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“Great Architecture, History, Beautiful Scenery, and Good Snorkeling”

Dry Tortugas National Park
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Dry Tortugas National Park Day Trip by Catamaran
Ranked #2 of 177 things to do in Key West
Certificate of Excellence
Attraction details
Level 5 Contributor
48 reviews
23 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 71 helpful votes
“Great Architecture, History, Beautiful Scenery, and Good Snorkeling”
Reviewed July 19, 2013

Please see my review about the Yankee Freedom III, the ferry that brings most visitors to the Dry Tortugas, for details about that–briefly, it's a good service and worth the money to get to this unusual location and historic landmark. You can also take your own boat or charter a seaplane.

First, expectations: This is not a cruise stop and not a tourist trap. It's a national park. The portion you're permitted to tour (if you come by ferry) is the ruin of a 19th century fort built on an island not much larger than itself, 70 miles west of Key West. It takes 2.5+ hours to get there. It is hot. There is no phone or internet service. There's not much shade on the beaches. There's no shopping except a little gift shop, and no food, water or restroom facilities except on the ferry (which also serves breakfast and lunch, and which you can return to).

But if you like architecture and history, being outside, swimming, snorkeling, birding, photography, great views and/or strange, beautiful out-of-the-way places, you'll probably be very happy with your visit. For the more adventurous, primitive camping is available.

Ft. Jefferson is an immense, mostly empty 6-sided building with an open center. The vaults, brickwork, spiral staircases and the moat (yes, an island with a moat) are impressive. You can climb up to the roof/parapet, where you can see the cast iron harbor light and cannons, and get an amazing view of the entire island and the ones nearby. If you don't take the ferry's tour, you can explore on your own using the provided guidebook and signs. You can also walk the path on the moat wall.

Snorkeling is allowed in several locations. We felt the best one was the south coal dock ruins, near the ferry dock. Above water, terns, seagulls and pelicans perch on pilings and look down on you from only several feet away. Below, what's left of the structure is the foundation of a sort of artificial reef, crusted with coral and marine plants. The area was packed with fish. Snorkeling along the outer moat wall (you can't swim in the moat itself) is also interesting, because you can observe the activities of baby/juvenile fish and cleaning stations. On a calm, sunny day, the water in the moat and around the fort are beautiful shades of turquoise and blue. The ferry staff can equip you with snorkeling gear if you don't have it.

Be sure to use sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses, and bring a pre-filled water bottle (at least a liter/quart) to take with you when you leave the ferry–you can also bring small coolers with you. In addition to bottled water for sale, there is a water jug on the ferry, but be polite–it's meant for everyone to share with the meals. Wear good shoes or sport sandals. There are some changing rooms at the dock.

Visited June 2013
5 Thank flevine
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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English first
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Level 4 Contributor
39 reviews
9 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
“Impressive National Park”
Reviewed July 19, 2013

We took a seaplane and had a great experience. Didn't do the boat trip because of time constraints, but heard the boat cruise was good too. Take snorkeling equipment, we saw lots of cool sea life. Check into a guided tour with one of the park rangers, they give a lot of additional information that you wouldn't get with doing your own walking tour.

Visited July 2013
1 Thank KKHFAY
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Level 2 Contributor
1 review
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
“Amazing day”
Reviewed July 18, 2013

The 2 1/2 hour boat ride there was cool, full of good food, and spacious enough for a good nap. The water and fort are gorgeous, and the ferry company gives you just enough time to explore the large fort and snorkel around the garden key. I had some problems with my snorkels (not their fault) but still saw better fish and coral than the other three snorkeling trips we went on that week. The lunch was also very good and we were all happy to use their warm fresh-water showers and change before the ride back. I highly recommend it and am already planning on coming back next year to stay on the tortugas and camp for a few days! Don't miss it!

Visited June 2013
2 Thank hazelnut44
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Tallahassee, Florida, United States
Level 2 Contributor
5 reviews
3 attraction reviews
“Ft. Jeff - Dry Tortugas - Yankee Freedom”
Reviewed July 18, 2013

This I a great all-da adventure. The trip down on the Yankee Freedom is a nice two-hour cruise. The snorkeling at the Fort is as god as it gets in shallow waters accessible to snorkelers of all experience levels, the historical tour of the fort is interesting for historical buffs. The cruise back to Key West is a relaxing end to a lovely day and the crew of the Yankee Freedom are pleasant and accommodating. A frothy lager aboard tastes especially good after a day snorkeling! I highly recommend this trip.

Visited July 2013
Thank Frank N
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Durham, North Carolina
Level 4 Contributor
44 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 20 helpful votes
“great day trip”
Reviewed July 17, 2013

The trip is worth the money. We stopped at cuban coffee queen for some iced coffee and made our way to the boat (they do have breakfast available on the ferry). The fairy is large and comfortable. We took the guided tour of the fort when we arrived, had lunch, and then spent the rest of our time snorkeling and on the beach. The water is gorgeous and the snorkeling was decent. The boat is available to you all day if you need restrooms or a break from the sun. Its expensive but I think it is a great day trip option while in Key West. We were back before 5pm, so you won't miss any evening activities.

Visited June 2013
Thank SarahEP
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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