One of the most exciting road trips we’ve ever done is one of The Great All-American Road Trips: the one hundred and sixty-five-mile road trip from Miami to Key West on Overseas Highway also known as US Highway One and we did it by Greyhound! We’d arrived in Florida USA at the end of May as part of our visa-run from Honduras not realising it was Memorial Day. Miami was hot and crazy as we joined the jostling crowds on Ocean Drive and slowly explored the famous beach and Art-Deco area on the busy holiday weekend. It soon made sense to us to head out of town and down to The Florida Keys in Hemingway’s footsteps all the way to Key West and the southernmost point of the USA.
The Florida Keys are connected by bridges and causeways. There are forty-two bridges connecting these islands. The longest is the famous Seven-Mile Bridge. The shortest is Harris Gap which is only thirty-seven feet long. Each Key offers unique features. The first one you encounter is Key Largo, which offers some of the best diving, snorkelling and boating experiences in the Keys, while Islamorada offers some of the best sports fishing. Marathon and Big Pine Key are in the heart of The Keys and offer relaxation, fishing and birdwatching. The weather in Florida is tropical and The Keys are often thought of as the American Caribbean. Making them the perfect destination to get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist hotspots of Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach and the Space Coast.
We’d thought about renting a classic red Mustang convertible for our classic road trip. I’d imagined us driving over the famous bridges in style and with the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair. But, when we saw the sheer amount of traffic coming in and out of Miami, we started to consider options that would leave the driving to someone else.
So instead we took a bus – and what’s more iconic than a Greyhound Bus in the USA?
Travelling by Greyhound Bus was great fun. We took the bus to Key Largo and stayed a couple of nights before catching another scheduled Greyhound to take us all the way down to Key West. All the people we met on the bus were friendly and interesting. On the second leg, the atmosphere onboard was chatty and almost party-like as we all introduced ourselves and shared our travel stories and drinks and snacks. After several hours, and a rest stop to restock on drinks and snacks, we were all good friends. Notably, there was a young musician from New Orleans on the bus. He generously shared with us his top tips for ‘Nawlins’ and his list of recommended music venues – which I hastily jotted down. Unbeknown to us at that time, that list would go on to become the basis of a fabulous and never to be forgotten adventure in New Orleans. Who knew, when we stepped on that bus, that a fateful meeting with a stranger would shape our future travel plans?
Travel Tip: The Greyhound bus service is available to book online. The buses are comfortable, clean, and equipped with a toilet. They have planned rest stops so you can stretch your legs and get some refreshments along the way. I wouldn’t hesitate to ride the Greyhound again!
Where To Stay: There are many places to stay in the Florida Keys – from big-name resort hotels, smaller motels and hotels, to private B&Bs. Search hotel websites on the internet and check online booking agents for the best deals. We used our IHG App to book our stay at the Holiday Inn Key Largo but we called the hotel reservation desk directly to book our stay at the Lighthouse Court in Key West as all the online agents reported no rooms available and clearly that was not the case.
Top Things To Do in The Florida Keys
Scuba Diving and Snorkelling: The Florida Keys chain of islands are home to the USA’s only coral barrier reef. The reef is teeming with marine life and coral formations. The government has established The Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary to preserve and protect the reef. There are dozens of dive centers offering dive experiences and courses. Most sites are a short boat ride away and there are both shallow reefs for snorkelers and deeper reefs for experienced divers. We dived with Horizon Divers, Key Largo.
Sightseeing: Boat trips are popular in Key Largo and one of the most interesting is aboard the renovated original steamboat ‘The African Queen’ which starred in the movie with Bogart and Hepburn in 1951.
Shopping: The shopping in Key West centers around Duval Street, where you can find everything from a bargain souvenir to a world class piece of art. The entire island features the clapboard homes and architecture it has become famous for and taking the Conch Tour Train is probably the best way of seeing it all. Also in Key West we enjoyed The Shipwreck Museum and the view of Key West from the top of the Old Wreck Spotting Tower. A must, as far as I was concerned, was a tour of Ernest Hemingway House. Did you know that as well as writing, he loved boxing, fishing, and his six-toed cat – of which there are now fifty living in his house – all with six toes and named after Hemingway’s famous friends?
Get a Tattoo: I had a couple of yoga style wrist tattoos at The Southernmost Tattoo while in Key West!
Entertainment and Dining: The food and entertainment at the Keys is spectacular. From fine dining to bar food you won’t find better. I personally love a steak and lobster meal but whether you prefer ‘surf’ or ‘turf’ you will be certain to find a place and a plate and price to suit your taste. Don’t forget to check out Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville on Duval Street – it’s the original one and exactly where you will find the Perfect Margarita!
The Essence of the Florida Keys: The first section of US Highway One is essentially a narrow two-lane road through the Everglades National Park. I’d advise you to keep your eyes on the road if you are driving and to avoid glancing dangerously left or right into the mangrove swamps looking out for alligators. There is a feeling of awe as you cross the seven-mile bridge on your way from Key Largo to Key West – azure blue waters on either side – and a scene you might recognise from the movie ‘True Lies’. Key West lived up to my high expectations. It is so clean and so pretty, like a Disney town in its perfection. Historic (by American standards) buildings and wooden clapboard houses with wrap-around porches and white picket fences all give the place a surreal look and Hemingway’s house is a prime example. Duval Street is eye-popping in that there is so much to see and this is where I would urge you to look both left and right in case you miss something. Art galleries. Museums. Fabulous restaurants. Bars. Souvenir shops. A Walgreens shop housed in a disused but iconic theatre frontage. The original Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Marylin Monroe statue and photo opportunity outside The Tropic Theatre. Key West is almost a theme park in all that it offers!
Have you experienced Key West?
How did you get there?
Or, is it on your Florida wish list?