Last updated: 10:08 PM ET, Thu March 31 2016

The Florida Keys Are a Tropical Paradise

The destination is ideally suited for travelers in quest of laid-back vacation experiences.

Vacation Agent | Destination & Tourism | Olivia Balsinger

The Florida Keys Are a Tropical Paradise

Photo courtesy of Florida Keys News Bureau

Import a San Francisco vibe into the Caribbean, where beautiful, sunny weather prevails. Add authentic rum, a laid-back attitude, and flair from neighboring Cuba, and this is the Florida Keys. Unlike other popular Florida destinations, you will feel more relaxed without the crowds of Orlando or bright lights of Miami.

The Keys are a destination for travelers who crave a tropical paradise with a quirky culture and vibrant history. The Keys, which lie about 15 miles south of Miami and 90 miles north of Cuba, are often referred to as America’s Caribbean. The archipelago is home to more than 1,700 islands along a 112-mile stretch. Some islands, like Key West, are quite developed and populated, while others remain more undeveloped.

Here’s a brief overview of what you will find in the Florida Keys. In Key West, the locally owned Old Town Trolley provides insight and anecdotes not necessarily found in guidebooks. Riders also receive complimentary admission to The Overseas Railroad Museum, which chronicles the life of Florida tourism pioneer Henry Flagler and his efforts to build a railway to Key West. Many historical figures and artists fell in love with Key West for good reason. A trip to the Keys is incomplete without visiting The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where the famed author lived for 10 years with his second wife and several six-toed cats (some of whose descendants still roam the property!). A guided tour is the best way to learn about Hemingway’s life.

READ MORE: Key West Port Guide: 9 Attractions to Check Out

For travelers looking for an all-day activity, Fury Water Adventures offers sail excursions to the Great Florida Reef, the third-largest coral barrier reef system in the world. Throughout the afternoon, passengers can ride personal watercraft, parasail and swim (lunch is included.) A tour of Key West’s First Legal Rum Distillery will add spice to any client’s itinerary. The first for the Florida Keys, the distillery is located in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant that was converted into a pre-Prohibition era bar. Tours culminate with tasting a variety of rum flavors.

One of the most sentimental traditions in town is the nightly Sunset Celebration, a carnival that takes place in Malloy Square with street performers and musicians, local arts and crafts displays, and psychic readings. Even though it happens 365 days a year, hugging and clapping ensues each night at the closure of yet another day. Another way to watch a Florida Keys sunset is with a glass of wine on a historic schooner. Danger Charters Wind & Wine Sunset Sail serves wine, beer, and hors d’oeuvres, while enthusiastic crew members explain what is being served.

Meanwhile, in the lower keys, you should visit The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, one of the world’s only statelicensed veterinary hospitals dedicated to the treatment of sea turtles. Guided educational tours show how the hospital treats injured turtles while allowing visitors to observe them. One of the most quintessential Florida Keys experiences is visiting Robbie’s Marina, which has been in operation for more than 18 years on the Lower Matecumbe Key. From snorkeling trips and fishing charters, to quirky Keys shops, the marina has it all.

READ MORE: There's Something New in Key West's Old Town

On the accommodations front, The Keys provides you with an eclectic array of options. Three to consider include the Sunset Key Cottages, Amara Cay Resort and the Playa Largo Resort & Spa in Key Largo. A five-minute boat ride from the Westin Resort Harbor, Sunset Key Cottages’ remote location provides travelers with a getaway from the lights of Key West. Sunset Key staffers leave a wicker basket with fresh treats on the porch each morning. The property has an infinity pool and bar, multiple tennis courts, a spa, a private white-sand beach and boat access, and a ferry that runs between Key West and the island. Latitudes Restaurant, located on the resort property, offers locally sourced tropical fruits and fish prepared with classical cooking techniques.

A recent renovation at Amara Cay Resort enhanced the property’s outdoor patio and 110 suites. Amara Cay’s posh lobby is home to the Oltremare Ristorante, which combines traditional Italian dishes and local seafood. The Playa Largo Resort & Spa in Key Largo, set to open in early 2016, will have 144 luxury rooms and suites, a private marina, multiple bars and restaurants, a secluded white-sand beach, a full-service spa and fitness center, and a beach house for private or corporate functions.

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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the February 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.