Photo’s are here or you can just click on the photograph above.
Third time lucky! Canceled due to COVID-19 in December 2020 and shifted a week in April 2021 due to a re-scheduled art show (which itself had also been cancelled back in January due to COVID) it was a miracle that we ever got to Baker’s Cay for a long awaited 4-night weekend doing as little as possible in the northernmost Florida Keys. Considering all we had to do was throw a bag and some flip-flops in the back of the car and drive southeast for 4 hours to Key Largo the stars certainly took a while to line up for this trip!
Baker’s Cay Resort is one of Hilton’s “Curio Collection” of “unique hotels”. It rose from the wreckage of a previously hurricane-devastated Hilton Hotel upon which Hurricane Irma wreaked her wrath in 2017. Re-built and spruced up, it claims to exude “contemporary beachfront chic and bare-foot luxury” on the waters of Florida Bay. Understandably, it is a popular hotel with weekenders from Miami and wedding planners given its suitably relaxed vibe usually found only in the Caribbean.
For a four-night stay with easy access to the most famous dive and snorkel sites of the Keys you could certainly do worse than choose Baker’s Cay and book yourself into one of their King Waterfront Terrace rooms. We were in the Hammock Wing in a room on the top (fourth) floor with a terrace overlooking the secluded tree-lined beach front – perfect for sipping a cup of morning tea whilst watching the rising sun hit the treetops. From the vantage point of our terrace we could all but see our favorite beach sun loungers shaded in the dappled light under the trees on Hammock Beach – a 2 minute stroll from our room.
There were plenty of areas to relax in the sun or shade at the hotel – from hanging wicker basket chairs to huge padded sofas on the terrace at the larger beach (Coconut Beach) – but nothing beat watching the famous Key’s sunsets enjoyed with mojito in hand at the swing seats on the deck at the bar.
Still, it wasn’t all loafing around tanning, swimming and imbibing! The hotel includes use of their kayaks one of which we took out early one morning into the calm clear waters of the bay before the afternoon winds picked up. Geoff chose a particularly calm day to tackle an SUP whilst I supervised from a sun lounger I don’t think he found it particularly challenging to either “stand up” nor “paddle” on the board given the water was calmer than a lake.
The highlight of our long weekend was undoubtedly the afternoon we spent snorkeling with Paradise Below. From leaving the marina, it was half an hour with the wind billowing through our hair before we arrived at the first site – Grecian Rocks Reef. Because we were the only Floridians on the boat trip and the water had a temperature of roughly 76°F (which is colder than ice for Geoff ) we were also the only snorkelers in wet-suits. Probably completely unnecessary but I’ve also discovered over the years that jellyfish just love to dangle their tentacles over my unprotected delicate flesh so I wasn’t taking any risks despite the fact it wasn’t jellyfish season.
If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting snorkeling off the coast of the USA to be a particularly notable experience so imagine our surprise when we suddenly found ourselves in clear turquoise water with more living coral than we’ve seen in some areas of the Caribbean. We came nose to nose with a nurse shark who was much less interested in us than vice versa. Geoff managed to scare off a large manta ray in his efforts to photograph it. We navigated through ominous-looking gangs of barracuda lurking in the shadows (the feral hoodie youths of the sea) and swam amongst far prettier Blue Tang, Blue, Rainbow and Stoplight Parrot Fish, Grouper, Sergeant Major fish … and so on.
Back on the boat and 10 minutes further on we jumped back into the sea to snorkel at Dry Rocks Reef where, if you were prepared to make the extra effort, you could swim further out to reach the coral covered “Christ of the Abyss” which was an unexpected bonus. In 1965 the bronze statue of a 9 foot tall Christ was lowered 25 feet deep into the reef off the Keys. He was the third and last of the statues cast from the original mold created by an Italian artist as a memorial to those lost at sea. The original was lowered into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Liguria, Italy in 1954, a second was submerged in Grenada in 1961 and then the third in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo a few years later.
The Florida Keys are all about fish – under the water and on the dinner plate.
On arrival in Key Largo we stopped for lunch at Key Largo Fisheries Cafe – where you can see boats arriving with their haul as you eat on a covered patio overlooking the fishing boats in the marina. Lazy Lobster is directly off the Overseas Highway where we had lunch in their patio garden. Neither blew us away so we were more than happy to make the drive south to Islamorada where the food was considerably more impressive. Chef Michael’s is consistently rated as one of the top dinner restaurants in the area. It was excellent. However, the best restaurant by far was Square Grouper Bar and Grill in Islamorada on the Bayside – an upscale waterfront bar and restaurant which is always packed. Cocktails can be sipped on the red bar stools outside by the railing overlooking the inlet where you can watch the boats coming and going while you wait for your table. If there hadn’t been a wait we would have missed the party of inebriated punters on the floating tiki bar boat making its slow progress up and down the waterway
Whilst heading south from Key Largo towards Islamorada there are also two other worthy stops for the typical tourist. The Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory in Tavernier is a popular place – their key lime pies are sold plain, with chocolate or with meringue. It will take a week to recover from the sugar overdose if you make the same mistake that we did and order the meringue-topped version. I don’t usually take 3 days to finish a take-out dessert but this one was heavy going even for a sugar addict. Further south is the The Rain Barrel Arts and Crafts Village in Islamorada which has attracted tourists for the past 40 years with its artisanal stores set in attractive tropical gardens. If you are inclined to wait in line long enough you can even have your photo taken with Betsy the Lobster sculpture surrounded by dozens of other similarly inclined tourists. Betsy is a Florida Keys spiny lobster and she stands 30 feet tall and 40 feet long and purports to be the world’s largest lobster. She certainly appears to be the world’s most popular lobster
Great place for a long weekend in the sun!