FLORIDA KEYS — A trip to the Florida Keys offers an inviting array of sea-based adventures for nature lovers, adventurers and even couch potatoes. Visitors can explore the waters surrounding the islands at their own pace and energy level.
Paired well with other "unplugged" watersports activities like kayaking, scuba diving or snorkeling, the relatively simple and straightforward pastime of paddleboarding appeals to a diverse cross-section of people. Board sales and rentals are offered by nearly every watersports and outdoor outfitter throughout the island chain, and are offered among the amenities at several Keys resorts.
The warm, clear, calm waters typical of summer months in the Keys allow easy exploration of the intriguing natural environment. In addition, the Keys are home to some notable paddling events. Enthusiasts are challenged to circumnavigate the continental United States' southernmost island during the 12-mile Key West Paddle Classic, typically held in late April or early May, while July's Hemingway 5k Sunset Run/Walk and Paddleboard Race tasks competitors with paddling a 3-mile ocean course.
Fishing fans too can enjoy an unplugged on-the-water experience by casting off for a kayak fishing excursion. While kayaking around the spectacular mangrove islands of the Keys has become a favored recreation, intrepid anglers have found kayak fishing is a great way to sneak up on skittish bonefish on the flats or wary redfish and snook under the mangroves. Kayak rentals are available throughout the Keys, and it's also possible to book guided kayak fishing trips.
Featuring vivid coral reefs teeming with exotic sea creatures, the Florida Keys attract almost 800,000 snorkel and scuba aficionados each year who can't wait to get into the water and explore — even as first-timers. Snorkeling is the perfect family activity for visitors to the Keys for close, calm observation of the inhabitants of one of the world's most diverse, complex and beautiful ecosystems.
Spectacular shallow reefs, located in water that's often just 10 to 15 feet deep, are a short boat ride from the islands. Professional snorkel charters provide (and rent) equipment and simple instruction. Add a T-shirt with sun block to protect exposed backs, waists and legs, and you're ready to go.
Big Pine Key's Strike Zone Charters is renowned for dive and snorkel trips to Looe Key Reef, but the company also offers a daily family-friendly island excursion and picnic on a 40-foot glass-bottom catamaran to Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico out islands. Even young children can participate with their families.
Attractions include snorkeling in shallow protected waters, glimpsing aquatic birds, spotting stingrays and sometimes dolphins in the wild, sampling light-tackle fishing and learning about the Keys' history and environment. The highlight is a fish cookout (with hotdogs for carnivores) on an uninhabited island, surrounded by shallow water ideal for wading.
Florida Keys & Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
The relatively simple and straightforward pastime of paddleboarding appeals to a diverse cross-section of people.
Image: Tanner Morris/Florida Keys Photo Adventure
Image: Amy Higgs/Florida Keys Photo Adventure