The southernmost tip of the United States (okay, so we’re choosing to excuse islands such as Hawaii, but you get the point), Key West is pointedly quirky, full of the kind of characters that might be pushing the boundaries of the socially acceptable elsewhere. It’s just these kind of folks, though, that make Key West the place it is: lively, different, independent and a country mile from the American norm.
The island was originally a land of cutthroat pirates (ship-wreckers as they were called), and lies closer to Cuba (which you may even be able to sweet talk your way over to, if you’re careful) than the mainland USA. More recently the holiday resort developers have moved in, and the condos have started popping up all over Key West, but the off-the-wall antics and lively atmosphere have suffered barely a hit.
Aside from walking the streets looking for figures of (a whole lot of) fun, though, Key West does have a serious side. The island once suffered a hefty AIDS outbreak, and commemorates the dead through a striking, heartfelt memorial. The cemetery is haunting but features some witty one liners in memory of the dead, while the impressive Indigenous Park re-releases animals into the wild after rehabilitation of those damaged by human presence.
You’ll probably prefer the more playful side, though, which includes ‘A Key Encounter’, a free exhibit featuring the skin of a 22ft anaconda that ate a woman down in Brazil years ago. Then there’s the Shipwreck Museum, which explores Key West’s more dangerous past, and ‘Ghosts and Legends of Key West’, another look into the town’s formidable past. Of course, it wouldn’t be Key West without the range of water sports: diving, fishing, glass bottomed boats and the once in a lifetime chance to swim with dolphins all make the most of the town’s tropical location and abundant sealife.
Key West is a bubbly, abundant, good-natured corner of the States that many see as a holiday playground, and the mood rubs off. It’s a great place to go to have fun, a difficult place to take life too seriously and the perfect spot to pick up a tan.
Once in Key West is not enough, you always want to go back sometime!