Something for everyone found in Tortugas
DRY TORTUGAS, Fla.— Every year thousands of visitors crowd around the Southernmost Point to have their picture taken. While shirts sporting “MM 0” are a popular pick among tourist seeking to show off their visit to the end-of-the-line.
What these visitors don’t know is that 68 miles southwest of Key West lies the Dry Tortugas, the United States most remote national park.
|The entrance to Fort Jefferson (Photos by Emily Vaughn).|
The park is comprised of a cluster of seven islands— Bush Key, East Key, Garden Key, Hospital Key, Loggerhead Key, Long Key and Middle Key. Of the parks 64,701 acres, 99 percent lies underwater.
Accessible only by boat or seaplane, this island chain has much to offer its nearly 80,000 annual visitors.
|The imposing fort walls and moat.|
“There is not really any one thing about the park. It has a little bit of something for everybody,” said Peter Green, manager of Seaplanes of Key West, a service providing transportation to the islands.
Those wishing to stay dry during their visit can spend time bird watching. The park lies across the main avian flyway between South America and the northern United States, making it a location rich in bird sightings.
Or they could tour Garden Key’s Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere.
Constructed in 1846 as a means to control navigation into the Gulf of Mexico, the massive structure took 30 years and more than 16-million handmade bricks to build.
The fort encompasses nearly all of Garden Key’s 16-acres, with some of its walls descending directly into the ocean, giving the appearance it is rising from the sea.
The park service doesn’t provide tours of Fort Jefferson, but signs located throughout the facility allow for individual self-guided walking tours. In addition both ferry services to the island provide guided tours for their passengers. Touring the fort takes approximately 45 minutes.
A large moat wall surrounds Fort Jefferson, but visitors will find the waters outside the moat to be teaming with life and home to thriving coral reefs. Permitted activities in these waters include swimming, snorkeling and fishing.
|Wild birds, like this seagull, live on and around the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park.|
The Dry Tortugas warm, clear waters allow for the formation of coral reefs in as shallow as four feet. The shallow depth makes the waters off Garden Key an easy way for those learning to snorkel to take in some amazing underwater sights.
|A beach outside the fort.|
There is no need for novice snorkelers to purchase any equipment. All transportation services to the area provide complimentary snorkel gear for passengers.
Only three services are authorized to transport visitors to the national park, and all are located in Key West. Visitors may either choose to take two-hour boat ride or a 40-minute seaplane flight to the area.
To access the beauty of the Dry Tortugas by boat, visitors may choose between two authorized ferry services, Sunny Day’s Fast Cat II or the Yankee Fleet’s Yankee Freedom II. Both services provide nearly the same amenities.
Those wishing to see the beauty of the Dry Tortugas from the sky can do so via Seaplanes of Key West. The seaplane service is costlier than the ferry services has some added benefits.
“You get to do a lot of sight-seeing from the airplane and you don’t have to spend five hours of your day in transit,” said Green.
|Seaplanes are the fastest way to reach the islands.|
If You Go
Dry Tortugas National Park
- Phone – 305-242-7700
- Web site – http://www.nps.gov/drto
- Hours of operation – daylight hours, year-round
- Admission – $5 Park entrance fee
Sea Planes of Key West
- Location – Key West International Airport
- Phone – 305-294-0709
- Web site – http://www.seaplanesofkeywest.com
- Hours of operation – Daily flights every two hours from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
- Rates – Half day $179 (adult), $129 (children 6-12), $99 (children 2-6), free (children 2 and under)
- Parking – Free
Yankee Freedom II
- Location – Lands End Marina, Key West
- Phone – 305-294-7009 or 800-634-0939
- Web site – http://www.yankeefreedom.com
- Hours of operation – Tour departs at 8 a.m. returns at 5:30 p.m.
- Rates – $119 (adult), $79 (children 4-16), $109 (students, military and seniors)
- Parking – Some free parking, nearby lots $8-10 per day
Sunny Days Catamaran
- Phone – 305-292-6100 or 800-236-7937
- Web site – http://www.drytortugas.com
- Hours of operation – Tour departs at 8 a.m. returns at 5 p.m.
- Rates – $95 (adult), $65 (children 4-16), $90 (students, military and seniors)
|The seawall separating the moat from the Gulf of Mexico is a popular place to walk.|