From the title you will notice that this is MY guide to the Dry Tortugas. You can probably do it in a shorter trip, or a longer one, but this was “in my opinion” what I would do if I was to do it again. I’ll try to make note for cruisers as well as those camping.
The Dry Tortugas are primitive, and I mean primitive for visitors. The workers and volunteers who work there have access to things like running water, trash cans, AC, and internet….. You will not. If you want a shower, you will need to bring your own water. You can pick up a cheap and efficient solar shower at Wal-Mart in the camping section if you do not have one already. They are about $7 and half as expensive as their counterparts at Bass Pro Shops and other outdoor shops. If you want to cook; they do have charcoal grills on the park but you will need to bring your own charcoal and lighter fluid. Bring things that will require very little trash. You will not have access to trash cans and you will need to police and take your own trash off of the island. There is also a $5 fee per person for the park, we did not know this showing up and felt quite embarrassed (none of the research we did, showed a fee). And let me say it right here - - - > SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN. I normally do fairly well with the NOAD 15 SPF lotion. I’m also naturally olive skinned and come from a family with a bit of a Cajun background. I wish I would have brought a 45 or higher, extreme waterproof, spray on. I didn’t get burned per say, only the top of my forehead and nose b/c I was wearing a visor and the sun went all ninja and found a way in the top. And the spray would have also made it easier to get to my scalp. But if I applied sunscreen as religiously as I did, then I’m guessing those who are not as olive skinned as me could get themselves in a heap of trouble.
How Do I Get There
If you are a cruiser – this part is easy. It took us an overnight jump from Key West. If you are not one of the lucky few to own or live on a boat you have a couple of options. There is a high speed ferry from Key West that leaves early in the morning travels for a couple of hours, stays at the fort about 4 hours and then travels back. They provide lunch and dinner (I believe) and alcoholic drinks are for sale for a very reasonable price. I believe I also heard that they have kayaks and snorkeling gear for you to borrow free of charge. You can also arrange with the ferry to ride in one day, camp a few days, and then ride back with them. There is also a sea plane that comes in and out about 5 times a day. I would personally take the ferry if we didn’t have a boat, but hey, that’s just me.
|At the helm on our way in|
|View of the harbor as we approached|
How Long Should I Stay
I know if you take the ferry you can arrange an overnight or couple of overnight stays. I suggest planning to spend 3 days at the Dry Tortugas. Any less and you may miss something (because you’re tired and worn out) and any more than that and you might get a little run down if you’re not the cruising type. Depending on how you got there, your access to “cool down” methods, and the time of year will have a big influence on how long you want to stay. I had pretty much decided that if I had one of those chairs that sits in the water, and a waterproof kindle….you couldn’t have pried me away.
Time of Year
We came in July, dead of summer, and while we had a great time…..I suggest picking a cooler time of year if you’re not acclimated to the heat. When you’ve been snorkeling, swimming, walking on the beach, and
climbing up and down the stairwells at the fort; you really want the ability to cool down at the end of the day. If you’re a cruiser, you know that there are still chores to be done while you’re here. And when it’s 90+ during the day (and you don’t have access to AC) it’s tiring just to do dishes. The water here is amazing, so I really suggest staying in it as much as possible.
Things To Do
The reason I said a 3 day stay is because while we were here there were 3 major things to do (unfortunately while we were here a lot of the keys were shut down due to turtle mating season). I also suggest doing these things in this order. In my experience you want to have your most active day at the beginning, with your lease active day with the most impact at the end.
Fort Jefferson – There is a tour provided for everyone who comes by ferry and seaplane. On all sides of the fort, expect for the harbor side, there is swimming and snorkeling around the moat. It’s neat snorkeling, but by far the least impressive of the 3 sites. YOU WANT TO BRING A CAMERA!!! Even a very novice photographer like me can take amazing pictures out here. I also suggest bringing a backup, even if it’s in the form of your iPhone.
|Me swimming the rest of the way around the fort after he got a cramp|
Loggerhead Key – The backside of the key has the most impressive snorkeling of the entire US, so do not miss it! You’ll even make friends with the local barracuda if you’re anything like me :/ Walking around the beach during turtle season even gives you the opportunity to look for turtle tracks, nests, and baby turtle tracks. Loggerhead Key is about 3 miles from Fort Jefferson. It is quite the kayak trip. The park rangers suggest that you come by to borrow a radio from them and call in when you depart and when you head back to the fort.
|Our Texas friends kayaking over to Loggerhead|
|Scorpion fish we found as we got ready to snorkle|
Windjammer Wreck – This lies about a mile off the tip of Loggerhead Key. It is marked by a buoy, but is a tad hard to see. We were told it was ¾ a mile off the tip, but we kinda beg to differ that it’s further than that. It’s a wreck shallow enough to snorkel, although I do believe I saw a few dive boats and divers out there as well. After doing Fort Jefferson and Loggerhead Key you “may” be tired, but it is well worth it. Trust me on this one.
|Dinghy ride back to the boat after snorkeling the wreck|
The staff working and volunteering on these keys are some of the nicest and friendliest people. Now of course, we always make it a point to be nice to the locals. Juels led the tours for the seaplane visitors and has read the “personal letters to home” of Dr. Mudd. Pat has the coolest ghost stories and is a joy to be around. In fact…… anywhere you go, follow this last instruction (even if it’s to the McDonald’s drive through).