Take a self-drive photographic tour along the Florida Keys, from Key Largo to Key West! Discover suggested photo opportunities in each region and recommended times of day for shooting the best images at these iconic locations.
The longest island of the Keys chain, Key Largo shares its name with the famous movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall — portions of which were filmed there. Key Largo's star attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in the United States, incorporated within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These protected areas feature more than 50 varieties of delicate corals and more than 600 species of fish.
Key Largo also is home to the Spiegel Grove, a retired U.S. Navy ship that is one of the largest vessels in the world ever purposely scuttled to create an artificial reef.
The origin of the name "Islamorada," given to the centerpiece of a group of islands called the "purple isles," is uncertain. Legend says Spanish explorers named the area from "morado," the Spanish word for purple — either for the janthina janthina, a violet sea snail found in the subtropical waters, or for the purple bougainvillea flowers in the area.
Known as the Sport-Fishing Capital of the World, Islamorada is heralded for its angling diversity and features the Keys' largest fleet of offshore charter and shallow-water "backcountry" boats.
Home to the Seven Mile Bridge, Marathon is centrally located at the heart of the Florida Keys between Key Largo and Key West. Marathon also features Dolphin Research Center, one of five Keys facilities that provide visitors an opportunity to swim and interact with the intelligent mammals.
A drive across the modern-day Seven Mile Bridge, (actually 6.79 miles long), the longest segmental bridge in the world, leads to the Lower Keys. But visitors shouldn't pass up the chance to explore Pigeon Key, a small island below the middle of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge that is accessible from a visitor center at the west end of Marathon. Reachable by ferry, Pigeon Key housed the workers who built Henry Flagler's historic Oversea Railway in the early 1900s.
The sheer sweep of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico is readily seen from the Bahia Honda Bridge. Bahia Honda State Park, whose beach was named one of the top 10 in the United States by several travel studies, is a prime example of the Lower Keys' pristine beauty.
Big Pine Key also features a national refuge for miniature Key deer, tropical forest and even a few alligators. Popular nature tours, many by kayak, offer unforgettable opportunities to view the unique flora and fauna of this tranquil natural area of the Keys.
Key West is where the land ends and meets the sea amid 19th-century charm and contemporary attractions. Continental America's southernmost city, situated closer to Cuba than to Miami, is characterized by quaint palm-studded streets, century-old gingerbread mansions and a relaxed citizenry of self-styled "conchs" (pronounced konks).
It has been said that the idiosyncratic architecture and laid-back atmosphere of this small, 2-by-4-mile island probably have nurtured the talents of more writers per capita than any other city in the United States.
At day's end in Key West, crowds gather at Mallory Square to experience the nightly "sunset celebration," a tradition that locals share with visitors. While musicians, jugglers, acrobats and other performers provide entertainment, the sun sinks slowly below the horizon as sunset cruise boats sail by in Key West Harbor.