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Key West Time
April 23rd
7:54am · 73°F

Things To Do On the Water When You Visit Key West

"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink,"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1834), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Key West visitors have actually asked us if the water goes all the way around the island. Well, you'd better believe it does!

Key West is a little speck of land, barely over seven square miles. There is no place on the island where you can be more than one mile from salt water. The water goes on endlessly in every direction, and this is where the Atlantic Ocean seamlessly merges with the Gulf of Mexico. You'll see dazzling jewel tones of aqua, blue, and turquoise.

The island of Key West has a coral reef system seven miles offshore. The reefs create a barrier that keeps the ocean waves from crashing onto the beaches. Most waves are gentle swells driven by tropical breezes. The Gulf Stream flows by, bringing crystalline water that makes swimming comfortable every month of the year.

The quickest, most direct way to experience the water is just to head for a nearby beach. You can enjoy the warm, clear water while wading in the shallows, swimming, or snorkeling to your heart's content. Check out the VHKW Key West Beach Guide to find the ones you'll like best. There is a nominal fee for visiting Fort Taylor Beach because it's within a State Park, but all the rest are free.

Vacation Homes of Key West - VHKW has regular guests who head to their favorite beach for at least an hour or two every single day.

Activities, Thrills, and Challenges on the Key West Water

A quiet visit to the beach can be healthful, restorative, and fun. But what if you want a little more action and excitement? No problem.  VHKW has you can steer you to fantastic on the water Key West experiences - there's something for everyone.

Personal Watercraft (Jet Skis) are super popular on the waters around Key West. You'll find PWC rental businesses dotted all around the island. We recommend a two-hour guided tour from Jet Skis Key West. Instructors provide all riders with safety instructions and then lead a 28-mile 90 min. trip all the way around the island. There will be stops at scenic locations for photos to impress the folks back home. And you'll even have a play period where you can freestyle in a safe area on your own.

Parasailing is a laid-back way to experience the thrilling Key West waters with little effort on your part. You'll get a real sense of the expansiveness of the ocean all around us. You may spot schools of fish, graceful rays, or even a shark or dolphin down below. Sunset Watersports offers trips departing hourly. Set out from either their Smathers Beach or Historic Seaport locations. As you hang in a secure sit-down harness beneath the colorful parachute canopy, enjoy the thrill as the wind lifts you into the air behind the boat. It's an easy, safe, and economical way to catch an exhilarating view of our gorgeous environment.

Kiteboarding is a uniquely exciting challenge for our visitors who are physically fit, energetic, and athletically inclined. It requires basic training and practice but the kiters we talk to say the payoff is 100% worth it. UpWind Kiteboarding has you covered with the lessons, and state-of-the-art equipment is provided by instructors. You'll learn from expert professionals in the best shallow-water kiting spots around the Key West waters. During the rainy summer months, instructors postpone lessons for safety reasons. But instruction is available daily throughout our high “season” which starts in November. If you've got the right stuff, you could go home from your Florida Keys vacation with impressive new skills and an addicting new passion!

Kayak eco-tours offer the Key West visitors an active, soothing, and highly educational look at the waters surrounding Key West. Blue Planet Kayak can offer you a variety of 2.5-hour tours that will give you a sense of our distinctive environment, nature, and wildlife you just can't experience in any other way. You can even choose a sunset and starlight trip and catch a glimpse of the creatures that only come out at night.

Paddleboarding is another fantastic way to get exercise on the water in a low-key activity. Silently gliding through the shallows, or among the mangroves, you'll be able to take in all the natural beauty around you. Lazy Dog Paddleboards can hook you up for a guided tour that departs from their location just past the Cow Key Channel Bridge. Or they can provide you with a rental paddleboard, suggestions of where to go, and send you off to find your own peaceful watery Zen experience.

Snorkel and Scuba dives will afford you a chance to enjoy the other side of Key West's waters. The world beneath the surface harbors an expansive array of fantastic tropical marine life, breathtaking reefs, and even shipwrecks. And even those wrecks are teeming with their own unique ecosystems. Check out Snuba Key West for a variety of underwater options. In addition to snorkeling and scuba diving, another option to try is Snuba. If you're inexperienced underwater, Snuba could be perfect for you. A hybrid of snorkel and scuba, Snuba requires no certification or previous experience. Instructors give the basic instruction you need to be a pro on your very first trip out. You'll go by a luxury power catamaran out to the prime dive spots from Key West to the reef, and your host will guide you through your dive, pointing out exciting sights you'll never forget.

Excursions, Charters, and Sunset Sails

Well, we've concisely reviewed the sporty, active things to do in Key West. But what if your water-based island dream day involves less work and more leisurely relaxation? In fact, there are unique and highly satisfying options for you, too. The main objective is still to get you out on the fantastic waters around Key West.

Custom Island Excursions can allow you to collaborate with your captain to customize a half-day charter to see sights and explore the surrounding waters. If you want an experience the locals really love, you can drop anchor just off one of the popular sandbars. Slip into the pristine water for wading and swimming, or just lie on the sand and enjoy a picnic lunch or refreshing beverage. Courage Charters will help you plan your excursion away from the busy activity of island life. Four or five hours will refresh and relax you and leave you ready for the next day's adventure.

Fishing Charters are the quintessential Key West experience for countless visitors, who come to Key West for the fishing alone. Allegedly, the world-class fishing is the main reason Ernest Hemingway moved here. The warm, teeming Gulf Stream waters around Key West offer ideal fishing all year long. Whether you're inclined more toward trophy fishing, sport fishing, or looking to fill a cooler with delicious fresh fish for dinner, this is where you want to be. Sailfish, tuna, snapper, jacks, tarpon, bonefish, permit, and Mahi are some of the prize catches you are likely to reel in. And here in our immediate area, you can choose from deep sea, backcountry, fly, or flats fishing to suit your preference.

Fishing charters may be booked online in advance of your visit using a listing site such as Fishing Booker. But anglers in-the-know prefer to head over to Charter Boat Row when they first get into town. Located off Palm Avenue on the Key West Harbor, access is easy, and parking is free. There you can stroll along the docks, talk to the captains, and see the boats. One captain may refer you to another based on what type of fishing you have in mind. These guys know their stuff and are happy to help. Then just book directly for the days you'd like to go out. Similarly, you can check out the boats and captains at the Historic Key West Seaport. Just access the docks off Caroline Street at the foot of Margaret St. right alongside the Half Shell Raw Bar.

Visit Fort Jefferson. If you have never even heard of Fort Jefferson, you’re not alone. Most people have not. But in the wonderland of the Florida Keys, this feature stands out as perhaps the most astounding. Situated on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas National Park,70 miles West of Key West, this Civil War-era Fort is the largest brick structure in the Western Hemisphere. It's hard to fathom that this massive masonry fort was built in this remote location in the mid-Nineteenth Century. But this day trip destination is not just for history buffs. In addition to touring the actual structure, you'll have a chance to swim in ridiculously clear turquoise water. Don't forget to bring your mask and snorkel along! As you walk the moat wall surrounding the fort, you'll spot easily visible marine life in both the moat and the ocean.

The Yankee Freedom Dry Tortugas Ferry offers excursions to Fort Jefferson daily. You can sit back and relax for the two-and-one half-hour trip out. Enjoy the warm salt air breeze and sweeping ocean vistas. Snacks and beverages included are provided to passengers as part of the charter throughout the day. When the ferry docks right beside the fort, you'll be on your own to go exploring, swimming, and enjoying your visit. The small staff of park rangers will guide you inside the fort and answer all your questions. There is a small modern building at the dock with restrooms where you may change into your swimwear, but the ferry will remain your home base all day long. There are no concessions on this little isolated key, and no trash collection, so the ferry brings everything you'll need (including lunch) and carries your trash away when you leave.

For the hardcore adventurers, a limited number of campsites are available. Keep in mind that reservations are scarce and require advance planning. You can take the ferry out one day and return on another if you manage to snag a reservation. Accommodations are really basic, but there are restrooms provided. But keep in mind you must bring everything you'll need, including food and water, and take your trash with you when you decamp. Learn more here about Camping at Garden Key.

Your day at Fort Jefferson is sure to stand out as an unforgettable highlight of your Key West visit. As you arrive back at your Key West Vacation Rental home you will feel as though you have just spent a day in another world. And indeed you have!

Take a Sunset Sail. The sunsets over Key West are the stuff of legend. And there is no finer way to fully experience one than from a sailing vessel out on the water. We love the sensation of watching from the deck of a classic schooner such as the Appledore or The America. You may prefer your sail on a catamaran such as those offered by Sebago Watersports.
There are lots of choices, with bells and whistles ranging from simple to lavish. There are sailing trips that even offer live music onboard, champagne, and full meals. We suggest you find the sunset sail that best suits your taste and budget using a listing site such as Viator. Or, a really fun way to choose is to simply take a walk along the docks at the Key West Historic Seaport to actually see the vessels yourself and speak to the crews. You can make a reservation on the spot for the boat, day, and time you prefer.

And Finally, Something Wacky

Because this is Key West, it just wouldn't seem right if we didn't include something a little off-kilter, cockeyed and nutty. No worries...we've got you covered. Cruisin' Tikis Key West offers you a chance to cruise the Key West waters in a tiki hut bar. You need to BYOB, and they provide the mixers (and snacks) for your movable floating party. Each Cruisin' Tiki comes with its own sober captain and accommodates up to six partying passengers. If you have a larger group, just book multiple Tikis to form a flotilla. You are sure to share continuous laughs and giggles and snap lots of Instagram pix when you take this opportunity to pair two of the most popular Key West pastimes: bar hopping and getting out on the water!

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