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Florida Guide > State Parks

Bearing in mind it is remotely situated some seventy miles from Key West in the Gulf of Mexico and is only accessible by cruise ship it is not surprising that a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park can be considered to be quite an adventure.

The visitor can, of course, just settle back and enjoy the voyage in the comfortable surroundings of the well appointed Yankee Freedom ferry which features an air conditioned main cabin as well as several outdoor observation decks from where to engage in a spot of dolphin watching. If that is too taxing, the on board naturalist will ensure you don’t miss a thing and will be on hand to point out any marine life that passes close to the ship.

However, if you would like to get the best out the five hour stopover in the Dry Tortugas a little forward planning would probably be worthwhile as there will be plenty to do and see during your visit.

Fort Jefferson is an imposing sight upon docking at Garden Key, and a good way to begin your visit is to walk around its walled perimeter. This short half mile stroll provides ample opportunity to observe tropical fish and coral in the shallow waters surrounding the fortification.

For those with an interest in history the Fort Jefferson tour gives a captivating insight into its past. The forty minute excursion takes visitors deep into the bowels of the Fort and focuses upon its strategic importance during the nineteenth century. The harsh realities of life during the construction phase are brought to the fore as are features on the soldiers’ barracks and weaponry.

Just a short walk along the white sandy beach from the boat dock are designated snorkelling areas which are available to all, irrespective of experience. The warm shallow water provides a safe environment and is home to some astonishing tropical fish varieties and beautiful coral formations. If you are lucky, you might just spot the remnants of an old shipwreck that could have foundered on the reefs during a violent storm.

The crew of the Yankee Freedom can provide flippers and masks so there’s no need to weigh yourselves down with excess baggage.

The Dry Tortugas are home to thousands of migrating birds not least the sooty tern which nests on nearby Bush Key. On the birding trail close to Fort Jefferson you are likely to encounter Boobies, Cormorants and Brown Pelicans to name but a few.

For the more outdoor types the Dry Tortugas have a number of campgrounds where you will be able to watch the stunning sunsets and sleep out under the stars with just the sound of the sea for company. Places are limited so early reservations are recommended.

This really is a most enchanting outpost of the United States and well worth a visit.

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Page added on: 16 October 2010
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