Exploring Dry Tortugas National Park

There’s a hidden treasure near Key West that not many people venture out to see, Dry Tortugas National Park. My whole trip to Key West revolved around Dry Tortugas. Key West was beautiful! The atmosphere was fun, the food was amazing, the water was beautiful, but the highlight of my trip was visiting Dry Tortugas. I highly recommend adding this destination to your Key West list!

Dry Tortugas National Park in the Keys, Florida
Dry Tortugas National Park
Brick hallways in Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is home to Fort Jefferson. It’s hard for me to decide which I loved more: the waters or the fort! Construction on Fort Jefferson began in 1846 and continued for 30 years, but it was never fully completed. Dry Tortugas became a National Park in 1992. Fort Jefferson is the most well constructed fort that America built. Its walls are 8 feet thick and the entire fort is surrounded by a moat. At the time the fort had a feature that no other did: doors that stayed closed and only opened when canons were fired.

The stunning waters around Dry Tortugas National Park
History

Dry Tortugas got its name because of the abundance of sea turtles in the area. Sailors that were on the sea for long periods of time could go to Dry Tortugas and catch turtles to eat. That’s where “Tortugas” came from. Dry Tortugas is surround by the third largest coral reef in the world, so there aren’t any huge waves that crash on the island. Because of this, ship crews would go to Dry Tortugas to do repairs in the calm waters. But if for some reason sailors got stuck there, there was no fresh water on the island, so it’s a “Dry” island. Which is why it’s called Dry Tortugas. The name was both a warning and a tip!

View from the top of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas became a National Park in 1992. The park is being preserved, so no guard rails have been installed. Bricks all over the fort are loose and some are falling, so you have to watch your step. Our guide told us that the entire floor is a tripping hazard! Also, there are no bathrooms on Dry Tortugas! The ferry to the park arrives daily at 10:30 and departs at 2:45. The ferry has four bathrooms, and they are open not only to passengers, but those camping overnight on the island as well.

Moat surrounding For Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
What I took

The ferry includes breakfast and lunch. You can also buy snacks outside of meal hours and after lunch you can purchase alcohol. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about bringing food on the tour. I wore my bathing suit under a dress and sandals. I took a dry bag with me in case I got near the water. Inside my dry bag I had a book, my GoPro, a towel, some snacks, water, a hat, a portable charger, and sunscreen. The tour also recommends you take bug spray! Be sure to apply sunscreen more than once. The sun is hot at Dry Tortugas! I ended up not getting in the water, but if you plan on snorkeling, you might want to take a towel and a change of clothes.

Adventures on the Island
The South Coaling Dock Ruins at Dry Tortugas National Park

Since the visit to Dry Tortugas is only four and a half hours (definitely not enough time to fully explore), you can choose to snorkeling or go on a tour of Fort Jefferson. There are actually two tours offered: a 20 minute and an 1 hour tour. Technically, you can go on the 20 minute tour and snorkel, but it’s difficult to snorkel and do the 1 hour tour. Of course, you are free to explore on your own as well!

Fort Jefferson Tour
View from the top of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

I love history, so I opted for the 1 hour tour. Once we docked I walked around on my own while the 20 minute tour was conducted. Then I ate and got ready for the 1 hour tour! Our tour guide was Hollywood & he was great! We received a lot of information on the history of Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson. I tried to cover some of this information already! But if you love history, you need to go on the 1 hour tour. There’s so much that’s covered during it.

Snorkeling
Breathtaking view of the waters surrounding Dry Tortugas National Park

I didn’t get the chance to snorkel, but others told me it was incredible. So that means I’ll have to make another trip out to Dry Tortugas! Snorkel equipment is included with the ferry booking, or you can bring your own gear. When snorkeling, it is asked that you only view the coral, but don’t touch it since touching the coral can damage or kill it. It’s very important to preserve the natural habitat!

Ferry Ride
Yankee Freedom III Ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park

The only way to the island is by ferry or a private plane. I chose to take the ferry! Be sure to book a ferry ticket before your trip! There are stands all around Key West that sell ferry tickets to Dry Tortugas, but the only way to make sure you can get a seat is to book in advance. Ferrys have been taking tourists to Dry Tortugas since 1977. The Yankee Freedom III Ferry to Dry Tortugas leaves out of Key West at 8:00 am. The ferry arrives at Dry Tortugas National park around 10:30 am, then leaves Dry Tortugas at 2:45 pm. So you’re spending roughly four and a half hours at Dry Tortugas. The ferry arrives back at Key West around 5:30 pm.

Dry Tortugas National Park in the Keys, Florida
What to Expect on the Ferry

Breakfast and lunch are served on the ferry. For breakfast there were bagels, fruit, eggs, cereal, orange juice, coffee, and water. Lunch was sandwiches with chips, cookies, and sodas. You can also buy snacks after lunch (chips, candy bars, etc.) and alcohol is for sale.

I don’t get motion sickness, but the guides told us how sick people get from the rough waves on the ferry ride if they don’t take dramamine (even if they don’t usually get motion sickness) and I got nervous. I ended up taking dramamine on the ferry to and from Dry Tortugas, I didn’t want to chance it! Personally, I didn’t think the waters were that rough, but it’s better to be safe than sorry! You can bring your own, or you can buy some from the ferry before or during the trip.

More Information
View of the moat surrounding Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is in the Florida Keys, 70 miles west of Key West. If the day trip doesn’t give you enough time, consider camping at Dry Tortugas. Your ticket with the ferry not only includes snorkeling gear, but also admission into the National Park.

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