Dreamy Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas National Park is a different kind of park with images boasting dreamy white sand beaches and warm turquoise clear waters. The photos are something you see on postcards and stock photo websites. Its isolated beauty alone would deem it necessary to protect as a national park. However, we soon discovered Dry Tortugas has so much more to offer than just pure paradise!
We started this adventure with the intention to snorkel the world renowed waters and get the coveted Dry Tortugas national parks passport cancellation stamp as bragging rights amoung other national parkers.
However, what we did not expect was to learn about how this little island in the middle of the ocean, 70 miles off of Key West determined the fate of our country in the 1800s! Read ahead to learn all about the day tour to Dry Tortugas!
Access by Private Boat, Ferry or Seaplane!
Because Dry Tortugas is literally in the middle of nowhere, it does take some effort to get there. Visitors have a three options: 1) Take a private boat 2) ride the Yankee Freedom III ferry ($175 per person), or 3) take a seaplane ($317-$555).
Hiring a private boat is the most costly, but would give you the most freedom and time. Boats are allowed to stay up to 14 days in the park! If only we had the budget...
Getting there by seaplane is less costly and is only a 40 minute flight each way! This would give you many hours for a full-day trip to enjoy the island plus you get to ride a seaplane!!! Another bucketlist item for us, but unfortunately we couldn't pull it off this time around.
So we opted to take the more affordable 2.5 hour ferry ride each way that included snorkel equipment, breakfast and lunch. Because the ferry ride is quite long, we only got about 4 hours to enjoy the island, which is way too short! Also, the snorkel gear is definitely rental quality, so if you have your own, we highly recommend bringing it! We wished we had. Despite this, we were on a budget so the ferry option worked well for us!
Visitors have the option to camp up to 3 days on the island. We didn't realize that dogs are allowed on the island or else we would have jumped at this opportunity as we love to camp and you definitely need more than a day to fully absorb everything.. so maybe next time!
The Amazing Fort Jefferson
When we arrived, we joined the first tour for Fort Jefferson, anxious to understand why the U.S. built this brick behemoth in the middle of the ocean, so far from US soil.
We quickly learned that Garden Key, the tiny island the fort sits on and the biggest of the 7 islands in Dry Tortugas, was and still is the only safe harbor between Cuba and the ports of the United States! Who knew?
Back in the 1800's, in order to supply any part of the country not on the East Cast, we relied on ships. Remember there were no airplanes, train systems, or highways just yet to get goods across our huge country. Ships back then had to sail from the east coast, around Florida, up into New Orleans and finally into the Mississippi river system that extended throughout the country.
Once boats passed Florida, Dry Tortugas was the only safe harbor for food, shelter and protection for hundreds of miles! Our government soon realized that the country that controlled these seven islands controlled the fate of America.
The U.S. decided to secure this location and built Fort Jefferson, the biggest fort built in the entire US fort system. The massive size was intended to be so intimidating that no naval fleet would dare attack it, thus ensuring our country would never be cut off from its bloodline. The resulting fortress housed more than 400 cannons and was constructed of more than 16 million bricks, enclosing an area of 8 acres within its 3 story walls.
It is an incredible edifice, with beautiful masonry. Walking the walls, it is hard to imagine what life was like for the soldiers stationed here.
Beach and Snorkel Time
As the fort tour wrapped up, the day was getting hotter and we were ready to snorkel in the crystal blue waters surrounding the island.
We crossed a beautiful white sand beach to the waters on the south side of the island. There were no waves and we slipped into the cool waters and began our expedition.
Beautiful sea fans, coral, and schools of fish surrounded us beneath the surface. The clear water let us get a great look at the undersea environment that surrounds this tiny island.
A little sunbathing on the white sand beach to warm up after snorkeling was a great way to finish our stay at Dry Tortugas.
As the day drew to a close, we said good bye to Dry Tortugas and boarded the ferry to head back. It was such a special and beautiful place we wished we had more time, but we made the most of our visit. The ferry ride back was fun since we treated ourselves to some very affordable and very delicious margaritas!
Dry Tortugas is a truly unique park. Unlike most national parks with sprawling landscapes and huge formations, this park is a speck of an island in the middle of the water, home to a whole lot of history and an undersea universe. It was very special to visit this outpost in the sea, and we look forward to returning someday to enjoy a little more of the peace and tranquility that can be found out here!
This is what we loved about Dry Tortugas... what was your favorite part?