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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Fishing, dolphins, and other reasons to visit Key Largo

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Luxury meets laid-back at the Kona Kai Resort and Gallery. [K.Kates photo]

Key Largo was made famous by the Bertie Higgins hit song and the Bogie and Bacall film, both named after this picturesque paradise. This most northern island in the Florida Keys is just an hour away from Miami’s airport, but seems worlds away.

Key Largo is known as the diving capital of the world and offers a whole host of activities, including fishing, swimming with dolphins and fun in the sun.

Luxury meets laid-back at Kona Kai Resort and Gallery, which overlooks Florida Bay and The Everglades in the heart of Key Largo and caters to the over 16 crowd.

The resort’s intimate 11 guest rooms and suites – all with appetizing names like The Mango Room and The Banana Suite – are decorated uniquely in Florida-chic. All are air-conditioned and are fully-equipped with a kitchen and access to barbecues, along with TVs, DVD players and Wi-Fi in the courtyard, but there are no annoying telephones in the room.

The Kona Kai has a private beach with kayaks and paddleboats available to guests, as well as tennis courts and hammocks. At the resort’s pool area – which includes a hot tub – guests can indulge in a massage and fresh-picked fruit from Kona Kai’s botanical gardens. The gardens can be seen either through a self-guided tour or a 90-minuted guided tour, which ends with ripe samples.

The resort also offers a free, two-hour “enviro tour,” which starts from its dock on a specially equipped Zodiac boat.

Adjacent to the reception area and newly-created meeting space is a small art gallery offering guests a chance to view and purchase original works of art from both new and established artists.

Away from the serenity of the Kona Kai, there’s a lot to do in Key Largo. If more art is up your alley, check out its many galleries, including Bluewater Potters Gallery and Key Largo Art Gallery. Or take a half hour drive south to quaint Islamorada and check out The Lobster Trap Gift & Art Gallery and the Rain Barrel Artisan Village. 

A great place for shopping is at Shells, conveniently located only two blocks south of Kona Kai. Shells has some great finds, like kitschy souvenirs, brightly coloured beach wear, home decor items and beautifully hand-crafted jewelry.

Exploring nature is a must while in The Keys. Places to see include the Dagny Johnson Hammock and Botanical State Park, Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Florida Wild Bird Center.

A wonderful way to explore the canals of Key Largo and get a great view of the beachfront mansions is aboard the actual steamboat from the 1951 John Huston movie, The African Queen, starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The restored boat is now 101 years old.

Be forewarned – the tour starts off very loudly with a steam whistle blow. If you’re nice to the captain, he will be more than happy to let you take the helm, while he tells tales of this vessel’s colourful past.

One of the most popular activities in Key Largo is a structured dolphin swim at Dolphins Plus – which includes one sea lion.

At this dolphin swim, small groups of four have their own trainers and one to two dolphins. Two at a time, you are asked to enter the salt-water lagoon for more than 20 minutes. Swimmers are taught to shake hands with the dolphins, and may even get a kiss in, if they’re lucky.

Another great place to check out is Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada, where you can feed the wild tarpon. Once there, you can try Partyboat Fishing on the Capt. Michael – a 65-foot deep-sea fishing vessel. The activity’s a great way to spend four hours, though a pill for seasickness is advised before boarding. Fishing on the open waters can be a bit rough.

Cruising The Keys is especially fun in a convertible, which is available at a number of car rental outlets, including Sixt Rent A Car.

For more information go to visitflorida.com, or fla-keys.com, or call 1-800-FLA-KEYS. To book a stay at Kona Kai Resort and Gallery, call 800-365-7829 or 305-852-7200 or visit their website at konakairesort.com.

 

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