The pearly white beach is empty, except for our footprints in the sand. A regal 19th-century fortress stands behind us, but apart from that, we are completely surrounded by sparkling, spearmint blue water. Alberto and I hold hands and smile at each other. It’s almost as if we’re on a private island, in the middle of the ocean.
In some ways, we are.
We’re 70 miles (113 km) away from the mainland here at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, afloat in the Gulf of Mexico. Along with six other islets, Garden Key is part of the Dry Tortugas National Park, a highly-protected marine conservation area. The mainland I’m referring to is the American continent, and we are at its southernmost tip, closer to Cuba than most of North America.
Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the island is easy to get to, but surprisingly remote and unknown. Yet, it’s a part of Florida that few get to see: indigo blue water clearer than glass, pristine beaches empty of sun-decks and loud holidaymakers, and marine life more colorful and impressive than those in the aquarium. And of course there’s an intriguing historical element here as well. Fort Jefferson was built to protect the nation’s gateway in the 1800s, due to the large number of vessels that plowed its waters. Though it was never completed, it remains as the largest all-masonry fort in the United States.
Thankfully the vessels that plowed its waters are long gone. In their place are speckles of curious, responsible travelers, who have come a long way to keep this place a secret. We want to share this little secret with you, but shhh… remember to keep it to yourself!
A narrow sandbar that links Garden Key to Long Key
Putting on my fins to go uncover its underwater world
A view of the sea from the fort
Alberto jumping off the walls surrounding the fort, into the clear water
Walking on the wall that surrounds the fort – on one side, the color of rust, the other spearmint blue.
Again, looking out to the sea from the top of the fort
This time, looking into the gardens of the fort – can you see the blue peeking in through the arches?
A seaplane docked on the beach
How to Get There:
Dry Tortugas is accessible only by private boats, charter boats, or seaplane, though getting there itself is expensive.
Yankee Freedom is the only ferry that goes to the park from Key West, day trips cost US$165 per person including park fee. Key West Seaplane Adventures offers seaplane tours from Key West, with half-day excursions starting from US$265 per person.
Camping is allowed on the island, but be sure to bring everything (including water) with you as there are no facilities other than a small gift shop in the fort.