Having grown up in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, I guess it’s only natural I adore jagged landscapes covered by mature evergreens. As a teenager, I traveled with my family to Maine where I had my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, its pounding surf at Pemaquid Point’s mesmerizing. Years later, I fell head-over-heels for palm tree sunsets as I ventured further from my homebase. Oddly enough, another place I consider to be a slice of heaven isn’t out in the wild, but inside a building on Duval Street in Key West, Florida.
One of the many reasons I am drawn back to Old Town each year is the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. This must-see KW attraction was one we almost overlooked, having toured St. Maarten’s butterfly farm years earlier and wrongly assuming we could cross this activity off our travel to-do list. Thankfully, our B&B’s manager convinced us this conservatory was worth the fee and our time.
The first stop on the self-guided tour is the Learning Center, a smallish room with educational exhibits. Here the guest may view a short butterfly video and look at butterflies in various stages of their life cycle. Wall maps also show worldwide butterfly species distribution. Once a person has had her fill of facts, she enters the main part of the building where the large, glass-domed conservatory serves as a weather-controlled tropical oasis for its lucky residents.
Between forty to fifty exotic species of butterflies rest, fly, or sip nectar, unconcerned about human presence within the conservatory and co-existing with butterfly-friendly birds that control the room’s mosquito and aphid populations. Tranquil, filtered music harmonizes with birds chirping, while a water feature provides a backdrop of soothing white noise. Fragrant tropical flowers scent the space as the guest strolls along the brick walkway. Winding through the leafy, colorful interior, the path crosses over the koi and turtle pond via a wooden bridge. Photography and videotaping within the conservatory is allowed and all guests encouraged to stay as long as they wish.
As for my husband and me, we spent more than two hours in our little Paradise Found, much of our time simply relaxing on butterfly-shaped chairs as we bird watched. When photographing, I was amazed how easy it was to get the ethereal butterflies to pose. Unlike my previous butterfly farm experience, no Zoom or Sport camera setting was needed!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos–my little escape from the ordinary. Whether you find beauty in a dew-covered spider web, blooming orchids, an Alaskan glacier, or Saguaro cactus, I wonder: Where on Earth do you find paradise?