With its inviting turquoise water, charming towns and laid-back vibe, the Florida Keys has been beckoning beach-loving travelers since the 1930s. The Florida Keys typically has a steady stream of visitors year-round thanks to the balmy temps. In 2019, in fact, the Florida Keys had 4.23 million overnight domestic visitors and was anticipating a similar level of visitors for 2020. That is, until the global pandemic hit, forcing the access roads to be closed, to those who don’t live or work in the Florida Keys. Now that the beloved archipelago has reopened to tourists, it’s time to explore the Keys again, with a few new rules in place, that is. Here are some things you need to know when you plan a trip.
Don’t forget your mask
In an effort to minimize the transmission of coronavirus, wearing a facial covering is mandatory throughout the island chain. Simply put, when you are out in public, if there is a roof over your head, you should be sporting a face mask that covers your nose and mouth. The ordinance recommends that everyone above the age of 6 carry a mask whenever they are in public and to put a mask on whenever coming within 6ft (1.8m) of another person.
It is not mandated to wear a mask while inside your hotel room or vacation rental. And if you are at a gym, you may also remove your face covering while exercising, as long as you are 6ft away from others.
How long will this last? As of right now, if you are a resident or traveling to the Keys on vacation, you’ll need to wear a mask through June 2021. This ordinance is subject to quarterly review, however. What happens if you don’t follow the rules? You could be punished with fines, but not jail time.
When dining out
A lot of restaurants have reopened, including The Fish House, known for its conch-style cooking; Chef Michael’s, where peppered prime NY strip steak and seafood pasta top the menu; and Hot Tin Roof, which mixes flavors of Florida cooking and the Caribbean for a unique Floribbean flavor.
Prefer to dig your toes in the sand while dining? Sun Sun at Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria resort on the National Register of Historic Places, gives guests the chance to nosh on Gulf shrimp and scallop fettucine on Key West’s largest private beach. Top it off with pistachio key lime pie, and you’re good to go.
Going to the beach
Good news: beaches are open. Just be sure you maintain social distancing rules and you keep your group of buddies to no more than 10 people. In the Lower Keys, the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park is a great choice for its gorgeous stretch of sand and for shallow-water swimming. The park’s restoration should be completed this fall. At John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park’s Cannon Beach, there are remnants of a Spanish shipwreck about 100ft offshore, and you can snorkel among tarpon and barracuda. Don’t forget Long Key State Park, known for it remains of ancient coral reefs and nature trails. Bring your camping gear and spend the night.
What else can I do in the Florida Keys?
Beyond beach lounging, there’s plenty more to keep you busy. Most attractions are now open with social distancing guidelines in place, as well as mask requirements. The few Key West Art & Historical Society Attractions that remain closed are scheduled to reopen in the beginning of July.
Stop by the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory to meet more than 50 butterfly species from around the world and more than 20 exotic bird species. If aquatic adventures are on the agenda, take a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. Because it’s 99% underwater, it’s a snorkeler’s paradise. It’s also home to Fort Jefferson, which was built in the 1800s. Made up of 16 million bricks, it served as a prison during the Civil War. To get there, take Key West Seaplane Adventures or the Yankee Freedom III ferry.
For something unusual, stop by Crane Point Hammock Museum and Nature Trail in Marathon. Here you dip your toes in the Crane Tidal pool and let minnows nibble on your feet.
Where to stay
Plenty of hotels have reopened. In Key West, Sunset Key Cottages, an exclusive island paradise, is welcoming guests. It’s a great spot for taking a dip in the ocean, lounging by the pool and watching the sky light up at dusk as floating tiki bars and sailboats pass by.
New kid on the block Kimpton Key West recently opened its 85-room Winslow’s Bungalows, named in honor of painter Winslow Homer. Some of the Key West-style buildings on property date back to the 19th century. The 184-room Barbary Beach House Key West, across from Smathers Beach, was recently renovated. With a lagoon-style pool, hammocks and bicycles, it’s hard to be bored. When you’re ready to venture out, pop across the street to Barbary Beach Club, to rent catamarans, paddleboards and kayaks.
At both Key West International Airport and Florida Keys Marathon International Airport, you’ll find health screenings for passengers traveling on nonstop flights from designated COVID-19 hotspot states, including Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Those coming from the hotspots should isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days.