FLORIDA KEYS – NFL fans headed to South Florida for Super Bowl XLIV can escape the frenetic activity — before or after the game — with a respite in the Florida Keys.
The laidback Keys begin about an hour’s drive south of Miami. Connected by the Overseas Highway’s 43 bridges, the area is divided into five regions including Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, and Key West. Each has its own special flavor and attractions, including historic museums, flora, fauna, seafood restaurants, fishing, diving, watersports and unique, boutique-type shopping experiences.
Key Largo’s star attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park — the first underwater preserve in America — which is located within the Florida Keys National Sanctuary and features 55 varieties of corals and more than 600 species of fish.
There are more saltwater angling records in the Keys, compared with any other destination on the globe, and Islamorada is known as the Sport-Fishing Capital of the World. Islamorada is heralded for its angling diversity and features the Keys’ largest fleet of offshore charter boats and shallow-water “backcountry” boats.
Home to the Seven Mile Bridge, Marathon is the heart of the Florida Keys and is centrally located between Key Largo and Key West. Marathon features the Dolphin Research Center, one of five Keys facilities that provide visitors an opportunity to swim and interact with the intelligent mammals.
A drive across the Seven Mile Bridge leads to Big Pine and the Lower Keys.
Big Pine Key features a national refuge for miniature Key deer, tropical forests and even a few alligators. Popular nature tours, many by kayak, offer unforgettable opportunities to view the unique plants and wildlife of this area of the Keys.
Key West is the final stop on the Overseas Highway, where the land ends and meets the sea amid 19th-century charm and contemporary attractions. The ambiance of the continental United States’ southernmost city — which is situated closer to Cuba than Miami — is embedded in its quaint, palm-studded streets, historic hundred-year-old gingerbread mansions and a relaxed citizenry of self-styled “conchs” (pronounced konks).
For more information visit the Florida Keys Web site at www.fla-keys.com or, in the U.S. and Canada, dial toll-free 1-800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397).