The Florida Keys is a natural destination for sun worshippers, divers, snorkelers, boaters, and anglers. The beautiful beaches and diving spots draw visitors worldwide to aquamarine waters, beautiful sunsets, and the laid-back atmosphere.
However, south of Key West, at the end of the Florida Keys, is the Dry Tortugas. Seventy miles distant and away from the sound of people, tourists have been visiting this group of islands since 1513, when Ponce de Leon named them.
Today, Fort Jefferson, located on Garden Key, can be explored, along with Loggerhead Key and the adjacent Islands. Tourists come for the day and even spend the night in the campground.
Whether you come for a few hours or a few days, you need to experience the peaceful beauty of the Dry Tortugas at least once.
What are the Dry Tortugas?
The Dry Tortugas are the last seven coral islands that flow westward from the Florida Keys into the Gulf of Mexico. Here you will find some of the most pristine waters in the United States. The Dry Tortugas is a designated preserve, and the marine life here is protected, and spearfishing and lobstering are prohibited.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon discovered the Islands, as he did much of Florida. He named the island “Tortuga,” which is Spanish for tortoise, because of the enormous sea turtles that inhabited the islands and waters of the area.
The area was proclaimed a National Park in 1935 as the Fort Jefferson National Monument, after the fort on Garden Key. The site was renamed the Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992. One of several parks in the waters of the Florida Keys, the Dry Tortugas National Park has a water area of 100 square miles. This gives you a vast area to explore, snorkel, dive, and enjoy the peacefulness of nature.
Where are the Dry Tortugas located?
The Dry Tortugas is about seventy miles west of Key West at the farthest end of the Florida Keys. They are coral islands designated as a National Park and maintained by the National Park Service. However, the islands are actually in international waters, as the Continental United States ends at South Beach, Key West.
The closest group of keys, 45 miles to the east, is the Marquesas, which are also unoccupied and offer excellent snorkeling locations. Eastward, another ten miles is Boca Grande, which, like the Marquesas, is inside the Key West National Wildlife refuge.
The farthest Key to the west of Garden Key is Loggerhead Key, where the Loggerhead Lighthouse warns mariners of the shallow shores. It is three miles west of Garden Key and is open for day use only. The Lighthouse was built in 1858 and suffered hurricane damage in 1873 that required replacing the top nine feet of the structure.
An electric lamp was installed in 1931, but it did not become automated until 1988. A lighthouse keeper, who would turn the light on at dusk and off at dawn, occupied Loggerhead Key until that time. Part of one of the former lighthouse keeper’s homes is still standing after it burned. The newest keeper’s structure was built in the 1920s and remains today.
Loggerhead Key is also home to the largest population of loggerhead turtles globally; thus, its name and about 15,000 babies hatch here every year. That’s a lot of babies, so go slow when motoring about the waters of the Dry Tortugas; they are teeming with sea creatures of every type.
Can private boats go to the Dry Tortugas?
Yes, they can, and it is the best way to experience the Dry Tortugas. However, when visiting the Dry Tortugas, you are required to make a stop at Garden Key. Here you must pay an entrance fee and acquire any necessary permits for your visit.
While on Garden Key, you can take time to see Fort Jefferson and learn a bit about the islands’ history. Sailors have been visiting the Dry Tortugas for centuries, yet they are largely unaffected by man’s passage. Except there are fewer loggerhead turtles there now than when Ponce de Leon plied these waters searching for bounty and new lands.
How long is a boat ride to the Dry Tortugas?
The commercial ferry trip from Key West takes two to three hours, and you will share the boat with many other people and be on the same itinerary. On the other hand, a powerboat rental traveling at 35 mph from Key West will have you there in about two hours, and you will need about the same amount of time for the return trip.
Can you stay overnight at Dry Tortugas?
Yes, you can and have the choice of camping ashore, on Garden Key or staying aboard your boat. If you stay on your boat, you must anchor a nautical mile from the Fort Jefferson harbor light. Anchorage is allowed in the area with sand and rubble bottom, and be clear of any channels where boats will travel.
Dry Tortugas Day Itinerary
You will need at least five hours to make the trip there and back, in the light of day, which will give you three to four hours to explore the Dry Tortugas. So, plan on eight to ten hours to Garden Key and back, which will give you time to look around while you are there.
You should be able to leave Key West around sunrise and be back in time before the sunsets. However, unless you are sailing, you will need several days to make your way to the Dry Tortugas and back.
With a private boat rental from Boatsetter, you can rent a boat large enough to ply the waters of the Florida Straits and Gulf of Mexico and keep it for a day, two, or a few. Because with a boat of your own, you can explore at your leisure, come, and go as you wish.
A trip to the Dry Tortugas will take you away from the crowds and away from the beaten track. The preservation of this area has allowed every species that lives here to thrive.
Take a private boat to the Dry Tortugas for the trip of a lifetime
Everyone speaks of the Florida Keys and its beaches and coral reefs, which are easy to access. However, taking a private boat to the Dry Tortugas will introduce you to some of the most beautiful waters in the world.
Private boat owners in Key West rent their boats to people who want a boat to explore the Keys through Boatsetter. You can rent a bareboat, or a captained boat, for a few hours or a few days. The days are delightfully warm in Key West and the Florida Keys. So join us and take in the sights in a private rental boat from Boatsetter.