Calm blue waters that ripple with each breeze and glisten in the tropical Florida sunlight, seven secluded islands that are the most isolated of the Florida Keys and arguably some of the most breathtaking—and Fort Jefferson, the largest brick structure in the western hemisphere—Dry Tortugas is damn gorgeous and obviously worth every visit. If one factors in the colorful coral reef system, the least disturbed in the whole region that stretches for more than 120 miles towards Cuba, Dry Tortugas suddenly becomes a sought-after get-away and an irresistible seaside paradise that’s both magically calming and incredibly exciting.
And for those wondering whether a day trip would be enough to explore Dry Tortugas, the answer is a definite “yes.” Here’s the reason why 12 hours might be more than one will need to explore this incredible piece of jewel in the Sunshine State.
Why A Day Trip To Dry Tortugas Is Just Enough—And Worth Every Cent
A day trip to Dry Tortugas is—in many instances—enough to tour the fort, see the secluded islands, and get oneself wet, swimming or snorkeling. However, and this is important, going by ferry will leave one with only about four hours. This is because the ferry ride takes about two and a half hours one way. That’s five hours for a round trip. The ferry, known as Yankee Freedom, leaves Key West at 8:00 AM and cruises at an average of 30 miles per hour so that it docks at Garden Key Island by around 10:15 AM. Then it leaves Garden Key Island at 3:00 PM. This might just be enough for visiting the fort, some snorkeling, and taking in the sites and views around Garden Key Island, one of the seven that constitute the Dry Tortugas Park. But if a person is using a private boat or a plane, he’ll have much more time on his hands. Enough for some quick island-hopping around the archipelago and to indulge in a few more activities.
However, even with the four-hour trip by ferry, the visit will still be worth it. Right from departure, they’ll be many attractions and pleasures that’ll make time quickly fly by. For starters, the ferry is spacious and comfortable. The cabin is air-conditioned and is like an oasis in the blazing Florida summer sun. There’s fresh water in both the restrooms and the showers. Add to that, the journey is made more pleasurable by the ocean breezes that sweep gently over the blue ocean waters, wafting away the heat from the ferry’s upper deck. On the sides, travelers will see fish flying by, dolphins jumping excitedly, and sea turtles calmly floating in the sea as the ferry cuts through the trackless waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The ferry’s onboard naturalist will be on hand to regale and captivate his audience with fascinating information about the unseen, bustling world below and the marine life that inhabit it. The ticket price includes breakfast, lunch, and some light snacks in between. The ferry serves a continental breakfast that consists of coffee, cereal, and doughnuts. There’s also some fresh fruit, orange juice, and delicious bagels—fresh from the oven.
How Much Is A Ferry Ride To Dry Tortugas? For day trips, adults should pay $190 while children will be charged $135
After some time, the Garden Key Island pops up in the distance, and Yankee Freedom soon docks. Fort Jefferson is the first port of call. It takes about an hour to tour the 3-storey structure that sits on 16 acres of the Garden Key Island. One will particularly enjoy the breathtaking views at the uppermost level of the fort—where there’s also some cannon. A 15-minute talk about the history of Fort Jefferson will be both interesting and informative. After this, it’ll be time to head to the beach that’s clean and covered with powder-soft sand. Because of the reef system, snorkeling is a favorite water sport, especially around the pylons. There’s a lot of marine life, and if lucky, one can spot barracudas, nurse sharks, tarpons, and Goliath groupers. Aside from swimming, diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking (and other paddle sports), Dry Tortugas is a birders’ paradise, especially during the spring migration—when one can chance on rare sightings of species like Yellow-throated Vireos, Hooded Warblers, and Summer Tanagers. A lunch of chips, a canned beverage, cookies, and sandwiches can serve as a break between the activities. Otherwise, it’ll be time to head back to Yankee Freedom.
Visiting Dry Tortugas By Private Boat Or Seaplane
Touring Dry Tortugas using a private boat or a seaplane is more flexible and provides an unhurried adventure to one of the country’s favorite travel destinations. While private boats can take as little as 90 minutes for the trip, a seaplane will take only about 40 minutes. Whereas a ferry ride will leave visitors with about 4 hours to tour Dry Tortugas, a seaplane will gift travelers a decent 6 and a half hours. Seaplane Adventures, the only seaplane service to Dry Tortugas, charges adults $634 for a day trip while children between 2 and 12—pay $507.2.
For private boats, one can use Key West Charter Boat, Get My Boat, or Blue Ocean Yacht Charters. One advantage of private boats is that they come with even more flexibility than a ferry or a seaplane can provide. That said, before renting a boat, one will need to be cock-sure of the experience of the captain because of safety considerations. Regardless of how one makes his way, Dry Tortugas is a fine travel destination that'll meet (or exceed) all ideas of a dream get-away.