“Miles to go before I sleep”- these words by Robert Frost never seemed so literally true until we embarked on what we assumed to be a 3 hour drive from Miami to Key West.
You would get all that you have read about Key West while planning your travel: charming houses, adorable streets with the even more adorable conch train, tons of restaurants and tourists, and a very holiday-ish laid back vibe. But worth the opportunity cost? Not quite sure.
Let me explain…..
The other day a Tesla drove past us. Few companies command respect not just for their creations, but also their ideology. Tesla for me is one of them, more so after they launched vegan interiors in their cars, and the work they did in Puerto Rico to restore power in hospitals after the recent flooding. So as I salivated at the sleek design that tore across the wind and raced past us, while our humble rental ‘compact’ car struggled to cough up life, I longingly asked me husband “Do you think we’ll ever be able to afford a Tesla? Its my dream car!”
“Ofcourse baby! We could by it today if you want. We will possibly have to forego our rental accommodation here to pay off the monthly debt. But I heard the car is comfy as hell. We can totally sleep in it. And you know how people are minting money on Instagram with #vanlife? We could launch #teslalife!”, he laughed. I have known this man for 10 years, and should have been wise enough to note the undertone of humor with the ‘ofcourse’ that started off his sentence 🙂 But he had a point. We could have it if we pleased, but the opportunity cost did not really seem worth it. And sadly, that’s exactly my thought for Key West.
a) Reaching Key West is a struggle in itself; 160 mile+ drive that is mostly single lane! One car breakdown and expect a 3 hour drive to easily become over 5 hours long. Sometimes I feel that in a way this experience literally forces you to enjoy your trip and convince yourself the drive was worth it.
Tip: Leave early early morning. Not quite our idea of a vacation when you have to wake up that early and drive bleary eyed though. So look for accommodation in the middle keys and split your trip overnight.
b) Buffer at least an hour for finding parking: You will find everything in the island- literally everything- BUT parking. Expect to pay at the minimum 30$ for about 6 hours.
Tip: At the height of your frustration, when you simply can not find a spot, park for free at the Butterfly Museum and use that opportunity to visit it! Highly recommended !
c) Key Lime Pie is overrated and vegan options are limited: Key Lime Pie, especially the one at Mrs Mac’s Kitchen (which btw is not really in Key West), had been highly oversold to us. We took the first bite expecting it to be one of the most heavenly things that graced our palette. Well, to be fair, those are high expectations to set and
anyone anything would crack under that pressure. Our first bite of Key Lime Pie did too. I wouldn’t say its bad, but there are very few things I compromise my veganism for, and I took a bite of this one and immediately regretted.
Tip: Try the Key Lime Freeze (a drink form of the pie, which btw we got free when we checked in through Yelp). I wish I knew then about the Vegan Key Lime Pie that is offered at The Cafe. Also, Mrs Mac’s Kitchen has nothing- literally NOTHING- vegetarian/vegan in its menu, so if you are vegetarian, consider stopping here after your meal, only for dessert.
d) Be prepared to sell an arm and a leg to pay for the accommodation- if you are lucky to find one! Not only is accommodation in Key West limited, its also very expensive and priced to cater to the needs of the upper echelons of the society. To give you a perspective, we began to look for a place to stay with a $150 budget per night from 29-31st Dec (high peak season) way back in August and everything was sold out!
Tip: There are some super cute airbnbs in the mid keys. It also makes for a convenient stop. Would highly recommend staying at the mid keys overnight and starting off your key west journey the next morning.
e) Anything and everything to do with water is way more fun at the upper/middle keys: The sunset at Key West is adorable, but for everything else, the relatively upper keys offer way more to satiate your adventurous spirit as well as your wallet. Hit John Pennekamp State Park for kayaking through a thick mangrove cover and for scuba diving/snorkeling. Hit Bahia Honda State Park for some downtime at the beach and/or camping. Stop by to greet the birds at the Bird Sanctuary (its free!). Marvel at the conservation and rescue efforts by the team at the Turtle Hospital, and interact with the rescued turtles there. And if you do want to explore a beach at Key West, we would recommend the one at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
Would we visit Key West again?
Hell yeah! But with the knowledge that there is so much more to explore and appreciate on the journey, that we had completely overlooked in our zeal to reach the much hyped destination. Some life lesson learnt here, huh? 🙂