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Since 2000, the park has averaged less than 70,000 annual visitors and this might have to do with it being a cherished secret some 70 miles from Key West, or with the fact that you cannot just arrive there. A visit to Dry Tortugas National Park needs careful planning and packing and if you’re not early, you might not be allowed on. The number of people allowed on the islands at any one time is strictly limited to 68, and it’s strictly on a first come, first served basis.
There is only one campsite on the archipelago, it can house up to twenty campers at a time, and it is situated at the island called Garden Key, which is where Fort Jefferson is located. To visit, you need to pay an entrance fee which is a nominal $10 per camper. It’s a “pack in pack out” area, which means you must take away everything, including your refuse, back with you. All you can leave are your footprints. And while it is a primitive camping experience, with many restrictions, and rules, including the fact that you need to bring with your own drinking water and need to provide about 2 gallons per person per day, and the fact that you cannot make a wood fire and cannot bring fuel onto the islands, it is an unbelievably beautiful place to be.
While neither spearfishing nor lobster fishing is allowed in the park, in certain areas, you may fish, but please check all the regulations before doing so. Given the litany of research, the preservation ethos and the understanding of the potential extinction of some species of fish, you don’t want to muddle with ecological balances. The National Park’s compost toilets do not work between 10am and 3pm (you can use the ferry’s facilities during this time), and campers are asked to honor the request for quiet time between 10pm and 6am in the park. Out of respect for the environment, it’s a good idea to leave electronic sound equipment at home.
Weather is always an important consideration when you are visiting an island, and this is no small matter when it comes to Dry Tortugas. The weather, similar to the sighting of American crocodiles in the terrain, is unpredictable, and it is described as borderline subtropical, but you need to take careful precautions particularly when it comes to wind, which can be quite severe.
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