Following our amazing cruise with Celebrity Silhouette, we had a few days left in our holiday. As it was my husbands childhood dream to drive from Miami to Key West, we rented a car to make a small roadtrip.
We picked up our rental car and left for Key West. From Miami, take the Overseas Highway or US1 which connects all the islands of the Keys. It was my husband’s childhood dream to do this route. And it is a fantastic (though very long) drive. It takes 4 hours to reach Key West (without stops). Mostly, the road is flanked by water on both sides. You regularly pass cute, quiet islands. And the longest coral reef of the American mainland is here.
.After 182km, you arrive at Key West. The island is not even 20km2 and forms the most southerly point of the contiguous United States.
It is a super friendly town where you will instantly get that holiday feeling (in case you did not have it yet). Both people and area radiate happiness. Beautifully coloured wooden dwellings, palm trees, cosy restaurants and terraces… it has it all.
We stayed at the Truman Hotel, without doubt one of the better places of the last few years. It is a small hotel with beautiful rooms. The inner courtyard looks like a tropical paradise and has a small swimming pool and a cosy bar (where you can also get breakfast). And it is close to Duval Street, the heart of Key West. From here, you can visit most sights on foot. Across from the hotel is a Five Guys, coincidentally my favourite hamburger joint in the States.
Is it too hot to explore the island on foot? Book a ride on the Conch Tour Train. You can buy tickets in the booth just in front of Five Guys. The train’s driver will tell you all about the most important sights, and you will stop a few times.
You will see, for instance, the East Martello Tower (1861), meant to defend the Zachary Fort. But they stopped the build when it became clear that the tower was outdated before it was finished.
Key West architecture is mostly notable for its simplicity. Early conch houses were mostly built by boatbuilders. They introduced elements that they saw during their travels. From the Bahamas they imported ways to cool houses. Since the 70s, a lot of houses were restored without losing their authentic character.
The Three Bay house is the most common style. This is slightly more luxurious than the emergency housing build for cigar makers which were also called shotgun houses. If you put a bullet through the front door, it would come straight out the back.
.One of the most famous residents of Key West was Ernest Hemingway. He lived here from 1931 to 1940 and wrote (among others) To have and have not. He was on his way to Cuba, but a friend gave him a car which he had to pick up here. He fell in love with Key West and stayed. You should visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and stop for a drink in his local bar Sloppy Joe’s.
Bahama Village is also worth a visit. Wander through the streets with the cheerful, colourful wooden houses.
The most southerly point of the island has a brightly coloured monument that should definitely be included in your holiday album.
We drive back to Miami after our trip to the Keys. A little to the west lies the Everglades. And they had been on my list a long time.
The Everglades is an extensive system of wetlands, originating in Lake Okeechobee. The area is often incorrectly called a swamp, as it actually is the slowest moving river on earth. The area is 32km long, 80km wide and only rarely more than 1m deep. The growing population of Florida disturbs the natural flow of the water by building irrigation canals and roads. High concentrations of artificial fertilizers are also a threat, as this stimulates the growth of non-indigenous swamp vegetation. Large amounts of mercury have been found in the local fish population. Hopefully there is still time to save this fabulous area of natural beauty.
Everyone in our generation knows the boats with the flywheel like they used in Miami Vice. We booked a tour with such an airboat Gator Park .There are many small operators along the Everglades route that offer such tours.
Along the way you get a lot of information, and you see birds, snakes, turtles and of course alligators. Although the last ones were a lot smaller than I was expecting. The boat went at full speed a number of times, much to the delight of the kids.
On the way back we stopped off in the ultra-conservative, rich Naples. This city has no less than 55 golf courses and feels very European. A look in the window of an estate agent tells us that this is for the happy few. A small house overlooking the sea will quickly set you back a few million euro.
The largest part of the historic Naples dates back to the start of the 20th century. A lot of the 19th century houses, as well as the original pier dating back to 1887, were destroyed by hurricane Donna in 1960. The pier was rebuilt in 1961. Walk to the end of the pier and witness lots of pelicans dip into the sea to catch fish. You might even be lucky and see a school of dolphins swim by.
Our last stop was Miami, and we stayed at the Hotel Dream South Beach. You should certainly book a Biscayne Bay cruise to see where the rich and famous live.
Interesting fact: The man who constructed the islands paid 8 million dollars for the privilege. He sold the whole lot for $84 million and invested heavily in the New York stock exchange. The stock markets crashed a week later, and he was left bankrupt.
Personally, I thought Miami was disappointing. Past glory and very expensive. If I was to take the trip again, I would stay at the Keys or Naples a bit longer, but this is of course my personal choice.
Are you looking for more things to do in the area? Check this Fort Lauderdale Guide.
Is Miami on your bucketlist? Or have you been there? Did you like it?