Closer to Cuba than to mainland Florida, KEY WEST has a culture that is a bit contrary to the rest of the mainland US. Famed for their tolerant attitudes and laidback lifestyles, the thirty thousand islanders seem adrift in a great expanse of sea and sky, and – despite a million tourists a year – the place resonates with an individual spirit. In particular, liberal attitudes have stimulated a large gay influx, estimated at two out of five of the population. Although Key West today has been heavily transformed for tourists, the town has retained some of its offbeat character, especially away from the main drag of Duval Street, now a well-tended tourist strip of boutiques and beachwear shops (though it’s still a pleasant place for a leisurely stroll).
Make sure to visit the Bahamian Village, centred on Thomas and Petronia streets. Originally settled by Cubans and African-Bahamians, this relatively unrestored, untouristy corner of town is an atmospheric patchwork of single-storey cigar-makers’ cottages, Cuban groceries and ramshackle old churches, all covered by a rich green foliage.