AVERAGE COSTSBeer: $3-6
Restaurant Meal: $10-25
Accommodation: $60-400 in season per night
THE LURENicknamed 'Purple Island' because of its breathtaking sunsets, Islamorada is a tropical paradise within the United States. Tucked away in the south of Florida you'll find miles of shallow, clear, warm, turquoise waters surrounded by a laid-back lifestyle and feel, halfway between Miami and Key West. Bringing the family to totally unwind and do a range of activities, other than just kiteboarding? This is the place!
THE SET-UPThere are two launches in Islamorada / Upper Keys, the first and most popular being Whale Harbour Marina at mile marker 83.8. Plenty of parking, restrooms, bar, restaurants, boat and wave-runner support, activities for non-kiters, gear rentals from Seven Kiteboarding, air compressor, multiple downwind rescue points and incredible riding. Although there aren't any big beaches for launching in the Keys, the waters are shallow, so launching in the water is easy and it's quickly obvious why this is such a great area for kiting. Grass flats and sandbars are littered everywhere for exploring with clean winds from NNE to SW. Boat rides are offered to the Islamorada sandbar offshore for riding on all directions. Event site for Islamorada Invitational, a slider park is sometimes set up. It costs $10 per day to ride here, payable to the Harbour Master. Ten miles south is Anne's Beach, a city-owned park with restrooms, showers, picnic gazebos and a boardwalk. ENE through to SW winds work here, perfect for beginners as there is a nice downwind reach, but stay away from the deeper water near the bridge where there can be a strong current. Kiters generally use the southern car park but be aware that things can get busy on weekends and holidays. Also, the rigging area can be particularly tight at high tide. In general in this area it's a good idea to carry a $20 bill in your wetsuit just in case you need a lift back up to your launch. Also, always be mindful of the fishermen when you're kiting. But really you can just look forward to lots of warm, easy kitesurfing conditions, lovely, safe, shallow waters and as much space as you could dream of.
WIND, WEATHER AND WATERThe main windy season is October to June with early spring time being the most consistent for juice and the heat is beautiful at that time of year (it can be roasting in summer when the winds are lower). It's not unusual to have a few days 30+ knots back-to-back, but the prevailing easterlies are usually around 20 knots. Average sized riders mainly use 11-13 metre kites, but it is strongly recommended that you bring smaller, too. Water temperatures sit at 26 - 27°C / 77 - 80°F. Occasionally a cold front can turn over the bay and make things chilly enough for a full wetsuit, but for the most part just some boardies and maybe a rash guard. Want a video rundown? Then watch The Kite Show episode 7 in which Brad Lang from Seven Sports tells you about the area: www.thekiteshow.tv
ACCOMMODATIONHotels, resorts, B&Bs, RV camping grounds and campsites line the highway all the way down to Key West. There are lots of fantastic resorts, but the most notably kite-friendly ones are The Hampton Inn, situated just a few steps away from everything you might need, including the beach (www.keys-resort.com) and Islander Resort - a Guy Harvey Outpost, with a large beach front resort on the Atlantic side and a condo hotel on the Bayside (www.guyharveyoutpostislamorada.com). Just beyond Islamorada, virtually on its own island (Duck Key) is Hawks Cay Resort, a stunning development of waterfront houses and hotel rooms, with its own marina and resort facilities. It's a treat (www.hawkscay.com). Overall this area is a true haven for holiday-makers.
SCHOOLSSEVEN KITEBOARDING teach all levels year-round 1:1 or 2:1. Boasting 20 coaches, captains and guides, Seven also offer kite camps, some free clinics and gear rental from top brands. There's a fleet of 30 wave runners, four skiffs, two offshore boats and three pontoon boats available for charter and all lessons are PWC or boat supported. Wakeboarding, paddleboarding and fishing charters also available.
+1 (877) YES-2-FLY / 305 853 (KITE) 5483
NO WINDEvery spot on the peninsula is a bona fide 'sand box' for the kiddies with a huge array of sea life and a sea theatre. If a cocktail in hand by the sea becomes old news, take a paddleboard tour through the mangrove tunnels. Home to North America's only living reef, the scuba diving and snorkelling in this area is breathtaking. Kayaking, deep sea or pier fishing and sandbar parties will also keep you entertained. Rent a boat from Whale Harbour or get yourself a bucket of bait and feed the wild tarpon right off the dock? There's something here for the whole family to enjoy.
GET AROUNDOne long highway runs the length of the area, so it's easy to find your way around and a hire car will link everything up nicely. The 80 mile journey down to Key West is worth it. There is good kiting there but also an incredibly eclectic vibe, with the town packing in 120 bars and restaurants into just four short miles. There's everything from the bars with sunset view points to Cuban dance clubs, biker bars and many excellent restaurants. Key West is a must-visit experience, even if just for the day.
CURRENCYUnited States Dollar ($) - £1 = $1.6 / €1 = $1.4
FOOD AND DRINKLots of supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and stores can be found all along the highway and make sure you don't miss out on the seafood buffet at Whale Harbor for some monstrous crab legs and shrimp. Outback Steak House at the Hampton Inn is another winner for those who like their meat. Reggae bands provide the main flavour, but eclectic musical combos at the small beach and dockside venues, too. On our visit we really enjoyed eating at the waterfront Lazy Days, supposedly the best restaurant/bar in the Keys, although the restaurant managers at Hawks Cay might have something to say about that! Don't miss the full moon party at Morada Bay and late nights at Hog Heaven. Hang out at the pool or on the beach at Guy's Beachside Bar and Grill.
AIRPORTIslamorada is halfway between Miami International (MIA) and Key West (EYW) airports and will take you about 90 minutes to get to your hotel / accommodation.
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