We planned our visit for mid-November, when it’s still warm enough for swimming but the summer heat abates. Except this year, when it didn’t. The temperatures lingered in the mid-80s, the humidity ratcheted up to 93%, and at dusk the no-see-ums were relentless.
Staying Cool In The Heat
We spent our days kayaking, swimming, and biking—which kept us cooled off and mostly happy. When the sun went down and the no-see-ums appeared, we closed up the trailer and turned on the air conditioner until the bloodthirsty little buggers backed off for the night. If we were fortunate enough to have a stiff breeze, that took care of the gnats and we could sit outside in the evening. But that didn’t happen very often.
We spent almost three weeks in the Keys, and despite the intermittent heat, humidity, and bugs, we found ourselves wishing we could stay longer. Next trip, though, we’ll plan for sometime between January and April, when the weather is cooler and the bugs less active.
We camped at Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon for two weeks, with a 5-day break mid-way at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo. John Pennekamp was well kept and we enjoyed the glass bottom boat cruise and the kayak trail, but the sites are very close together and far from the beach.
We loved Curry Hammock—it has spacious sites with a nice ocean view, a pretty little beach, excellent bike trails right across from the park, and great kayaking was just a hundred feet from our campsite.
Oh, delight! We looked forward every morning to having our coffee with the birds.
We walked to the beach from our campsite, where we watched Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Reddish Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Great Blue Herons (including the white morphs found in south Florida) hunting for their breakfasts. In the seaweed along the shore, Black-bellied and Semi-palmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, and Sanderlings foraged. Just offshore, Brown Pelicans and terns dove for fish all day long.
Kayaking The Turquoise Waters
The kayaking was fantastic at both Curry Hammock and John Pennekamp. The water in the Keys is a stunning shade of turquoise, often crystal clear. We kayaked through mangroves next to roosting pelicans, cormorants, and egrets while frigatebirds sailed overhead. We also kayaked to grassy flats and sandbars offshore, where we spotted tarpon, rays, barracuda, and sea stars below.
Living in Oregon with its freezing cold unswimmable ocean, I’ve often longed for the warm waters of south Florida, my childhood home. It was wonderful to hang out at the beach, relaxing and swimming. We enjoyed the beach at Curry Hammock, nearby Sombrero Beach, and Bahia Honda, a state park further south in the Keys.
Biking The Trails
There are excellent bike trails in the Keys, including one that follows the main road through the Keys. Some sections are better than others; the bike path near John Pennekamp in Key Largo is torturous (too close to the road, noisy, and too much traffic) so we only rode that once. The path near Curry Hammock is excellent, however, and we biked it often, riding a few miles into Marathon for lunch at a local fish shack or exploring quaint neighborhoods and beaches.
So Much Seafood!
The fish and shellfish in the Keys are superb. We worked our way through everything we could find: pink shrimp, Florida lobster, stone crabs, conch, grouper, mahi mahi, scallops, hog snapper, and yellowtail. We were frequent customers at local fish houses, where the fishermen dock nearby and deliver their catches daily.
Key Lime Pie
This should not be a category unto itself, but we ate Key lime pie seven times during our three-week stint in the Keys. The best of the best is from Blue Heaven in Key West—tangy, sweet, and creamy and topped with mile-high meringue.
Fun With Family
My aunt and uncle live in Islamorada, midway between Key Largo and Marathon, and we had a variety of fun adventures with them during our time in the Keys. On Thanksgiving, we had a lovely family gathering at beautiful Cheeca Lodge with my cousins and their families, who flew in from Phoenix and Seattle. Rick and Karren took us boating (including a sunset cruise the day after Thanksgiving on their new 46-foot yacht); we enjoyed several delicious meals together at local restaurants; boated to Lignumvitae Key for a holiday celebration; and Rick took us snorkeling—Eric’s first experience, and now he’s hooked.