It was the Spanish explorers who named Cayo Largo to the first of this chain of islands. Today, this semi-tropical island attracts a large number of visitors for its magnificent coral reefs a few miles offshore. Here is John Pennekamp State Park, a spectacular underwater park with reefs full of life. It is the only one of its category in the USA and from its facilities are organized guided diving and snorkeling excursions. During weekends and during the holidays these excursions to the barrier reef usually fill up. So I advise you to get up early to find a spot on some of the boats.
If you do not wear glasses or tube, you will find all kinds of material in the store where the tickets are sold. In addition to the typical paraphernalia of T-shirts, towels and a multitude of useless things to carry as souvenirs to family and friends. There are also boats with the glazed bottom for the most fearful. But it is a sin not to immerse yourself in these warm transparent waters of an intense turquoise color between fish and corals. In addition to the incredible reefs of the Keys there are also some wrecks to explore in the area.
Fishing is another favorite sport for residents and tourists alike. You will see numerous marinas with their fishing boats moored. The most striking are those looking for marlin or tuna a few miles off the coast.
There are also trails that allow you to observe the tranquil walks of herons, egrets and spatulas along the seashore, or the flight of the pelicans. Maybe we just want to relax and enjoy a quiet afternoon under the tropical sun. Cayo Largo is a good place to spend one or two nights as here you will find numerous accommodations and restaurants. A very recommendable hotel is the Hilton Key Largo Grande Resort, one of the few hotels with private beach, pools, modern rooms, beach bar and that is not bad at all.
For dining one of the best spots in Key Largo is the Snapper’s Waterfront Saloon. It is a restaurant located on a small wooden terrace on the transparent waters with a letter more than appetizing. And, surprisingly by US standards, here they do know how to prepare the fish. The setting is very pleasant and while we dine we can enjoy the brightness of the moon in the starry sky. In the water, almost at our feet, big fish called bonefish come to the surface waiting for the gift of some diner. Next door is the Turtle Bar to top off the evening with rum drinks and various cocktails. In Cayo Largo you can also take a ride on the boat where Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart kept their acid dialogues and risky adventures in the classic 50’s Hollywood: “The Queen of Africa.” For die-hard moviegoers.
This road between the Keys is a real surprise in many ways. Here in Cayo Largo you will find the Jules’Undersea Lodge, the only submarine hotel in the world where you can get the acuanauta accreditation. Leave Largo Cayo to pass through Tavernier. According to the legend owes its name to the pirates and rum smugglers who came to frequent the taverns that were here. Tavernier is the typical fishing village of the Cays with its shopping center and supermarkets where you can buy food and drink. Continuing south, the road crosses marinas and dense mangroves that overlook the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In many instances, the voracity of urban planning that is being built in the Keys does not let the sea. But in others we will enjoy uninterrupted views of clear waters and a flat sea like a plate.
The next island after Tavernier and Plantation Key is Islamorada. The Spaniards gave that name to him by the purple color of the mother-of-pearl shells that accumulated in its borders. Islamorada is today best known for being a true paradise for fishermen. The large number of boats and motorboats dedicated to the sport fishing that crammed their marinas so testify. But here you can also dive and dive to explore the coral bottoms or what remains of the remains of San Pedro, a Dutch boat that sailed under Spanish flag and sank here in 1773. The wreck is only 6 meters Depth and just over a nautical mile from Indian Key. Although do not expect to find anything spectacular other than corals and goldfish among the ballast stones that gave stability to the boat.
If you need to buy anything related to fishing or diving here you will find many shops. Perhaps the most impressive by its size and its offer is World Wide Sportsman Bass Pro chain in Islamorada. Inside is the brother ship that Hemingway bought to navigate these waters and make their trips to Cuba. In fact he ended up buying his twin ship in 1934 for $ 7,500 and called him Pilar, a nickname he secretly gave Pauline, his wife back then. The real Pilar remained in Cuba after the death of the writer. Today we must thank to go up to the cabin of this boat perfectly restored and to be able to browse the old period pictures. And imagine Hemingway drinking, smoking Habanos and fishing for these waters inspired to write “The Old Man and the Sea”.
But this is not all you can find in Islamorada. Also here you will find a magnificent museum dedicated to the world of diving, the Diving Museum. You will find all the information and much more in my article: “In the Florida Keys visiting a unique museum”. And this museum is one of those that deserve a stop to get to know it.
Next we find the small islands of Long Key and the one of Grassy Key. Here you will find the Dolphin Reseach Center, where you can swim with dolphins. The journey through the US-1 runs monotonously due to the exaggerated speed limitations. So take it easy and enjoy the high road over the sea as we cross bridges, islands and cays where palm trees reign and houses raised on pastel piles. Thus, under a sultry eclipsed by air conditioning, I arrive at Marathon Key, the intermediate point in this tour of the Keys. Here there are numerous holiday resorts, as well as in the rest of the Keys, and little else of interest.