So where is Dry Tortugas anyway? And how did such a unique national treasure get such a bizarre name? About 68 miles off the western tip of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is a group of tiny islets known for their sea turtles. The Spanish word for turtles is torgugas, explaining a portion of its unique name.

But what makes it dry, given that Dry Tortugas Park is surrounded by the waters of the crystal clear blue Caribbean? It turns out that the name comes from when the Spaniards occupied the islands, and they quickly discovered there was no fresh water available. So the islets eventually came to be known as the Dry Tortugas, or “dry turtles.” To this day, as a popular tourism destination, boaters must bring their own water to the islands.

First named a National Monument in 1935 by FDR, Dry Tortugas was designated a national park in 1992 at the end of George H. W. Bush’s term just before Bill Clinton won the November election. As the site of the unfinished Fort Jefferson, a civil war era brick structure briefly used as a prison to house Lincoln’s accused assassination conspirators, the strip of sandy cays and corral reefs is now a destination for eighty thousand tourists each year. Everyone leaves in amazement at the fascinating history of the former fort originally thought of as a defense against the real pirates of the Caribbean.

Visitors to Dry Tortugas can enjoy a large array of activities, from educational tours of Ft. Jefferson, to lazy days on the beach, to spectacular wildlife snorkel tours of the corral reef.

Of course, the only access to the island is by boat of sea plan. So if you want to book a trip, a Dry Tortugas charter will be necessary. There are some great discounts available on Dry Tortugas charters, Key West hotels, Key West snorkeling, and other recreation packages at Gold Card Key West.