospital is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the rescue, rehab and release of sick and injured sea turtles.
Situated in Marathon on the ground of the former Hidden Harbor Motel, the hospital receives turtle patients on an all-too-frequent basis, who’ve injuries have often resulted from human encounters or man-made objects (e.g. boat strikes or mistaking plastics for food).
Visitors can tour the fascinating facilities to learn about the heart-breaking impact we can have on these beautiful creatures and witness the vital work they do first hand. A must see.
Diving & Snorkelling
Yep, we met a turtle in the wild!
The Florida Keys boasts an abundance of marine life in the crystal-clear waters across it’s 1,700 islands so naturally water sports operators are plentiful too.
Over 30 ‘Blue Star’ operators provide incredible experiences for diving, snorkelling, fishing and dolphin watching trips. Most can provide reef-safe sunscreen and they’re all committed to promoting responsible and sustainable practices to make sure the reefs stay protected and that these guys are around for future generations…
Learn about coral restoration
It’s a tragic fact that in some parts of the world 95% of some coral species have been lost, and the Florida Keys’ reefs are suffering too. In an effort to make things right though, there’s amazing scenes happening beneath the waves just offshore of the Keys...
MTV were lucky enough to witness the work Coral Restoration Foundation are doing first hand. Successfully growing fragments of 11 different endangered species of coral in underwater farms called Coral Tree Nurseries, when large enough, the fragments are ‘outplanted’, kickstarting the reef’s natural process of recovery. And it’s working.
They also run programs for dive-trained volunteers to learn how to plant coral first hand.
For more information about this incredible process plus how to get involved in volunteering, head to https://www.coralrestoration.org/dive-programs
FOOD & DRINK
The Florida Keys are a pescatarian’s heaven. The daily fish specials, some you’ve never even heard of, at Islamorada’s Chef Michael’s can be prepared in numerous, mouth-watering ways. Plus, their menu includes Lionfish, which are causing havoc in the reefs so you’ll actually be helping rid the ecosystem of the invasive species and getting a great meal at the same time!
Hungry Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
Stone Crab claw season in the Florida Keys runs October 15th – May 15th and where best to sample them than waterside, at Robbie’s Marina in their Tiki-inspired restaurant. They’ll even ‘Cook Your Catch’ if you had a particularly successful fishing trip.
When you’ve had your fill, why not share the love and feed some ravenous fish? Grab a bucket of bait and enjoy the spectacle of feeding the GIANT tarpon in the marina. Tip: keep an eye on those pelicans…!
Mrs Mac’s Kitchen II
So renowned they made a sequel, stop by Mrs Mac’s Kitchen II on Key Largo for good eats and great service offering sustainable seafood dishes, key lime milkshakes and, for the adventurous…alligator tenders!
The Green Room
On average there’s around 392 bars in Key West (but who’s counting), so where best to keep on point with the eco theme than sipping an eco-cocktail at The Green Room?
They’ve gone so much farther than ditching plastic straws. Everything from the bar made from a fallen tropical almond tree, to the ingredients in your drink has sustainability in mind. They even recycle your cigarette butts!
El Meson De Pepe
Only 90 miles from Cuba, Key West boasts a variety of Cuban-inspired eateries. The family-owned El Meson de Pepe has been serving up delicious Cuban fare for over 30 years.
Just around the corner from Mallory Square don’t miss their twist on the Cuban Sandwich.
Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar at the Perry Hotel
A short drive out of the centre of Key West, at the chic Perry Hotel you’ll find Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen, winner of OpenTable’s 2018 Diner’s Choice Award for best ambiance.
Try the iced-cold seafood tower presented in a tacklebox overflowing with oysters, shrimp, tuna tartare and yellowtail snapper ceviche - it’s to. die. for! Wash it down with a cocktail (Key Lime Martini anyone) but save room though for their catch of the day, which you can have grilled, blackened, cast iron seared or in PBR Batter.
PLACES TO STAY
Islander Resort, Islamorada
Situated just metres from the water’s edge, the appeal of the 24-acre Islander Resort in Islamorada doesn’t end with its expansive coastline location. For the green traveller, it recently fully renovated as greenhotels.com partner.
Its spacious rooms are just steps away from two pools, a hot tub and a splash pad for the kids, plus there’s massage and water sports services to take advantage of too.
In the evening treat yourself to a bit of fine dining indulgence, indoor or al fresco, at the newly opened Elements Lounge & Restaurant, where the bountiful Keys seafood is put front and centre.
Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort, Marathon
Overlooking the waters of Florida Bay, the serene Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort is a white picket dream. Once you’ve finished gasping at your 2/3-bedroom beach houses with fully fitted kitchens, bathroom and porches, tear yourself away and catch some rays by the beach or the three pools. Watch your step though, the free-roaming wild iguanas like to sunbathe as much as us humans!
Come sunset, grab a beachside cocktail at TJ’s Tiki Bar before heading to the Butterfly Café for dinner where the scallops are the size of your fist. Really.
Marquesa Hotel, Key West
Head over the Keys’ famed Seven Mile Bridge and onward to the tip of the archipelago to Key West, where the Marquesa Hotel awaits in the historic Old Town. Centrally located, the blissful Marquesa boasts rooms in adorable renovated 19th century ‘conch’ houses, two swimming pools and a fine-dining café.
'MTV Travelled with…The Florida Keys Tourist Development Council’. For more information on the island chain: www.fla-keys.co.uk'
'America As You Like It (0208 742 8299,www.americaasyoulikeit.com) are offering a seven-night trip to the Florida Keys from £1,458 per person. (Valid for travel in October 2019 (not including the dates of Fantasy Fest)). Price includes return flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow to Miami, two nights at the Islander Resort in Islamorada, one night at the Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort in Marathon, four nights at the Marquesa Hotel in Key West and compact car hire for the duration. Prices are subject to availability at the time of booking, based on two adults sharing room only accommodation.'
'Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Heathrow to Miami. For further information or to book, visit www.virginatlantic.com or call 0844 2092 770.'