Some refer to it as “The Jurassic Park of the Florida Keys,” where the landscape is a historic mirror as to what Florida looked like before condominiums, strip malls, parking lots, and shopping centers started cropping up. The Marquesas Keys comprise a doughnut-shaped chain 25 miles west of Key West that consists of 10 uninhabited islands that are the only natural atoll (ring shaped coral reef) in the Western Hemisphere. The islands were formed by a meteorite that created a two-mile wide lagoon encircled by mangroves and bright white beaches. Cuban refugees often use the islands as a landing zone, and many visitors report seeing ramshackle boats and survival gear strewn along the shores.A vibrant coral reef — Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan
The area is home to numerous shipwrecks including many that are unmarked – making it a scuba divers wet dream. Just west of the Marquesas, the famous treasure hunter Mel Fisher discovered the galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha which was full of Spanish doubloons. According to legends, early salvagers used the Marquesas as base camp while trying to uncover the Margarita, the sister ship of the Atocha. As the story goes, in the 1620s the Spaniards had stolen $20 million from a salvage effort and buried it on the Marquesas Key. Unfortunately for modern treasure hunters, The Marquesas Keys are part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge – so leave the shovel at home.
A fishing trip with Adventure Watersport — Photo courtesy of Adventure Watersport ChartersThere is also excellent fishing surrounding the Marquesas including tarpon, permit, bonefish, sea trout, and sharks – among many others. Whether you decide to go and catch some of the underwater world, or just swim beside it, Adventure Watersports Charter offers full-day trips for both. Dive excursions for four to six people include four dives, lunch, and equipment. The full day trip lasts from 7am to 5pm and costs $250 per person. Fishing trips to the Marquesas are also available through this outfit, with a full day starting at $1,200 for a maximum of six people. Gear, water, and Gatorade are included in the cost, however meals are not – so pack a lunch!
If you can afford it, book an overnight trip and you’ll get an entirely different perspective of the Marquesas. The islands are far enough away from the city lights that the stars are surreal. You’ll fall asleep to the quiet sounds of the sea and wildlife on the islands. It is truly like going back in time.The underwater world — Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan