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Islamorada and Long Key, the ‘Purple Isles’

October 25, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

The fisherman’s paradise known as Islamorada was incorporated as a municipality in January 1998. Now called Islamorada, Village of Islands, the village that measures 20 miles long and, in some places, barely 150 feet wide encompasses Plantation, Windley, Upper and Lower Matecumbe keys.

Legend has it the area was named by Spanish explorers who, seeing the purple sky at sunset and the purple bougainvillea, used the words “isla” and “morado” or purple island.

It’s probably more likely that the area was named by William J. Krome, the primary surveyor for the Over-Sea Railroad that traversed the Keys. Trains would only stop at named towns, so Krome is said to have christened the location on Upper Matecumbe Key “Islamorada,” after the schooner Island Home owned by the pioneering Pinder family.

Known as the Sport-Fishing Capital of the World, Islamorada is where backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly fishing were pioneered. It’s where legendary fishing figures including Ted Williams, Jimmy Albright, and Cecil Keith plied their trade. Perhaps the world’s highest density of professional offshore charter boats with tournament-grade captains can be found in Islamorada. 414883_num1003519_600x600

Islamorada’s unique location, lying between Florida Bay (the “backcountry”) and the Atlantic Ocean (the “front side”), provides an unrivaled diversity of fishing opportunities. The Gulf Stream flows past the islands from 10 to 20 miles offshore, bringing seasonal visitors like sailfish and marlin, kingfish and wahoo, dolphin (mahi-mahi) and tuna close enough to shore to be targeted by small-boat anglers. Tarpon and bonefish are among inshore species coveted by light tackle anglers.

Scuba divers and snorkelers flock to the region to explore the extraordinary reef line and patch reefs brimming with tropical fish, sponges, soft and hard corals and crustaceans. Davis, Conch, Alligator and Pickles reefs, Crocker Wall and the Aquarium and Fish Bowl offer safe and easy viewing of Islamorada’s diverse marine life for divers and snorkelers of virtually every skill level.

The intentionally scuttled 287-foot Eagle is Islamorada’s premier artificial reef. The wreck sits on a 105-foot-deep sandy bottom but its superstructure can be enjoyed and explored at depths of 60 to 70 feet. In the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve, divers and snorkelers can see the remnants of a wrecked 1733 Spanish treasure fleet galleon at depths of 15 to 20 feet.

On land, travelers can step inside a coral reef to see 20,000 years of reef development at the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, a short ride by boat, encompasses a virgin hardwood hammock untouched by modern development as well as the original Matheson home built in 1919.

The Islamorada area also features eco-tours, water sports such as standup paddling and kiteboarding, tennis facilities, bicycle trails, historic hikes, beautiful vistas of both the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay, opportunities to swim with dolphins and stingrays, and a typically quirky Keys recreational activity: hand-feeding tarpon off the docks at Robbie’s Marina, mile marker (MM) 77.5 bayside.

Area beaches include a family facility with picnic tables behind the Islamorada Public Library and Anne’s Beach, where stretches of sand are linked by a boardwalk nature trail.

Islamorada also is home to the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District, spotlighting the art galleries and restaurants at Morada Way between mile markers (MM) 81 and 82. As well as welcoming visitors throughout the year, the popular arts district is the site of the Third Thursday Art Walk each month that features fine art, live music and culinary offerings.

Local restaurants range from very upscale continental to casual to downright funky. Many specialize in fresh-from-the-dock seafood, while others offer steaks, gourmet or ethnic dishes and even pizza and hamburgers.

Islamorada is about a 1.5-hour drive from Miami International Airport and a 40-minute drive from the Florida Keys Marathon Airport in the Middle Keys.

For more information, visit www.fla-keys.com/islamorada or call 1-800-FLA-KEYS, ext. 2.

For more Florida Keys & Key West travel information, including electronic brochures and videos, visit the Keys website at www.fla-keys.com.

Keys social media sites include facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywest,twitter.com/thefloridakeys and youtube.com/floridakeystv.

For personal service, call toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, 1-800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397).

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