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The Best Way To Get To The Dry Tortugas From Key West

Plan a Multi-day Catamaran Charter From Key West

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote and isolated parks in North America. It’s located 70 miles west of Key West and only accessible by boat or seaplane. The park is open 24/7, and it’s a beautiful destination for exploring, camping, or getting off the grid (there’s no cell service!). The weather is generally warm and tropical year-round, with December to March being the most popular time of year to visit the park.

With that being said, the Dry Tortugas high-speed ferry and seaplane tours are generally booked out months in advance. So what’s the best way to get to the Dry Tortugas? Private catamaran charter!

What is the history of Dry Tortugas National Park?

Fort Jefferson Dry Tortugas

Before you make the 70-mile journey to a secluded national park in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s probably a good idea to learn some background information about the area.

The Dry Tortugas is made up of seven keys — Garden Key, Loggerhead Key, Bush Key, Long Key, East Key, Hospital Key, and Middle Key — strategically located at the main shipping channel of the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean. The area was first discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513; the name was given for its large population of turtles (tortugas) and for its lack of fresh water (dry).

The Dry Tortugas is known for its beautiful coral reefs (albeit, treacherous for explorers in the early 19th century); so a lighthouse was built on Garden Key in 1825 to guide ships. Fort Jefferson was built on Garden Key in 1846 to protect the shipping channel and Gulf of Mexico. But the fort was never completed nor fully armed and is now a popular tourist attraction.

Is there an entry fee for the Dry Tortugas?

Yes. The entry fee is $15 per person that’s valid for 7 consecutive days. You can stay overnight at Fort Jefferson for an additional camping fee of $15 per night/per site.

If you arrive to the Dry Tortugas by private boat, fees and permits are collected through a self-service area on the main dock at Garden Key. Only cash is accepted. Private boats are only allowed to anchor overnight within one nautical mile of the Fort Jefferson harbor light.

What’s the best way to get to Dry Tortugas?

Captain onboard a private catamaran

The best way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park is by private boat! Chartering a yacht provides an exclusive experience to discover more of the area at your own pace. Day tours via ferry or seaplane are usually rushed and overcrowded, whereas a private yacht charter provides a fun, multi-day excursion from Key West. The best part of visiting this historic national park on a private charter though, is once the crowds from the high speed ferry and seaplane are gone, you'll have the entire park, campground, and beaches all to yourself!

Bluesail offers 5 - 7 day yacht charters onboard a 40 foot sailing catamaran from Key West. Guests can travel with hired crew as well. Sailing to the Dry Tortugas is a blast as you’ll get to discover the beautiful Florida Keys and Florida Barrier Reef in comfort and style!

What can you do at the Dry Tortugas?

Dry Tortugas National Park

Opting to travel by private boat to the Dry Tortugas means you get to discover more of the Florida Keys. Your days may be filled with snorkeling, swimming, paddle boarding, or exploring the sights on land.

Once you arrive at the Dry Tortugas and settle in at anchor, take the dinghy or paddle boards to Garden Key main docks and tour Fort Jefferson. During the 1860s, about 2,000 people lived at the fort as it was somewhat of a remote city. The fort was never completed thanks to a long list of obstacles that stem from its isolated location. There are designated snorkel areas on Garden Key where you can wade into the water to spot tropical fish, coral, starfish, and conchs. Bird watching is another popular activity on Garden Key (check out the Dry Tortugas bird checklist)!

Loggerhead Key is about 3 miles from Garden Key; access is limited to private boats as there’s no public transportation here — another perk to a private Dry Tortugas yacht charter! Once on land, walk to the lighthouse and spot wildlife along the way. You can also snorkel off the beach as the water is shallow, calm, and clear — Loggerhead Key is known for its abundance of loggerhead turtles as well, so keep a close eye out!

Just off of Loggerhead Key is the famous Windjammer Shipwreck, the site of an iron-hulled three-mast ship that sank in 1907. The wreck is divided into two parts: the 110-foot bow section that lies in an east-west direction, and the midship, stern, and mast structures that lie in a north-south direction (also about 110 feet in length). You can snorkel or scuba dive around the shipwreck, which is home to beautiful Florida marine life.

What should I bring to the Dry Tortugas?

A multi-day trip to the Dry Tortugas on a private boat is the most comfortable way to experience the park! Bluesail’s Sailing catamarans can sleep 6 people across 3 cabins. Each catamaran has a fully functioning galley with supplies for cooking and storing food. There’s also freshwater tanks onboard to keep you hydrated and clean. The boat is also equipped with all the latest navigation and radio equipment.

We already know what to pack for a day sail charter, so more clothes, bathing suits, food, and drinks are all you might need to add for a multi-day charter. Bonus: two stand-up paddle boards and snorkel gear come standard with your private catamaran! Remember, there are no restaurants, shops, water, cell service, or fuel available at the Dry Tortugas, so keep that in mind when planning. Bluesail will help you prepare for your multi-day Key West sailing trip so that you have a smooth experience!

Is the Dry Tortugas worth it?

Friends onboard a catamaran

Yes! The Dry Tortugas is 100% worth a visit! The park’s history combined with the beautiful setting of teal blue water, white sand beaches, and a 19th-century fort makes for an unforgettable experience! The Dry Tortugas has some of the best snorkeling in North America and you’re bound to see native wildlife throughout your charter.

While snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving, bird watching, kayaking, and paddle boarding are fun activities in the Dry Tortugas, it’s also the perfect destination to get off the grid and relax for a few days. A private boat is the best way to experience this tropical paradise as you can customize your trip and enjoy the Florida Keys at your own pace.

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