Dry Tortugas National Park

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The isolated Dry Tortugas National Park sits almost 70 miles west of Key West. The 100-square-mile park is mainly open water with seven small islands. It is recognized all over the world as the home of the majestic Fort Jefferson, the picturesque blue seas, the superlative coral reefs and marine life, and the vast array of birdlife in the region.

The most popular way to get to Dry Tortugas is by ferry to the National Parks Service, the Yankee Freedom III. The 2.5-hour ferry ride is a magical journey through turquoise waters, leaving you on the island for only four to five hours if you're on a day trip. You can also reach the island by seaplane from Key West Airport. Flight time is just around half an hour to 40 minutes, but most seaplane tours make only two to three hours on the island.

Private boats are still permitted in the park, but can only dock during the daytime hours, and not between 10 am and 3 pm when ferries are docked. This is the perfect choice if you want unlimited time in the park, or if you want to swim. 

Since the foundations of the Dry Tortugas Islands and the park are ancient coral reefs capped by a shallow basin stacked by another sheet of live coral reefs, the zone is positively teeming with aquatic species just below the surface of the sea. Sharks, live corals, lobster, squid, octopus, reef fish, and groupers are popular sights. The Dry Tortugas is also home to green and loggerhead turtles nesting on the sandy beaches of the islands of the park. Little Africa off Loggerhead Key and Texas Rock north of Garden Key are prime snorkeling areas that can be reached by charter ships.

Coral reefs are not the only aquatic attraction in the Dry Tortugas. There are a lot of shipwrecks that beg for a dive tank and a few hours of your time. Windjammer is one of the most popular shipwreck dives in the park. In 1901, the three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship ran afoul on the Loggerhead Reef. At the visitor center on the Garden Key, take a laminated underwater map of the dive site for a guided tour of the wreck.

This park is one of the top birding destinations in North America. The fish that swim around the reefs make this a common location for frigate birds, and every September 100,000 sooty terns’ nest here. An unusual black noddy has also been seen in Dry Tortugas, as well as red-footed boobies and golden warblers. Around 300 species of birds live here, many of them all year round. And even if you're not an enthusiastic birder, it's a spectacular addition to the landscape.



Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, Miami

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