Key West: From the Dry Tortugas to Dolphin Encounters, Water-Based Fun for All

Travel & LeisureTravel Spot

  • Author Becky Johnson
  • Published September 15, 2012
  • Word count 546

Key West, the southernmost point in the United States, is a popular tropical tourist destination thanks to the great variety of outdoor activities and watersports available year-round. There are several fun Key West water attractions that tourists enjoy. Eco-tours are increasing in popularity in the area. A favorite destination is a low-lying coral atoll called the Dry Tortugas, where visitors get the chance to snorkel and see aquatic life such as exotic tropical fish, and sometimes even dolphins and sea turtles.

These islands are believed to have been popular hangouts for pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries. They would have had to bring their own rum to drink, though...the islands don’t have a source of fresh water (which is reflected in the name they got from Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon, who named them.)

Each of the islands in Dry Tortugas features pristine beaches that are inviting. You'll travel to eh islands, which are about two hours from Key West, on comfortable ferries that offer air-conditioned observation areas. If you want to get there faster, a Dry Tortugas seaplane pilot will become both your pilot and your tourguide during the brief flight.

Cruises are commonly offered in Key West, both on catamarans and tall ships. These are some of the most popular water attractions for tourists. Many of the boats visit beautiful coral reef areas that are home to numerous species of marine life. On some charters, you can enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner during the trip. The tall ship charters are especially known for their dinner and dancing opportunities. These ships are very similar to the tall ships that were commonly used during the 1800's. When you try a charter on one of these ships, you're enjoying a unique experience and bring home some unforgettable stories.

Snorkeling is a very popular activity in the area, largely due to the fact that the coral reefs are the only live coral barrier reefs off the North American continent. One of the reasons why snorkeling is so popular among the Key West water attractions is that strong swimming skills aren't required. People of all ages, even small kids, can enjoy the unique opportunities that snorkeling offers. Tour operators can show you everything to need to know, even if you’ve never gone snorkeling before. You'll be able to see the reefs and the marine life from a good perspective. Most charters that take visitors to snorkeling spots provide complimentary snacks and drinks.

Another experience that you won't want to miss is a dolphin encounter. You'll have the opportunity to see dolphins in their natural habitat. It is one of the most popular Key West water attractions by far. The charter boat takes your group into an area called the "dolphin playground" where you're likely to see many dolphins. After you’ve watched the dolphins frolic in their native habitat, the catamaran will take you to a shallower area where you can snorkel safely without bothering the dolphins. Free refreshments are provided to dolphin tour guests after they've finished snorkeling.

Whatever kind of cruise you might enjoy, Key West has something for everyone. A local attractions booking company like ToursKeyWest ( can help you choose a cruise that's right for your schedule and budget.

Becky Johnson is a freelance writer who enjoys traveling throughout the U.S. She says, "Booking sunset cruises, dolphin watching or Dry Tortugas tours from Key West is easy with A local booking agent can help you or your group get the best values and arrange tour packages."

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