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The Florida Keys consists of 88 atolls stretching126 miles between two oceans on a mostly two-lane road dubbed the Overseas Highway. The tropical flavor of the Keys is unique - a blend of Caribbean charm, old south Florida casual and a bit of modern American commercialism thrown in.   In the Keys you can kick back, relax and concentrate on fun.

You can take a cruise ship and stop in Key West, or fly into Key West or Marathon (approx. midway down the Keys) or if you want to explore the entire length of the Keys, then fly into Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, rent a car and  start driving.  Mile markers start in Florida City (at the southern tip of the Florida mainland) at 127 and run all the way down to 0 when you arrive in Key West.   The Keys are like driving back into the 50’s and they are casual, relaxed, and dedicated to preserving their laid-back nature.  It is an adventure going through small towns which are very funky and eclectic. The Keys are great for diving, fishing, exploring, snorkeling, shopping, dining, nightlife or just doing nothing at all except watching the brilliant sunsets.


The Florida Keys were discovered in 1513 by Ponce de Leon and were named Lost Martires, the matyrs, because of their twisted, torturous strips of land surrounded by turquoise waters.  The first settlement was Cayo Hueso, the Isle of Bones, and the name later evolved into Key West.  This land belonged to the Spanish until 1821, when Juan Pablo Salas sold it to John Simonton, a businessman from Mobile, Alabama, for $2,000.  Key West was founded in 1822 and by the 1850s had grown to 2,700 people.   Most of these people came from New England and the Bahamas and worked as “wreckers”, salvaging millions of dollars of cargo from ships that ran afoul of the reefs. In time, Key West became one of the richest cities in the Americas.  

Other industries followed, only to fade away.  Cigar making was big in the 1800s, followed by the  sponge industry which finally disappeared in the 1930s.   Turtles were hunted extensively in the Keys until laws were implementing protecting them.

The majority of the Keys were essentially uninhabited until the last quarter of the 19th Century, when hardy Methodist settlers began to carve out homesteads in the coral, reef, limestone and mangrove swamps.

Economic and commercial development today has been inspired by the Armed Forces’ use of Key West as a base, the commercial shrimp industry and tourism.   Many famous people are associated with the Florida Keys - Henry Flagler, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, John James Audobon and President Harry S. Truman.

Henry Flager was a railroad magnate who in 1905, vowed to extend his Florida Coast Railway south from Miami to the Key West.  Seven years later in 1912, the first train steamed along the entire length of “Flagler’s Folly”.   On September 2, 1935, a fierce hurricane with winds up to 200 miles per hour pushed an 18-foot tidal wave across the Upper Keys, washing out the tracks and killing more than 800 people.  The railroad was never rebuilt but within three years, the railroad right-of-way was now the Overseas Highway.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West from 1931 until 1940 and it was here that he wrote “Death in the Afternoon,”  “Green Hills of Africa,”  “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”.   He had a passion for fishing and today you can visit his home and museum in Key West.   

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