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Tropical Breezes

Crypto columnist Jenny Rudd and Mat Tomlinson drive across the world-famous bridges of the Florida Keys.

4 July 2022

The borders are open! We wanted to listen to big ideas about blockchain and have a fun holiday at the same time.

The Bitcoin 22 crypto conference was being held in Miami, so we booked our tickets and tacked on a few days beforehand to explore the Florida Keys.

After booking the gorgeous Betsy Hotel for a week in Miami, we decided to go where the tropical breeze took us in the Keys, thanks to booking.com’s flexible cancellation policy, an essential in Covid times.

Each morning we’d flick through the local hotels on the app, check out the reviews and photos and then book the accommodation. It was super-easy and we found some great deals.

Into the vibe

After the long flights, we were keen to get straight into the Florida vibe, so we headed to the Tranquility Bay Resort on Marathon, about halfway down between Key Largo and Key West which are at either end of the chain of coral islands.

Tranquility Bay turned out to be an upmarket resort with two and three-bedroom weatherboard townhouses painted fresh white and curving round the resort’s private lagoon.

Cape Cod chairs were slung with lemon-yellow beach towels and children splashed around with snorkels and masks, looking at colourful coral and tiny fish in warm, shallow water.

Three swimming pools, a cute restaurant, beach bar, and plenty of water toys like jet skis and kayaks made this an ideal start to our holiday.

In Florida, we discovered the journey is half the fun.

Bridge to happiness

Driving across the bridges between keys is magical, floating over an undulating blue blanket of sparkles.

Pigeon Key, off the world-famous Seven Mile Bridge, is a little dot of land between Marathon and Duck Key. You can access it by foot or bike along the old bridge, or a 10-minute ferry from Faro Blanco Marina in Marathon.

There’s a one-hour guided tour to learn about the rich history of the island and its role in housing the railway workers who helped build the Seven Mile Bridge, an astonishing engineering feat for its time, which linked Florida to the Keys.

Duval Street, in the centre of Key West, was buzzing, with drag shows, weed shops, karaoke, and live music.

All the bars were open to the road, with no windows, conch fritter vendors sent out buttery seafood aromas, and the familiar pastels of buildings on the Keys were further brightened with rainbow flags.

This is a place to be happy. Holiday-makers seem to stay permanently lubed up, walking the streets with plastic beakers of margaritas and piña coladas.

We loved staying at the quirky Mermaid and Alligator guesthouse, handily located near the centre of the town.

By day three, we had discovered there is so much to do in Key West that we didn’t know where to start.

Haunted by Hemingway

Our favourite was visiting the house of its most famous resident, Ernest Hemingway, who’d moved there from Paris to ‘dry out his bones’.

Set in lush grounds, it was one of the biggest houses on the island. Every room had been preserved with his furniture and belongings.

We heard the stories of his past, and about the people in Key West who’d inspired his books’ characters. One friend who looked after his boat became the ‘old man’ in his famous book The Old Man and The Sea.

The world’s third-biggest coral reef slinks down parallel to Florida Keys to its south, so we booked a snorkelling trip with Islander Girl Tours in Islamorada.

Marine magic

They took a group of 25 of us about quarter of an hour offshore, out to Cheeca Rocks, a marine sanctuary.

The visibility was superb, and the reef was busy with marine life – barracuda, puffer fish, big schools of stripy sergeant majors, and many more.

I have no idea of the names of most of the fish, but I stared at them all for ages, floating in the warm, calm waters of the Straits of Florida.

By the time we headed back to Miami and the old-school charm of the Betsy Hotel, our home for the bitcoin conference, we were refreshed and ready for action.

The concierge at the Betsy welcomed us out of the blistering Miami heat with the clink of ice and something fizzy.

Our suite was capacious and calm, and swimming on the rooftop overlooking the ocean while drinking bright, sweet, Florida orange juice is an activity I could get very used to.

Top tips

Use the booking.com app. All the pics and reviews saved us so much research time and allowed us to book everything at the last minute.

Take your own fins, mask, and snorkel. There are loads of places to jump in and swim.

Grab a Key Lime Pie on a stick from any shop along the islands. I averaged one of these a day but could easily have eaten more.

Jenny and Mat’s accommodation was supplied courtesy of www.booking.com

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