With the summer months fast approaching, many families are already looking at choosing their annual sunshine getaway. For those looking to swap the classic Mediterranean beach break or adrenaline-fueled theme park trip for a more exotic escape, the serene and subtropical Florida Keys offer an eco-friendly, adventure-focused getaway.
With the waters surrounding the southern Florida island chain designated as a National Marine Sanctuary, visitors can enjoy a range of active adventures that help them to truly immerse themselves in the destination -- all while leaving little trace of their travels.
Here are five low-impact and appealing ways to explore the Florida Keys this summer…
REEF: Visitors to Key Largo's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the United States' first undersea park, can glimpse the Keys' serene underwater jungle on a glass bottom boat tour aboard the Spirit of Pennekamp catamaran. During the trip, families can view part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which protects the waters surrounding the entire island chain including the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef.
If visitors wish to learn more about the pioneering work being done above and below the water to protect the coral reefs, they can visit the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo to discover efforts to grow and re-plant coral.
WALK: The Florida Keys History & Discovery Center is set to launch a new app, Walk Indian Key, in June that will help families go exploring on foot around the remote 11-acre Indian Key. Located half a mile offshore from the Upper Keys' Islamorada, the island is accessible by boat or kayak rentals from Robbie's Marina and is deserted except for the ruins of a town that existed in the early 1800s, when residents made their living from salvaging boats that ran aground on local reefs. The new app features a 12-stop tour and gives kids and parents alike insight into the island's surprising history, offering them the chance to channel their inner Robinson Crusoe.
NATURE: Believed to be the world's first state-licensed veterinary hospital dedicated to treating injured sea turtles, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon has released over 2,000 turtles back into their ocean home since 1986. Guided tours not only teach families about sea turtles but also offer a behind-the-scenes look at the rehabilitation facility and the chance to feed the permanent residents.
KAYAK: Join local legend, Captain Bill Keogh of Big Pine Kayak Adventures, for an eco-kayaking tour around the Lower Keys. Navigate the shallow waters surrounding the mangrove islands of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge and National Key Deer Refuge in sit-on-top kayaks to explore the backcountry's sponge and grass flats and mangrove forests during this unique nature experience.
CYCLE: Active visitors to Key West can take a guided bike tour around the picturesque island city with Key Lime Bike Tours. Along the route participants will see popular destinations such as Mallory Square, the former home of legendary author Ernest Hemingway, Key West's Historic Seaport district and the Southernmost Point, quite literally the southernmost location in the continental United States and just 90 miles from Cuba. For the grand finale, the tour ends with a stop for a mouth-watering slice of Key lime pie, a local delicacy.