The Dry Tortugas has a long and rich history of events, and if seen today, would hearken back the idea of Blackbeard and his terrible crew. Like something straight from a modern day pirate film, the Dry Tortugas seem like the kind of place one might find Jack Sparrow stranded and imprisoned – and indeed, the islands have been used for prisons in the past. Today, however, they constitute the Dry Tortugas National Park, found about 68 miles west off of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. Home to the naval fortress Fort Jefferson, the Dry Tortugas are full of activity and history, and provide many chances for visitors to learn about this area of the world.
Although the islands are not the permanent home to many creatures, they are a popular stopping point for the north-sound migrations of many creatures that travel to warmer regions to escape the chilly winters of the United States. Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, the Dry Tortugas play host to several remarkable species of bird: the ruby throated hummingbird, peregrine falcon, yellow billed cuckoo, sooty tern, brown noddy, and more.
The islands are known as the “Dry Tortugas” because there is no naturally occurring fresh water on the island, making them uninhabitable for most creatures. However, they present the last bit of dry land for several hundred miles, meaning that many birds will stop and rest here before moving farther south during their annual migrations. Some even remain on the islands for a large part of the year, preying on the other species that travel through.
If you've ever wanted the chance to dive off abandoned ruins and explore the surrounding waters, the Dry Tortugas are the place to go. Offering the chance to explore what is left of Fort Jefferson, snorkeling is available in certain areas. The crew of the Yankee Freedom III, a tourist cruiser, will take you to a designated spot just off the shore to explore the beautiful sea floor. With colorful coral reefs and thousands of tropical fish, the area is perfect for snorkelers of all levels. There are more advanced, more difficult areas for snorkelers of higher levels that can also be visited; containing the dumpings of old coal mining rigs.
It is recommended to use the buddy system in the area, as it can be extremely dangerous to dive alone. Any artifacts or shipwrecks found are protected by law and property of the state of Florida, so taking anything from the area is strictly prohibited. However, this doesn't prevent you from feeling the thrill of discovering a real shipwreck in its final resting place at the bottom of the sea.
Some of the best camping in the world can be had on the Dry Tortugas. At 70 miles from the nearest civilization, the views of the night sky are astounding, with the Milky Way stretching across the center of the sky. This kind of camping isn't for the faint of heart; considered to be the most primitive of all forms of camping, everything, including water, must be packed in – and out – with the camper. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the soft sea breeze blowing through your tent is the stuff dreams are made of.
Some supplies are available on board the ship if you forget, but make sure you have everything before setting out. Spots are limited, so be sure to make reservations ahead of time so you don't miss out!
Tour Fort Jefferson
A great chance for history buffs, the tours of Fort Jefferson go into extreme detail concerning the fort's incredible history. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and give visitors an idea of what life may have been like at the fort during its prime, when everything had to be rationed due to a lack of fresh water. However, all accounts point to the fort as a beautiful place, with a variety of trees and a buzzing hive of activity. Statistics concerning the fort's construction and the functions it served in wartime are also given, and a full tour of Fort Jefferson is available, giving visitors a glimpse into what a soldier's day to day life might be like.
Exploring the Beaches
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of going to the Dry Tortugas are the gorgeous, picturesque beaches. With crisp, clear waters and dazzling white sand, the beaches are a big draw for many people, and there are always families playing in the water, people playing sports, and lots of sunbathers. There are multiple beaches to pay a visit to, including Dinghy Beach, Seaplane Beach, South Swim Beach, and many more. Given that the beaches are on islands, you should be aware of potential riptides pulling you out to sea, but with a bit of common sense it is perfectly safe.
The Dry Tortugas National Park is a beautiful, not very well known destination that is certainly worth paying a visit to if you get the chance. You'll never lack for things to do there, and there is an attraction for everyone from history buffs to beach lovers.