Visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.
2396 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050
The most beloved sea creature, the sea turtle, is unfortunately an endangered species. But, if you need your hope restored, look no further than The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. For $27, you can take a guided tour and learn all about the different turtles, the process in which the hospital takes them in, the different conditions that lead them there, and see what qualifies for them to either be rehabilitated and sent back out to sea, or why they may be spending their entire life in the hospital. The Turtle Hospital is the world’s first hospital dedicated solely to turtles. When I visited, I had the honor of seeing 29 different turtles, some babies, some elder, all with varying conditions; such as tumors, missing flippers from shark attacks, cracked shells from run-ins with boats, or even bubble butts. Each turtle has a name, some have specific diets, and you can adopt any that you fall in love with. If you are as passionate about turtles as I am, it’s worth the drive and your time to learn a little more about what makes these creatures so special.
Scuba Dive in Key Largo.
Self-proclaimed as “The World’s Dive Capital,” I must admit, diving in Key Largo really is something special. I used Rainbow Reef as my guide for the day, and they went above and beyond to explain all of the safety measures, including what to do if we spot a tiger shark! On Molasses Reef, I was fortunate enough to see five eagle spotted manta rays, three nurse sharks, two reef sharks, tons of grouper, lobsters, and several other species of fish. My dive guide was incredibly knowledgeable and brought a little washboard with us so he could tell us what kind of fish we were seeing when he spotted them. He even wrote funny things like, “So small!” when we spotted a baby grouper. I loved Rainbow Reef so much that I committed to getting my Advanced Open Water certification with them in the near future!
Snorkel in the Keys.
255 Front St, Key West, FL 33040
Snorkeling anywhere in the Florida Keys will have you in for a treat. I snorkeled in both Key West and Key Largo. Be prepared to see a ton of spiny lobsters, little critters, and great coral reef in the upper Keys. If you snorkel in Key Largo, there’s even a Jesus statue underwater called: Christ of the Abyss, so you can get blessed! No matter where you choose to snorkel, the water in the Keys is pristine and crystal clear, so you won’t be disappointed. If you’re lucky enough, on your boat ride back, you may even catch a pod of dolphins! I asked the Captain if the dolphins hang out over there because of tube feeders, a practice commonly used in the Philippines to attract Whale Sharks, French Polynesia to attract stingrays and reef sharks, and Belize and the Bahamas to attract nurse sharks, and I was pleased to hear it is illegal in the state of Florida. Tube feeding is a practice mainly used to attract tourism so people can swim with the animals, but it largely disrupts the ecosystem and the natural flow of where the sea creatures would typically go. I recommend taking a tour with Danger Charters in Key West.
Swim in Devil’s Den.
5390 NE 180th Ave Williston, FL 32696
Though it is a bit in the middle of nowhere, Devil’s Den is well worth the drive out to Williston. It costs $15 to get in, fins and snorkel are required, so if you do not have your own, you can rent them for a small fee. Once you pay admission, you climb down a ladder into a dark cave, and are treated to a peaceful serene swimming experience. The water is a little cold, but it’s a great way to beat Florida’s blistering heat. Swim around with all of the fish that reside here, and if you’re lucky enough, you may see Nelson, the resident turtle. Scuba diving is also an option, but only if you are certified and have a dive buddy, as they do not offer any guides. I only snorkeled while here, and it certainly did the trick. Please note, due to Covid-19 restrictions, a reservation is required ahead of time online.
Kayak Through Mangroves in Key West.
255 Front St, Key West, FL 33040
I always knew mangroves were important, but I never fully understood why until I took a tour kayaking through them in Key West. For starters, mangroves are biodiversity hotspots. An estimated 80% of the global fish catch relies on mangrove forests either directly or indirectly, and several of these species are endangered. If you want to understand why it’s essential to protect not only our oceans, but the endangered species that reside there, I highly recommend watching Mission Blue on Netflix. Aside from protecting wildlife, mangroves are responsible for cleaning our water. They filter and trap sediments, heavy metals, and other pollutants. Mangroves don’t only help water and animals, but they act as natural coastal barriers from floods, surges, and hurricanes, protecting the communities that live near them. In short, the ocean’s health would deteriorate quickly without mangroves. Mangroves block the wind, so you’re bound for some calm water when kayaking through them.
Parasail in Cocoa Beach.
505 Glen Cheek Dr, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920
Cocoa Beach is home to surfers and snowbirds galore. It is the closest beach to Orlando, so if you’re only in town to visit theme parks but you still want to catch a glimpse of Florida’s coastlines, look no further than Cocoa Beach. It is a short 45-minute to an hour drive from Orlando’s International Airport. If the waves seem a little too rough for you and surfing isn’t quite your thing, why not enjoy it from a view above? Cocoa Beach Parasail in Port Canaveral offers daily parasailing trips, leaving in both the morning and the afternoon. I had my first parasailing adventure with them, and gliding 1,000 feet above the water was surprisingly a calming experience. If you’re lucky enough, you may see some sharks or dolphins while you’re up there!
Swim with Manatees in Crystal River.
135 NE 3rd St, Crystal River, FL 34429
Most people know Florida as home of Disney World and theme parks, but did you know Florida is also home of the manatee? The number of manatees worldwide continually decreases, and there are only 13,000 left of these precious creatures. Luckily, in the United States, manatees are protected under three laws: The Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. The three of these combined means it is illegal to feed, harm, harass, pursue, kill, shoot, wound, annoy, hunt, or even molest manatees. You can, however, still swim with these docile giants in the grassy waters of Crystal River. Prime season is November-March, when temperatures drop, however, I went in October where there were seldom tourists and a few manatees that I got to swim with nearly all to myself. Prepare for an early morning trip; the best time to catch a glimpse of these guys is first thing in the day, meaning you have to be on the boat by sunrise. It’s totally worth the early wakeup call. Fun2Dive Charters has three daily manatee swims and charges around $60 per person.
Clean Any Beach.
If you have read this far, it’s safe to assume you have an interest in and hopefully care at least a little about keeping our oceans clean. One of the biggest threats to our oceans is waste, particularly single-use plastic. If you happen upon any type of trash while walking the beach, whether it be bottle caps, plastic cups, straws, cigarette butts, empty bottles, or even an old T-shirt, what harm does it bring upon yourself to simply pick it up? The harm it brings upon the ocean and its habitants are much greater than those to you taking two quick seconds to clean up, whether it’s your mess or not. The truth is, the mess on our beaches is a mess we all will have to deal with sooner or later. You can use a Grabber Reacher Tool (they’re on Amazon as low as $7.99, but check your local beach shops and purchase from there if they have it instead), and make sure to check out local beach cleanups which happen quite frequently in the Sunshine State, and are a great way to meet people. One of the turtles I saw at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon was only eight months old, and had stomach lodging due to 56 pieces of plastic being found in his belly. Plastic and waste in general have a devastating effect on the innocent animals of the sea. We can do better, and a good way to start is to clean up after ourselves.
Watch the Sunrise or Sunset… Anywhere!
While sunsets in Key West and sunrises on South Beach are inarguably some of the most beautiful in the state, you don’t need to be all the way south to enjoy an activity in Florida that’s totally free: the gift of watching the sunrise or sunset from Mother Nature. Watch as the sky fills with pink and orange hues with a good book or drink in hand on any of Florida’s coastlines. Relax, take it all in, and thank the earth for providing natural paintings of the sky for free.
Kaitlyn has been to Florida multiple times throughout her life, most recently spending one month living on Cocoa Beach.