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Kayaking the Keys

Downwind EcoTours at Geiger Key, 8 miles east of Old Town KW

Kayaking the Keys

Floating through the Mangroves
Floating through the Mangroves

If you love water and ocean life, you may enjoy kayaking. It’s quiet and laid-back, a perfect change of pace from the Duval Crawl nightlife.

You may opt for the kayak/snorkeling tour leaving from Key West Historic Seaport, which involves taking a motor boat out to The Lakes section of Key West Harbor where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf. Your guide will teach you all about the creatures swimming in the crystal clear waters beneath you, such as the nurse shark, a variety of tropical fish, and the delicate coral reef ecosystem. If you take the last tour of the day, you will have the added excitement of watching the famous sunset as you motor back to the marina.


Years ago, we enjoyed our kayaking tour. For this getaway, we chose to explore the backcountry. What a great choice! I learned more about the mangrove ecosystem in five minutes from Tortuga Jack of Downwind Tours than in all our years of travel to the Keys.

The Highlights:

Double-Crested Cormorant
Dry and Ready for Flight

The double-crested cormorant isn’t a favorite of local fishermen as this excellent diver and fisher competes for the tastiest meals. Unlike most birds, this one doesn’t have waterproofing oil glands. When the cormorant dives into the water for its meal, its feathers become saturated. That’s why you’ll often see them perching in the sun, drying their feathers. I was excited to snap the shot (above) just as this creature took off.

Cormorant nest in a red mangrove.
Cormorant Nest in a Red Mangrove


The creature shown here on our kayak paddle is called a Cassiopeia. Like its namesake constellation that’s an upside-down M, this jellyfish floats along the current upside-down in Key West’s shallow waters. They can grow up to ten inches in diameter, but their poison is weak.

Tortuga Jack with a Horseshoe Crab

Living on Long Island, we are familiar with the horseshoe crab. What I didn’t know was that this ancient creature’s blood contains copper. This made the crab useful in scientific research and as fertilizer in the past.

A Horseshoe Crab
A Horseshoe Crab

Like most Floridian waters, the channel we traversed contains crocodiles. According to our guide, they are “elusive, exclusive, and seclusive.”  We also learned from Tortuga Jack that crocs have ventured as far south as Cuba in recent years, with a population of two thousand and growing,  competing with native species for available food sources.

Paddling the Quiet Channels
Paddling the Quiet Channels

We looked carefully, but those toothy creatures remained hidden. I suppose that was a good thing.

Crossing the channel; Overseas Highway in the distance
Crossing the Channel with the Overseas Highway in the Distance
A Mangrove Maze
A Mangrove Maze

The mangroves’ evolutional goal may be to create land, but the combination of Key West’s two tidal systems along with strong currents prevent the accumulation of soil in many areas. Winding through the tangle of branches, prop roots, and leaves, you realize why drug dealers and other lawbreakers used these waters to evade capture.

Nature meets Civilization
Nature Meets Civilization

As you float back to the starting point, you can imagine life on these waters. As beautiful as they are, the guide is your key to a successful outing. Not only was ours knowledgeable about the science aspect, but the history and literary aspects as well. We were the lucky recipients of an impromptu poem or two.

What’s one of your favorite adventures ever?

14 comments on “Kayaking the Keys

  1. Beautiful pictures, Jolyse! I’m not into kayaking but my sister is and she really likes Key West. i’m hoping she’ll stop by here and read your post. Jim and I are hoping we can visit KW maybe in March, 2014. If it works out, I’ll be diving into your archives for any info I’ve missed about the Keys. Do you only go in September, or have you gone during Jan-Mar?

    1. Wow, that’s wonderful that you’re planning a trip to the Keys. You will love it! I’ve been to KW July, August, and October. We hear it’s beautiful from January – March. So much to do. I’d like to go in May for the fishing. Keep me posted. 🙂

  2. I always love reading your blog posts, Jolyse! :-)) This is a really great one that has me longing for Key West. My husband loves to kayak. I know he would enjoy discovering one of our favorite places via his kayak. Great pictures!

  3. Great post, and a great remembrance for me having lived in Key West for a year in the 1980’s! Though I’m sure a lot has changed since then, no doubt it still retains its uniqueness and beauty today! 🙂

  4. I’m an avid kayaker and living in the Berkshires offers me endless ponds, lakes, reservoirs and streams to explore. The Keys look amazing! As far as one of my best adventures, my husband and I went to Beliz several years ago and we had a great time hiking through the rainforest and tubing down a river through the jungle. Nothing like seeing Toucans and howler monkeys at every turn!

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