There’s a hidden gem 70 miles off the west coast of Key West and it’s called Dry Tortugas National Park. This all day excursion includes a boat ride, breakfast, lunch, snorkeling and the exploration of Fort Jefferson. When we visited Key West, we knew we wanted to do something different but did not expect to fall in love. It was a trip of firsts for us but more on that in a bit.
In the year 1513, the explorer Ponce de Leon discovered the Dry Tortugas, an area in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico composed of seven islets. The Dry Tortugas were named after the large population of sea turtles that lived in the water surrounding the area. Fort Jefferson, located in the National Park, is a six-sided, three-story fort that was built to protect the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida. It was built between 1846 and 1875 but never completely finished.
During its peak years, the fort housed nearly 2000 people including prisoners, military personnel, their families, cooks and a doctor. In 1888, the Army turned the fort over to the Marine-Hospital Service to be operated as a quarantine station. On January 4, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, designated the area as Fort Jefferson National Monument. Today, when you visit the Dry Tortugas, you can tour the entire fort.
The Yankee Freedom is a high-speed, large ferry that will take you directly to the shores of the Dry Tortugas from Key West. The cost for the day is $180/adult and $125/child. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time. You will receive both breakfast and lunch and the boat ride is about 2 hours and 15 minutes each way. You can sit inside or outside depending on your preference.
Our favorite part of the boat ride was seeing Green and Hawksbill sea turtles swimming in the ocean where they belong. We also saw dolphins and all different types of fish jumping out of the water. The ride was smooth and it was an all around great experience.
Snorkeling was the absolute highlight of our day. The crystal clear blue waters surrounding the Dry Tortugas make it a perfect location for snorkeling. You can bring your own snorkeling gear if you like but we just used what the park had available and it worked out great. I have a slight fear of deep water (okay, a big fear) and wasn’t sure I would even try to snorkel.
My gear went on and I walked into the water from the beach and started by floating around the shallow water. I was so excited to see a few colorful fish and the next thing I knew, I was floating around deeper water. The most beautiful sea creatures were all around me and I even had a 4 foot barracuda swim under me! It really was the perfect place for a first time snorkeling experience because if I started to get nervous, I knew I could just paddle back to shore and take a break.
We would highly recommend this excursion the next time you are visiting Key West. Here’s a link to book and for more information: https://www.drytortugas.com/