Dry Tortugas National Park, Dry Tortugas
Tel: 305 242 7700
Concierge.com's insider take:
These seven islands 70 miles west of Key West are a snorkeler's dream. The colorful coral reefs just a few feet offshore are populated by tropical fish and Queen conchs (there are free maps at the ranger's office). Back on land, you can tour Fort Jefferson, America's largest 19th-century coastal fortification. The fort was begun in 1846 but never completed despite three decades' worth of construction. It most famously served as a prison where John Wilkes Booth's unknowing accomplice Dr. Samuel Mudd was incarcerated (and later pardoned for his services during a yellow fever outbreak). The entire archipelago has also been designated a wildlife sanctuary to protect the nesting grounds of the sooty tern here; January is peak time for sightings.
There are two ways to reach the Dry Tortugas: by sea and by air. Taking the swoony 40-minute flight over the Gulf of Mexico is the faster but more expensive option (from $229 per person; 305-294-0709; www.seaplanesofkeywest.com). By sea, the high-speed ferry Yankee Freedom takes a couple of hours and can be choppy (bring Dramamine), but it's much better value ($159 per person including breakfast, lunch, island tour, and snorkel gear; 800-322-0013; www.yankeefreedom.com).