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The Florida Keys: Key Largo

First Among the Florida Keys

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Key West's African Queen
Compliments of Andy Newman, TDC
Driving from mainland Florida, visitors to the Florida Keys enter the 125-mile subtropical island chain at Key Largo, the longest island in the Keys.

Key Largo is bordered on the west by Florida Bay and the Everglades National Park backcountry, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, home to the clear waters of the Gulf Stream. Visitors can enjoy Key Largo's ties to the sea including scuba diving, snorkeling, an underwater hotel, sportfishing, a maritime museum, eco-tours, beaches and dolphin encounter programs. The island also offers numerous shoreside activities including nature trails and a rehabilitation center for wild birds.

Key Largo is best known for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, mile marker (MM) 102.5, the first underwater park in the United States. Combined with the adjacent Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, the two parks comprise an area of 103 square nautical miles featuring 55 varieties of coral and 500 species of fish. Their fragile living reefs are acclaimed as some of the most fascinating scuba diving sites in the world.

The two parks are contained within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which encompasses the entire Keys chain.

Back on land, environmental trails at Pennekamp Park wind through tropical hammocks of gumbo limbo, strangler fig, tamarind, wild coffee and mahogany trees. The Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site, Route 905 at MM 106 bayside, offers opportunities to view rare tree snails, Schaus swallowtail butterflies, white crowned pigeons, mangrove cuckoos, lignumvitae trees, butterfly orchids and wild cotton.

Key Largo also gained notoriety when the 1947 movie classic "Key Largo," featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, hit the silver screen. A local bar, the Caribbean Club, provided the locale for a number of the movie's scenes. Bogie's presence still can be seen today in Key Largo, the vessel of another American movie epic - "The African Queen" - is on view at the Holiday Inn Key Largo Marina.

The island is about an hour's drive from Miami International Airport. For more information, write the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce at 105950 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL, 33037; call (800) 822-1088 or (305) 451-1414; or, stop by the Florida Keys Visitor Center at MM 106 bayside.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN KEY LARGO

Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Route 905 at MM 106 bayside. Conservationists years ago rescued this nature preserve from development. It is home to numerous endangered species; guided walks are offered by contacting Pennekamp Park at 305-451-1202 or online at www.floridastateparks.org/keylargohammock.

Caribbean Club Bar, MM 104 bayside. The only Florida Keys location where filming of the movie Key Largo took place, since all other scenes were filmed on a Hollywood sound stage. The walls within the interior of this waterfront saloon are appointed with memorabilia from the movie. Call 405-451-4466 for more information.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, MM 102.5 oceanside. America's first underwater state park, with dive and snorkel, sunset, eco-tour, glass-bottom boat and canoe excursions. Pennekamp also maintains nature trails, a beach, picnic grounds, and campsites. Call 305-451-1202 or visit online at www.pennekamppark.comfor more information.

Dolphin Cove Research & Education Center, MM 102, bayside. Enjoy bottlenose dolphin swims and encounters, eco-tours, sunset cruises and flamingo trips. For more information call 305-451-4060 or visit online at www.dolphinscove.com

Dolphin Cove Research & Education Center, MM 102 bayside. Offers bottlenose dolphin swims and encounters, dive excursions, crocodile and eco-tours, and kayak and canoe voyages; (305) 451-4060.

Dolphins Plus Inc., Ocean Bay Drive, MM 100 oceanside. Like its sister facility, Dolphin Cove, Dolphins Plus offers swims with the marine mammals, as well as sea lion encounters. Call 305-451-1993 or visit online at www.dolphinsplus.com

The African Queen, MM 100 oceanside. When this steamship is not touring the globe, the silver screen's original vessel used in the Humphrey Bogart movie, "The African Queen," may be viewed at the Holiday Inn Key Largo Resort. For more information call 305-451-4655.

The Gallery at Kona Kai, MM 98 bayside. The works of noted Florida watercolorist Gregory Sobran and black-and-white photographs captured by landscape photographer Clyde Butcher highlight this gallery's exhibit. Kona Kai carries only the works of Florida artists; a portion of sales benefit the Artist Environmental Network and its conservation awareness projects. Call 305-852-7200 or visit online at www.konakairesort.com/thegallery for more information.

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, MM 93.6 bayside. The primary purpose of the center is the rescue, rehabilitation and release of ill, injured and orphaned wild birds. A boardwalk winds through cages that are home to wild hawks, ospreys, spoonbills, egrets and more. Some are here to recuperate and will later be released; others are unable to survive in the wild on their own and have become lifelong inhabitants. More information can be obtained by calling 305-852-4486 or visit online at www.fkwbc.org

Harry Harris Park, off Burton Drive at MM 92.5 oceanside. This waterfront park offers beach, playground, sports field, and picnic grounds.

Jules' Undersea Lodge, MM 103.5 oceanside at 51 Shoreland Drive. Room service is available at the world's first underwater hotel, permanently anchored 30 feet beneath the surface of Key Largo's Emerald Lagoon. The two-bedroom air-conditioned suite features complete accommodations and is a popular destination for those who are looking for something a little different on their honeymoon. For more information or to make reservations, call 305-451-2353 or visit online at www.jul.com.

Take these links to find out more: Florida Keys FAQs, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys, Key West.

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