Travel and Leisure — April 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm

6 Tips for Planning the Ultimate Florida Keys Trip

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Grand Velas Riviera Maya http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandvelasrivieramaya/3179394903/

Grand Velas Riviera Maya http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandvelasrivieramaya/3179394903/

Planning a trip to the sunny Florida Keys this year? You don’t have to break the bank to experience the best that these pretty little islands of pleasure have to offer. Ditch the typical tourist attractions and keep these 6 tips in mind when planning your keys trip.

Key West Isn’t the Only Key…
A lot of times keys visitors will beeline it for Key West, and it’s understandable of course. Besides the history, one of a kind island architecture, and a myriad of resorts, bed and breakfasts, bars and restaurants, keep in mind that yes, Key West rules, but there are other keys that offer their own unique experiences. Do some research and stay at a neighboring key, then plan a day excursion in Key West to get your fill.

Get Off the Beaten Path
Spend a day in the lower keys—from Sugar Loaf Key to Bahia Honda Key, where you can find more isolated islands to explore. Look out for endangered key deer that are only found in the keys and are not shy when it comes to humans. There are also plenty of local bars and restaurants found throughout where you can relax in paradise. Which leads to my next tip….

Talk to the Locals
They know what’s up! Forget the commercialized franchises and explore local haunts. Mingle and get information on some of the lesser known places to explore and activities to get into—options that are cheaper than just going with the first touristy snorkel trip you come across. It’s easy living in the keys and the friendly people there love life and love the ocean—you will have plenty to dip your fingers into and make some new friends while at it!

Kraig Scarbinsky / Photodisc / thinkstock.com

Kraig Scarbinsky / Photodisc / thinkstock.com

Ditch the Crowded Beaches and Find Your Own
All you need is a kayak, which you can bring or easily rent. As you travel US 1, keep a look out for favorable islands spread throughout the area—they are everywhere and easily accessible. Pull over to the side of a bridge, park and take off on your own little adventure. Uninhabited mangrove islands are literally everywhere and when the tide is low, you will have your own private beach. Bring a picnic, some cold drinks, some fishing poles—maybe even ditch the swim trunks for a little skinny-dipping!

Cheap Lodging Exists
Stay away from popular destinations where prices run high. There are some really cool bed and breakfasts in smaller keys that won’t break the bank. Also, look out for small hotels and motels located right off of US 1 on the water. Sure, they may look a little retro,but that only adds to the charm, and most of the time they are pretty clean. A lot of places on the water will have their own beach, another great, less crowded alternative to popular beach accesses.

GO Camping
One of the most beautiful campgrounds in Florida is located right in the heart of Bahia Honda Key at Bahia Honda State Park. Camp on the beach and enjoy living the keys life primitively. Aside from gorgeous sunsets, a view of the historic Bahia Honda Bridge and a plethora of outdoors activities, you will get to truly experience island life at its finest and you’ll never want to stay in a pricey resort again.

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