Marathon is a city in Florida located in the Florida Keys, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay on the other. It is on somewhat of a long narrow island (Vaca Key). You will find all of the amenities of a small town including an excellent hospital, shopping and small airport. Mosquitos are less common than in some parts of the Keys, as they spray them. The waters are warm, clear and inviting. If you are visiting the Florida Keys, Marathon is a great choice to make your base. Marathon has more of a permanent population than some of the other Keys and a good base of services.
Marathon is located about two hours south of Miami and only accessed by driving South along US1, the Overseas Highway. There are several shuttles or private car services that can take you to your doorstep destination such as the Keys Shuttle. The town can be accessed by water, of course, and several marinas are available.
The local airport supports general aviation with a 5000' runway. Unfortunately, there is no scheduled air service to Marathon. There is a seaplane base on Marathon Key. Travelers who fly commercially will typically fly into Fort Lauderdale or Miami, and drive the rest of the distance (2-3 hours depending on traffic) to Marathon. Key West airport is also an option and is only one hour South down US 1.
Boaters can reach Marathon on the Atlantic side of the Keys or Florida Bay on the Gulf of Mexico side. Specially-marked Intracoastal Waterway takes you as far as Long Key. Numerous marinas are waiting, but make reservations ahead.
- Marathon Marina, +1 305-743-5367, 1021 11 St.
- Pancho Fuel Dock and Supplies, 1+ 305-743-2281, 1280 Oceanview Ave.
- Shelter Bay Marina, 1+ 305-743-7008, 77 Coco Plum Dr.
- Sombrero Marina, +1 305-743-0000, 35 Sombrero Blvd.
- Boot Key Harbor City Marina, +1 305-289-8877, 35th Street, Oceanside
- Captain Pip's Marina, +1 305-743-4403, 1410 Overseas Highway
- Hawk's Cay Marina, +1 305-743-7000, MM 61 Duck Key
- Key Colony Beach Marina, +1 305-289-1310, Key Colony Beach.
- Greyhound Lines +1-800-231-2222 or +1 305-296-9072 Service along the route between Miami Int. Airport and the Florida Keys.
- Keys Shuttle, ☎ +1 305 289-9997, toll-free: +1-888-765-9997. Door-to-door service between the Keys and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood Int. Airports.
- TransFloridian +1-877-246-4786 Luxury motorcoach service, door-to-door shuttle service, betweeen Miami Int. and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Int. Airports and the Florida Keys.
The best way to get around is to rent a car. The many attractions are not close together and public transportation is scarce and can be inconvenient and costly with families. The island is flat and lends itself well to a bicycle. Although there are few beach areas, the area is loaded with marinas catering to most water sports. Charters are available for all activities.
When driving near the southwest end of the Key, be aware that once you pass Knights Key Blvd, you begin crossing the Seven Mile Bridge, and there is no place to turn around for about 7 miles. Missing your turn can therefore mean a 14-mile detour!
- Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, 5550 Overseas Highway, ☎ +1 305-743-9100. 9AM-5PM Monday to Saturday, 12PM-5PM Sunday. Here you can learn about the native key inhabitants as well as native animals. There is also a simulated coral reef cave that everyone will be able to enjoy. Children of all ages can enjoy a touch-me-tank that houses different aquatic life. $12.50.
- The Dolphin Research Center, 58901 Overseas Highway, ☎ +1 305 289-0002. 9AM-4:30PM. Learn about dolphins in a natural environment. There are many programs offered here to get participants encounter dolphins on a one on one basis or in a group setting. If you want to go to the research center for a tour, you can just show up, but if you want to participate in an interactive program, booking should be done in advance. $25.
- Pigeon Key, 1 Knights Key Boulevard (ferry departure point) (Only reachable by ferry, access from the old bridge is closed), ☎ +1 305-743-5999, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 10AM to 4PM. A historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. This was the site of one of the work camps in the early 1900s used during the construction of Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway. Many of the original buildings still stand. Get a unique closeup view of the old Railway, which was converted to a highway in 1938, then closed in the 1980s after US 1 was rerouted. $12.
- Seven Mile Bridge (Just drive down US 1, you can't miss it). Part of the Overseas Highway, just south of Marathon, it is one of the longest segmental bridges in the world and spans the shallow channel between Key Vaca and Little Duck Key. The area around the bridge is one of the most popular Tarpon fishing areas in the United States. Portions of the old rail/road bridge are open to the public to allow fishing. Free.
- The Turtle Hospital, 2396 Overseas Highway, ☎ +1 305-743-2552. 10AM, 1PM, and 4PM. This attraction provides educational tours through the facility letting each of its participants learn about the life of turtles in Florida. Reservations recommended, but if you don't have one, don't let it stop you turning up at tour time. There is usually room for one or two more on a tour. (305) 743-2552.
Sombrero Beach-Located at Mile Marker 50, Oceanside. Turn off U.S. 1 at Sombrero Beach Blvd., and drive to the end of the road. There is free parking at this beach, so bringing a car will not be a burden or added expense. The beach and picnic area was recently renovated in 2003 and now provides an excellent picnic lunch stop for the whole families. Shady trees and warm breezes will allow everyone to relax. There is a roped off area for swimming and a nice public restroom with outdoor wash facilities. The hours are from 7AM until dusk.
Snorkeling-There are many different charter boats that take groups out to the various aquatic reefs. Spirit snorkeling is one of the reputable companies that can take you to sombrero beach reef. Through this company, it is $30 for an adult to snorkel and children under 5 are free with a paid adult. If you are not into snorkeling, you can still go out on the boat and enjoy the views from the deck and chat up with the boat crew. Coolers are allowed for lunch or snacks as they are not provided for you. Reservations can be made by calling +1 305 289-0614.
Diving-As with snorkeling there are many different charter services that you can go through. Even if you are not a certified scuba diver, many of these services offer time of instruction and a chance to get acquainted with the equipment, and later on in the day a chance to go out on a dive. One of the larger companies in the area is Tilden's Scuba Center which has two locations, one of them being in Marathon at Mile Marker 49.5. Reservations and rates vary depending on what activity you want to participate in and how experienced a diver you are. For reservations or inquires call +1-888-728-2235. Open seven days a week.
Kayaking - The waters around Marathon are great for both beginner and experienced kayakers to explore. The most experienced kayaking outfitter in the middle Keys is Marathon Kayak. Guided eco-tours are available each day and rentals are available by the half day, full day and week, with free delivery. For reservations or inquiries call +1 305 395-0355. www.marathonkayak.com
Fishing There are a series of three humps located on the edge of the continental shelf off of the Florida Keys. These humps are loosely called seamounts, because they are like mountains rising from the ocean floor. Worldwide, there are thousands of these structures. Some are remnants of underwater volcanoes; others may have once been emergent islands. Wherever you find them, seamounts are unique marine habitats.
The Marathon Hump, originally called the West Hump, is 27 miles South East of Marathon and is one of the favorite fishing spots for charter boats and private boats. This hump or mound rises from 1150 feet on the east side to 480 feet from the surface. The Marathon Hump is located almost exactly in the middle of the Gulf Stream where the current runs the hardest. Large eddy currents form from the constant easterly flow of the Gulf stream, forcing bait to the surface. This bait draws larger fish which draws larger fish and so on. On a good day, hundreds if not thousands of terns will be feeding over schooling Black Fin Tuna and Dolphin crashing bait. The feeding frenzy in turn attracts large numbers of sea birds and is a perfect way to find the fish.
The list of gamefish caught on the Hump includes dolphin, wahoo, blackfin tuna, huge amberjack, blue marlin, sailfish, white marlin and big sharks, chiefly makos and great whites. Fishing deep on the bottom, you might catch snowy grouper, queen snapper and a variety of other bottom dwellers. You just never know what you might hook out there but can always sure that the Tuna and Bonita will always give you plenty of great light tackle action and everything else will just be icing on the cake.
Each populations of different species of fish find its own comfort zone, according to depth and water temperature. In the case of the Hump, bottom dwellers prefer to stay close to rocky structure on the seamount, while tuna and bonito are normally seen on the fishfinder at about 100 to 200 feet down. Billfish and other pelagics, such as dolphin and wahoo can be found anywhere in the water column.
The time-proven method for catching blackfin tuna on the Hump is to troll a combination of small artificials and skirted ballyhoo 150 yards behind the boat, at 7 to 8 knots. The captain locates the crown of the Hump and then trolls into the current, oftentimes chasing diving birds, and bait sprays, caused by blackfins chasing schools of flyingfish or other baits. Modern techniques for catching blackfin tuna include anything from trolling large deep-diving artificals, run straight from the rod, or on downriggers, to chumming with live bait.
To effectively chum with live bait, the captain runs upcurrent of the crown of the Hump, and then as the bottom begins to rise, dumps several hundred live baits overboard. The schools of bait will dash beneath the boat, in an attempt to hide, but can be easily washed out by kicking an engine in gear. The tuna rise to the bait, and can be caught by sight-casting live bait on spinning tackle, or even using a fly. Many world-record blackfin have been caught while anglers used live chum.
Pulling a big lure on the shot gun line is a good idea. Marlin, Makos, Wahoo and bigger Yellowfin tuna, like eating Black Fins. They don't always want to play, but the hump is a great place to hook a fish of a lifetime. A few miles south of the hump is the wall. Here the water drops to over 1000 feet. A great place to dust off those big marlin lures and see how they work. If you find birds working, get ready for just about any pelagic you can imagine. How to Get There
Here are the GPS and loran coordinates for navigation to four productive seamounts off the Florida Keys. Latitude and longitude are in degrees, minutes and tenths, so set your GPS unit accordingly. The humps are fairly substantial bottom features, and slight aberrations in GPS or loran accuracy are easily remedied by keeping an eye peeled for rips formed by current changes, birds feeding overhead and other boats working the area. A depthfinder will also prove useful.
Coordinates given for the Key Largo Hump, listed below, are based on a rough midpoint; it's actually less of a hump and more of an "S" curve between 280 and 330 feet off French Reef.
Key Largo Hump GPS: 25-00.661' N; 80-16.8'W Loran: 14133.7; 43217.8 Depth: 280-330 ft.
Islamorada Hump GPS: 24-48.175' N; 80-26.674' W Loran: 14098.3; 43266.4 Depth: 294 ft.
409 Hump GPS: 24-35.5' N; 80-35.5' W Loran: 14064.6; 43311.8 Depth: 409 ft.
Marathon Hump (West Hump) GPS: 24-25.528' N; 80-45.328' W Loran: 14032.3; 43358.5 Depth: 516 ft. Source:
Marathon is not really a shopping mecca, however this may be the spot to look for marine, hardware, grocery and other travel needs. In Marathon, if you find yourself in need of bathing suits or other sun essentials just drive down US1 which is the main highway and you will be sure to find many shops to fulfill your needs. You will find better prices and selection here than less populous areas of the Keys.
Fresh seafood is abundant, stone crab claws when in season are a great local favorite and can easily be found cooked, chilled, ready to eat and give a new meaning to fast food. Stone crabs only give up one claw, then are returned to the water to give another day and allow for regeneration of the missing claw. Yum. Be extra careful when buying fish and shrimp off of pick up truck vendors along the road. If you have any doubts about the freshness of the offerings, move on. Another local favorite to look for is the Key Lime pies, available throughout the area. Numerous fish houses are to be found, offering fresh seafood plates at reasonable prices, at less than fancy places. A key to quality may be the number of local automobile licenses in the parking lot. Many restaurants will also cook your catch, if you are fishing. The price is reasonable, they provide the side dishes and clean up the mess for you.
- Hideaway Cafe, Located at the Rainbow Bend Resort Mile Marker 58, +1 305 289-1554. This restaurant is on the more expensive side and would be nice for a romantic evening for two or a family dinner overlooking the ocean. Seafood, poultry, and beef are the main staples at this restaurant. Since it does over-look the ocean and tends to get crowded early, make reservations.
- Herbie's, Located at Mile Marker 50.5 6350 Overseas Highway, +1 305 743-6373. This is the local hangout for many people that live here year round. This is a great place to eat for burgers and fries. Seating is limited and it tends to get packed in the evening. Reservations are not required.
- Tom's Harbor House, 61 Hawks Cay Blvd (make a left at Hawks Cay MM 61). 4PM-midnight. Featuring a hook & cook program and fun, family friendly atmosphere. $17.00/avg.
There is a real variety of places to sleep. If you have reservations and show up to find the accommodations unacceptable, do not hesitate to complain or check out. There are some beautiful accommodations to be found in the marina areas that are floating, two story efficiency rooms with bath, kitchen and balcony that can be rented by the day or week at reasonable cost. These are a great choice and offer a fantastic view and privacy. Some of the cottages being offered are very old, have had little repair and may have moisture/humidity problems due to being in shaded areas. Again, if you find it unacceptable, move on. There are few times you will find rooms unavailable, exceptions may be when the weather is bad and forces the bigger pleasure boats into port, and during the Fantasy Fest in Key West, when the rooms fill up fast.
- Bonefish Resort, 58080 Overseas Highway (MM 58 Oceanside), ☎ +1 305-743-7107. Guest rooms, efficiencies, deluxe efficiencies (some with ocean view), pool, paddle boats & kayaks available for rent.
- Gulf View Waterfront Resort, 5874 Overseas Highway (MM 58.5, Gulf side), toll-free: +1-877-289-0111. Guest rooms, efficiencies, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, all nonsmoking, pets allowed. Pool, putting green, aviary, hammocks, bicycle rentals, complimentary paddle boats/canoes/kayaks, boat dock available.
- Gulfstream Trailer Park +1 305-743-5619, 880 37th St. Gulf.
- Jolly Roger Trailer Park, +1 305-289-0404, 59275 Overseas Highway.
- Key R.V. Park +1 305-743-5164, 6099 US1 Hwy.
- Knight's Key Campground +1 305-743-4343, P.O. Box 525.
- Lion's Lair Travel Park +1 305-289-0606, Rt 2 Box 390.
Theft can be a problem in this area, keep all valuables out of sight in parked cars. If you are bringing, or on a boat, keep an eye on it. There are more outboard motors stolen here than anywhere in the state, some say they end up in Cuba.
- Pay attention to the weather. The Keys are a narrow band of islands that offer little protection from tropical storms. In the past storms have generated waves with enough strength to demolish bridges and topple freight trains and engines sitting on tracks. The locals seem immune to these dangers, rely on National Weather reports, rather than the opinion of locals. If it is suggested you go back to the mainland, do so immediately. There is only one highway out and it can become clogged quickly. The Overseas Highway can and will be closed for a period should a car or truck accident occur. Always allow extra time if traveling back to the mainland to meet a flight or cruise.
|Routes through Marathon|
|Miami ← Duck Key ←||N S||→ Big Pine Key → Key West|