Located 70 miles South West of Key West lies the Dry Tortugas National Park, consisting of 7 islands and their surrounding waters. The islands of the Dry Tortugas were first found back in 1513 by Ponce De Leon. The name “Dry Tortugas” was given to these islands due to the fact that there was no fresh water found on the islands (dry) and that there was a large population of sea turtles (turtle in spanish = tortuga) living in the area.
At 7:30 AM we boarded the Yankee Freedom III in preparation to set sail for the park. Once boarded, we were given access to the complimentary breakfast that the crew provided.
The ferry had two main decks, one located at the front on the lower level and one at the back on the upper level. I enjoyed looking out over the ocean and seeing different animals such as sea turtles and flying fish along the way. The ferry also had an air-conditioned lower and upper seating/dining area as well for anyone looking to get out of the heat. After about two hours of sailing we were able to see the islands in the distance.
Once docked, we unloaded the boat and were free to do whatever we wanted for the day. I first explored Fort Jefferson; a fort built in 1847 to protect the Southern Coastline of the United States. With six walls forming a hexagon, made out of over 16 million hand made bricks, the fort was impervious to assault from any ships. Along with its structure was its stronger defense of heavy cannon guns on the walls and battle ships in its harbor. The fort also acted as a prison during the civil war. One of its most famous prisoners was Dr. Samuel Mudd who was involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
After completing a self tour of the fort (and taking plenty of pictures) I headed back to the ferry for lunch that was provided by the crew.
I spent the rest of my day at Dry Tortugas snorkeling in the waters that wrapped around the fort. There was an abundant amount of sea creatures and unique plant life growing along the remains of the fort. Some of the animals I saw were puffer fish, barracuda, cuddle fish, and sea urchins, along with the many different types of tropical fish.
Another reason many people are attracted to the park is for the exquisite birding; Dry Tortugas is ranked one of the top places to see in the world. I did not go birding and do not know much about birding, so check out this site that talks about the species of birds you can spot on the islands.
I first found out about the park last summer but sadly I was unable to go because all of the trips were booked up during my first stay in Key West. It is recommended that you book your trip 2-3 months in advance because of the limited number of people allowed in the park each day. For more information on booking a trip to the Dry Tortugas check out this site.