Diving into Paradise: Florida’s Secret Isle

Posted on October 3, 2012 by

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!

View from above

A narrow sandbar that links Garden Key to Long Key

Snorkeling off the beach

Putting on my fins to go uncover its underwater world

View of sea from the fort

A view of the sea from the fort

Jumping off from the fort

Alberto jumping off the walls surrounding the fort, into the clear water

Walking around the fort

Walking on the wall that surrounds the fort – on one side, the color of rust, the other spearmint blue.

Blue Horizon

Again, looking out to the sea from the top of the fort

Looking into the fort

This time, looking into the gardens of the fort – can you see the blue peeking in through the arches?

A seaplane

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.

Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Visit Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park, and The Florida Keys and Key West, but all opinions expressed above are our own.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

9 Responses to “Diving into Paradise: Florida’s Secret Isle”

  1. wordgeisha October 3, 2012 11:31 am #

    Ever checked out Eagle Island off the coast of Georgia? Here's my story: http://www.herecomestheguide.com/wedding-party-id….

    • Nellie November 14, 2012 1:14 pm #

      I have heard good stuff about Eagle Island, we will have to check it out! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sofia October 7, 2012 12:20 pm #

    Never knew there is such a paradise nearby Florida coast. I wonder what would be a price/night for setting a tent in the camp there?
    Gorgeous pictures, btw!

  3. SandInMySuitcase October 10, 2012 12:27 pm #

    Looks like you found a great little escape for some sunning and snorkeling! Thx for sharing… We just posted a new story on scuba diving off Cabo San Lucas in Mexico: http://www.sandinmysuitcase.com/scuba-diving-in-c…. Cabo Pulmo, in particular, is awesome this time of year (see lots of sharks!).

  4. Bruce Nielsen November 1, 2012 11:19 am #

    thanks for posting…….I have been there and it is beautiful. I live in Key West and and sell this trip among others. all the details are at http://www.keywestadventurestoday.com

  5. tottonhealthcentre.co.uk April 21, 2013 1:01 pm #

    My hope is always that you will just compose some a lot more right here about this topic , I cant wait to have much more nice juicy infos!


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