Dry Tortugas is a National Park that is 70 miles from Key West and includes a small island, and the ocean and coral reefs around it. It’s only accessible by boat or seaplane, and I am not getting in a seaplane! So, we arranged to take the boat, which was 2.5 hours each way, and stays at the park for 4.5 hours. There is only one trip per day, and it carries about 175 people. The boat ride was nice, but the hour closest to the island was pretty choppy and there was plenty of seasickness, though thankfully not for us.
The island is essentially a big fort, surrounded by a moat, with a couple small beaches and a tiny campground.
When we got to the island, we explored Fort Jefferson. There is a tour offered, but it was in the middle of the short time we were there, and we wanted time to snorkel. Fort Jefferson is the largest brick masonry structure in the western hemishpere, with over 16 million bricks! It was built in the mid-1800s, intended to protect shipping in the gulf, and was used as a prison during the civil war. We wandered around the fort and saw the prison cells, the bakery, and the magazines where gun powder was kept. We took the spiral staircases to see the second level and the top of the fort where there are still canons.
After we explored the fort we went snorkeling from the south beach. There used to be a coaling dock that is now just pylons in the water that have formed an artificial reef. We swam to the pylons along the outer moat wall and before we got there we saw a huge school of silver fish! It was mesmerizing to watch them swim. They would all swim in the same direction, and then get spooked and scatter, and then regroup, and then swim near a larger fish leaving enough room to feel safe. After we swam through the school, there was another school of much smaller silver fish. We swam through the pylons and saw fish swimming near them, and coral growing on them.
Then we swam to an area of coral rocks. It took a little while to find it, but when we did it was really cool. We saw a parrotfish, black grouper, barracuda, ballyhoo, jelly fish, sea urchins, and yellowtail snapper. Everything was so colorful!
We snorkeled for awhile, and when we got out it was time to board the boat. My only complaint about our visit is that it wasn’t long enough! They do allow a few campers each night, and it would be really cool to camp there, but it’s in pretty high demand.
The fort and snorkeling were really nice, but I think the best part was just being in such a beautiful place, practically by ourselves!