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20 Facts About the Florida Keys

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller; librarian; and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

For 20 facts on the Florida Keys, please read on...

For 20 facts on the Florida Keys, please read on...

A popular destination for fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, and vacationing generally, the Florida Keys are a coral island archipelago near the southeastern tip of the US state of Florida.

The islands start about 15 miles (24 km) south of Miami and extend out in a southwest direction and then west toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Keys lie along the Florida straits.

Below are my facts about the Florida Keys.

1. There are over 800 keys in total, stretching over 180 miles (290 km).

2. The longest key is Key Largo, which is 30 miles (48 km) long and 0.5 miles (0.8km) wide.

A juvenile brown pelican.  Brown pelicans are elegant in the air, but can appear almost comically clumsy on land.  They are spectacular fishers, though, diving down from the air and often submerging completely for a brief moment.

A juvenile brown pelican. Brown pelicans are elegant in the air, but can appear almost comically clumsy on land. They are spectacular fishers, though, diving down from the air and often submerging completely for a brief moment.

3. There are 42 bridges connecting the Florida Keys islands. The longest bridge, measuring 35,716 feet long, is the Seven Mile Bridge. Harris Gap bridge is shortest, at just 37 feet in length.

4. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Keys were inhabited by Tequesta and Calusa Native Americans.

5. Key West is the most populated city in the Keys.

Interior of the Hemingway House in Key West.  The writer had strong associations with the area, often Wintering there, and he would often frequent the local bar, Sloppy Joe's.  He would also undertake fishing trips with friends.

Interior of the Hemingway House in Key West. The writer had strong associations with the area, often Wintering there, and he would often frequent the local bar, Sloppy Joe's. He would also undertake fishing trips with friends.

6. Key West is the southern most city in the continental USA and is actually nearer to Havana, Cuba than to Miami, Florida.

7. Almost all the Florida Keys are in Monroe County, which has Key West as its county seat.

8. Because the Florida Keys archipelago is made up of many islands, the keys are often split up into groups. The group of islands farthest north are known as the Upper Keys. Below them are the groups known as the Middle Keys and the Lower Keys (Key West is located in the Lower Keys). A fourth group is known as the Outer Keys and is made up of islands that can only be accessed by boat.

Lower Matecumbe Key to Key Largo, seen from the International Space Station.  Key Largo, as the name suggests, is the largest section of the Keys, plus the most northern of the Florida Keys in Monroe County.  It connects to the mainland via 2 routes.

Lower Matecumbe Key to Key Largo, seen from the International Space Station. Key Largo, as the name suggests, is the largest section of the Keys, plus the most northern of the Florida Keys in Monroe County. It connects to the mainland via 2 routes.

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9. The term “key” is a corruption of the Spanish word, “Cayo”, which means small island.

10. For a long time, Key West was the largest and busiest town in the whole of Florida, because it was close to the Bahamas and Cuba and provided a trade route up to New Orleans.

11. Key West and the Florida Keys were also associated with the wrecking industry for many years, with the workload peaking in the middle of the 19th Century, as more and more ships traveled the trade routes between the east coast of the USA, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Carbbean Sea. Heavy shipping, strong currents, and dangerous reefs meant that shipwrecks were occurring at a rate of once per week at one time.

12. Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway, which connected Key West to mainland Florida, was completed in the early 1910s, despite work being disrupted by hurricanes in 1906, 1909, and 1910.

13. In 1935 the Florida Keys were hit by one of the worst hurricanes ever to strike the USA. Winds with speeds of 200 miles per hour (320 km per hour) battered the islands and a storm surge of over 17.5 feet (5.3 m) flooded them. 500 people died in the hurricane and the Overseas Railway was severely damaged. (The hurricane occurred on Labor Day and is often referred to as the Labor Day Hurricane.)

A derailed train near Islamorada, Florida during the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.  The hurricane destroyed around 40 miles of the Middle Keys section of the line.  The Overseas Railroad was subsequently replaced by the Overseas Highway.

A derailed train near Islamorada, Florida during the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. The hurricane destroyed around 40 miles of the Middle Keys section of the line. The Overseas Railroad was subsequently replaced by the Overseas Highway.

14. The Overseas Highway was built to replace the Overseas Railway, after it was damaged by the 1935 hurricane, and the railroad bridges were converted to automobile roadways.

Duval Street in Key West. The city  is the southernmost city in the continental United States and also the county seat of Monroe County.  It is 129 miles (208 km) southwest of Miami, Florida and 106 miles (171 km) north-northeast of Havana, Cuba.

Duval Street in Key West. The city is the southernmost city in the continental United States and also the county seat of Monroe County. It is 129 miles (208 km) southwest of Miami, Florida and 106 miles (171 km) north-northeast of Havana, Cuba.

15. The climate of the Florida Keys is classified as tropical. The weather is hot and humid from June to October and relatively drier and cooler from November to May. The Keys are the only frost-free place in Florida.

16. Key West traditionally has strong ties with Cuba and after the revolution, many Cubans settled there. The Keys still experience escaping Cubans arriving on rafts from time to time.

17. The Keys has two airports: one catering for private planes at Marathon and one dealing with commercial flights in Key West.

Lighthouse.  The Florida Keys have historical associations with pirates, smuggling, and shipwrecks.  In modern times, it is the smuggling of illegal drugs that causes problems.  There can also be issues with Cuban and Haitian "boat people".

Lighthouse. The Florida Keys have historical associations with pirates, smuggling, and shipwrecks. In modern times, it is the smuggling of illegal drugs that causes problems. There can also be issues with Cuban and Haitian "boat people".

18. The Florida Keys have long been associated with smuggling, both of illegal immigrants and illicit drugs. Despite increased efforts by Law Enforcement since the 1980s, drugs still continue to enter the USA via the Keys, typically in the form of cannabis and cocaine.

19. The Florida Keys area code is (305).

20. Since 1981 more than 23 artificial reefs have been created in the waters off the Keys, mainly through the sinking of ships, and these provide a home to many corals, tropical fish and other marine life.

Fishing in the Florida Keys.  Scuba diving is also popular with visitors to the Keys.  The area's waters are rich in marine animal and plant life and you can find sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, and many strange and beautiful tropical fish.

Fishing in the Florida Keys. Scuba diving is also popular with visitors to the Keys. The area's waters are rich in marine animal and plant life and you can find sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, and many strange and beautiful tropical fish.

Famous Residents of Key West (Past and Present)

Ernest Hemingway, author

Shel Silverstein, author, cartoonist and musician

Harry S. Truman, U.S. president

Tennessee Williams, author

Calvin Klein, fashion designer

Jimmy Buffett, musician

John Dewey, philosopher and psychologist

Shane Spencer, MLB outfielder

Boog Powell, baseball player

Amber McDonald, actress

Paul Cotton, musician

What's the Best Time of Year to Visit the Florida Keys?

I would recommend visiting either from March to early June, or between November and mid-December. There are three reasons for this:

  • Your visit is less likely to be disrupted by a hurricane
  • The sun is not overbearing
  • The popular areas are not so crowded with tourists

Key West vs Key Largo: Which is Best?

If you are seeking lots of places to eat and drink, and things to do, then I would recommend Key West. Key Largo is generally a quieter experience, but there is more nature to explore.

When is Hurricane Season in the Florida Keys?

Hurricane seasons runs from June through November. September has the highest probability of severe tropical storms. Less harsh showers and thunderstorms are regular occurrences during this period, although typically they are fairly short-lived and happen in the mornings.

How Long Does it Take to Drive From Miami to Key West?

The road journey takes around 4 hours, the distance being 159 Miles (256 km). Driving the Overseas Highway is a unique and fun experience. The scenery is wonderful and unforgettable.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do the Florida Keys ever get hit by hurricanes?

Answer: Unfortunately, yes they do, some of them deadly and destructive. The worst hurricane was the one that struck on Labor Day in 1935 when wind speeds reached 200 mph (320 km/h) and caused a storm surge of over 17.5 feet (5.3 m) above sea level. Over 400 people were killed by the hurricane.

Question: Are the Florida Keys fun to visit?

Answer: The Florida Keys are an awesome destination. There some excellent state parks and beaches, you can visit the Hemingway House, snorkel or dive. There are some great restaurants and bars too. Perhaps not the cheapest destination, but worth it if you like the island life.

Question: How close are the Florida Keys to Cuba?

Answer: The southern part of Key West is nearest to Cuba, just 90 miles (140 km) away.

© 2012 Paul Goodman

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