A simple journey from Miami, along the wonderful Overseas Highway brings you to the Florida Keys. They are a strip of islands about a hundred miles long, known for fishing, diving but most of all for the town of Key West - legendary for its sunsets and liberal attitude.
There are actually 1,700 islands in the archipelago and they extend south and south west of the Florida mainland. The Keys are divided into 3 areas - Upper, Middle and Lower Keys.
The islands are like a tropical paradise, and one that you can visit without leaving the USA. There are multi-coloured fish and coral in crystal clear waters, mangroves, lots of wonderful seafood to try, beautiful palm-fringed beaches and lots of interesting sights. An extra bonus is that the temperature rarely dips below 65 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.
The limestone and mangrove islands are bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. There is only one road - US highway 1 (also called the Overseas Highway) and driving along this offers one of the most scenic road trips ever. There are views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic during the whole drive. The colour of the water varies from pale blue to turquoise. Due to offshore reefs, there are minimal waves and the water is mostly calm.
There is lots of family friendly accommodation on the different islands and everyone is extremely friendly. Nature, plants, birds, animals and beaches mean children can have a wonderful time here in the great outdoors. Our 7 year old son adored it on the Keys and learned so much during our week here.
The Upper Keys - Key Largo to Islamorada are a little cluttered with touristy shops and motels. Apparently Key Largo is becoming more and more a weekend getaway for residents of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Mostly you can't see the water from the road in this area, however as you go further south, it starts to open up more, and you finally realise you are hopping from one island to another.
The finale of the Overseas Highway is Key West. Kooky, laid-back, funky and anything goes - that is Key West. It claims to be the only city in the lower 48 states to never have had a frost. Free spirits have always been attracted to this place, and you can see why. It is actually closer to Cuba than to anywhere else in the United States. There is only one road to Key West, it is not on the way to anywhere else, so you will never be just passing through - you have to want to come here!
People flock to Key West to soak up the mellow atmosphere and watch the amazing sunsets. We found we quickly set our clocks to "island time" and instantly felt relaxed and as if time did not matter. Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams both made this place their home.
Driving down Highway 1, you really feel like you are leaving Florida and the United States and entering a different world - the world of the Florida Keys. It is part Bahamian and part Caribbean - but also has a vibe and feel all of its own. The farther south you travel, the farther you get from what concerns life on the mainland and the more you seem to relax and get into the holiday mood.