03 Mar Day Trip to the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys
“Even if you don’t normally get seasick, it’s a good idea to take a Dramamine today”, the voice over the loudspeaker announced.
The waves were averaging between 3-6 feet, which means some waves have the potential to be much larger. We were in for a bumpy ride.
It was 7 a.m., and we were waiting for our boat ride to Fort Jefferson Island in the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands around 70 miles from Key West. The Dry Tortugas is a remote National Park that consists of 7 small islands, but the majority of the park is made up of the water surrounding the islands. I’ve wanted to visit this remote island for years, so I was extremely excited when we were able to partner with Viator and hop on their Dry Tortugas National Park Day Trip by Catamaran tour.
After a short discussion on what to expect for the day, we boarded our boat and got ready for the wild 2.5 hour ride that was ahead of us. Although we did hit some rough seas on our tour, it’s not the norm—most days you should have fairly smooth sailing and sunny skies. The waves we encountered were caused by some rough storms that passed through the area, and there was also a cold front that covered almost the entire state of Florida. Bad weather aside, the day couldn’t have turned out any better.
Once we were on board the boat, we could help ourselves to the breakfast buffet of meats, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, bagels, coffee, juice and plenty other items to pick from. While we sailed, the onboard naturalist told us stories of the seas and about the islands that we passed along the way.
We started out the day sitting inside, but after people started to put their seasickness bags to use, we made our way to the back of the boat for some fresh air. There is also an upper deck with both inside and outside seating.
Even with the waves, the boat ride seemed fairly quick, and soon enough we were entering the boundaries of the Dry Tortugas National Park and spotting Fort Jefferson on the horizon.
The boat pulled up to the docks and we were free to roam the island for the next four hours. What had been cold and gloomy weather when we boarded back in Key West, faded away and turned into brilliant blue skies with warm 75ºF weather.
We were mesmerized by the bright white sand and the never-ending turquoise waters that surrounded us. After stepping off the boat, we knew four hours wouldn’t be long enough on this gorgeous remote island and we started to scheme plans for a return camping trip one day.
While on the island, you can swim, relax on the beach, snorkel (the gear is included!) or tour the old military fort on either a 1 hour tour or on your own. Bird watching is also a popular activity on the island as there are hundreds of different birds that pass through the islands throughout the year.
We started our day off with taking some photos—we just couldn’t resist snapping hundreds of photos of the scenes that unfolded everywhere we turned. Wandering around the island, we found giant conch shells washed up on shore, Pelicans sunning themselves on the docks, sailboats in the water, old canons ready for battle, and endless seas as we walked the perimeter of the fort.
One of my favorite parts of the island was the moat that surrounded the fort—the wall of the moat is around 4 feet wide and you can walk along the entirety of it. The views from this portion of the island were absolutely fantastic.
Although we didn’t join in on the official tour of the fort, we did explore on our own and read the various signs for information on the island’s history. The fort was built in the 1820’s and although it was never officially completed, it served as a military base and a prison. Most of the prisoners were there for war crimes and burglaries, but the island was also home to four prisoners that played a part in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Lunch is also provided with the tour and you are free to grab a bite from the lunch buffet anytime between 11:30 and 2:00. The buffet is stocked with deli meat, cheese, bread, veggies, potato salad, chips, fruit and sodas—basically the perfect grub for a picnic. We made giant sandwiches and made our way to one of the several picnic tables near the fort; I was pleasantly surprised how fresh and delicious all the food was!
After one last stroll on the beach, it was time for our island visit to end. We boarded the boat and geared up for another rough ride back to Key West, but to our delight, the waves had calmed down and it was smooth sailing on our 2.5 hour boat ride home. We relaxed on the back of the boat again and watched as the island faded into the horizon. It was the perfect end to a day spent in a little slice of paradise.
Have you ever been to the Dry Tortugas?
Special thanks to Viator for providing us with a complimentary tour. As always, all opinions are our own.