Getting There -- From Miami International Airport (there is also an airport in Marathon), take Le Jeune Road (NW 42nd Ave.) to Rte. 836 W. Follow signs to the Florida Turnpike South, about 7 miles. The turnpike extension connects with U.S. 1 in Florida City. Continue south on U.S. 1. For a scenic option, take Card Sound Road, south of Florida City, a backcountry drive that reconnects with U.S. 1 in upper Key Largo. The view from Card Sound Bridge is spectacular and well worth the $1 toll.
If you're coming from Florida's west coast, take Alligator Alley to the Miami exit and then turn south onto the turnpike extension. The turnpike ends in Florida City, at which time you will be dumped directly onto the two-lane U.S. 1, which leads to the Keys. Have around $15 for the tolls. If you take U.S. 1 straight down and bypass the Turnpike, it's free, but a lot longer.
Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com) has three buses leaving Miami for Key West every day, with stops in Key Largo, Tavernier, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Cudjoe Key, Sugarloaf, and Big Coppit on the way south. Prices range from $16 to $48 one-way and $32 to $93 round-trip; the trip takes from 1 hour and 40 minutes to 4 hours and 40 minutes, depending on how far south you're going. Seats fill quickly in season, so come early. It's first-come, first-served.
Once you've arrived in the Keys, let Scenic Helicopters (tel. 866/596-7006) take you on 10- to 20-minute helicopter tours of the Middle Keys and Marathon areas, departing from Florida Keys Marathon Airport, MM (mile marker) 52.2 bay side. Up to three passengers can be accommodated on each tour, depending on weight. Cost is $100 to $250 for two, $195 to $350 for three.
Visitor Information -- Make sure you get your information from an official not-for-profit center. The Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, U.S. 1 at MM 106, Key Largo, FL 33037 (tel. 800/822-1088 or 305/451-1414; fax 305/451-4726; www.keylargo.org), runs an excellent facility, with free direct-dial phones and plenty of brochures. Headquartered in a handsome clapboard house, the chamber operates as an information clearinghouse for all of the Keys and is open daily from 9am to 6pm.
The Islamorada Chamber of Commerce, housed in a little red caboose, U.S. 1 at MM 82.5, P.O. Box 915, Islamorada, FL 33036 (tel. 800/322-5397 or 305/664-4503; fax 305/664-4289; www.islamoradachamber.com), offers maps and literature on the Upper Keys.
You can't miss the big, blue visitor center at MM 53.5, Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce, 12222 Overseas Hwy., Marathon, FL 33050 (tel. 800/262-7284 or 305/743-5417; fax 305/289-0183; www.floridakeysmarathon.com). Here you can receive free information on local events, festivals, attractions, dining, and lodging.
The 10 "keymandments"
The Keys have always attracted independent spirits, from Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams to Jimmy Buffett, Zane Grey, and local hero Mel Fisher. Writers, artists, and freethinkers have long drifted down here to escape.
Although you'll generally find a very laid-back and tolerant code of behavior in the Keys, some rules do exist. Be sure to respect the 10 "Keymandments" while you're here, or suffer the consequences.
1. Don't anchor on a reef. (Reefs are alive.)
2. Don't feed the animals. (They'll want to follow you home.)
3. Don't trash our place (or we'll send Bubba to trash yours).
4. Don't touch the coral. (After all, you don't even know them. Some pose a mild risk of injury to you as well.)
5. Don't speed (especially on Big Pine Key, where deer reside and tar-and-feathering is still practiced).
6. Don't catch more fish than you can eat. (Better yet, let them go. Some of them support schools.)
7. Don't collect conch. (This species is protected by Bubba.)
8. Don't disturb the birds' nests. (They find it very annoying.)
9. Don't damage the sea grass (and don't even think about making a skirt out of it).
10. Don't drink and drive on land or sea. (There's nothing funny about it.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.