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Why Is Key West So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

Pier on the port of Key West, Florida at sunset

 

Key West refers to the collection of small tropical islands, or Keys, at the Southern-most part of Florida (and the Southern-most point in the entire United States).

It’s a trendy place to travel.

It’s also a great place to retire or live if you work in the hospitality industry.

Everyone expects paradise to come with a hefty price tag.

However, it can be hard to justify at first.

Here are the top 10 reasons Key West gets so expensive and ways to lower the costs.

 

1. Location

Southernmost Point Continental USA at Key West, Florida

 

Key West is the Southernmost point in the entire United States, only 80 miles away from Cuba.

When you arrive, you may marvel at how separate from the rest of the country the area seems.

Of course, you need to get there first.

You can fly in directly to Key West International Airport.

However, that can be expensive.

Many people decide to fly into Miami Airport instead since it’s a much larger airport with more affordable rates.

If you fly into Miami, be aware that you will have a scenic yet long three- to four-hour drive from Miami to Key West.

Being in such a remote location makes getting goods to the area more expensive as well.

That’s why the cost of living index in Key West is an incredibly high 154.8, the highest in the entire state of Florida.

Finally, being so close to Cuba presents unique advantages and disadvantages.

The government in the area must pay for advanced security at the borders.

The residents and tourists contribute to the security efforts through taxes and the aforementioned high cost of living.

For most visitors and residents, the location’s advantages far surpass the disadvantages.

 

Extraordinary Scenery

The tropical southern location allows for gorgeous tropical scenery.

Everywhere you look, you will see golden beaches and brilliant blue water that goes on far beyond the horizon.

You can smell the refreshing salt in the air.

Palm trees tower into the clear blue sky scattered with small, fluffy white clouds.

When the sun goes down, you will get to enjoy gorgeous sunsets that include just about every color you can imagine.

Take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime backdrop by taking plenty of pictures.

A picture may not capture the visual brilliance of experiencing Key West in person, but they get as close as possible without actually being there.

 

2. Weather

Footbridge to the Smathers beach on sunrise - Key West, Florida

 

As a tropical paradise, Key West has warm weather and sunshine for the majority of the year.

The climate shares similar characteristics with much of Southern Florida, such as Miami, but just slightly more tropical.

Enjoy 260 sunny days a year compared to the national average of 205.

In the summer, the average high is 89 degrees.

In January, the average low doesn’t fall below 64 degrees.

You rightly don’t expect any snow, and Key West usually doesn’t get any at all.

People who suffer through cold winters will pay a lot of money to escape and experience the sunshine and warmth.

However, that doesn’t mean you are guaranteed great weather at all times of the year.

Most people visit Key West in April or May, right before the summer months become uncomfortably hot.

Once summer is over, visitors may experience the rainy season and even possibly a hurricane.

The tropical climate creates a great environment for a number of fruits and vegetables.

Most of the produce you find in the area is extremely fresh.

Plus, most plants grow all year long.

Despite sharing a name with the delicious key lime pie, you will not find key limes growing naturally in Key West anymore.

Just don’t forget your sunscreen when eating an orange or a mango.

You should also have adequate cooling for days that reach dangerously high temperatures.

 

3. Lodging

Blue green Key West harbor in tourist area, Key West Florida

 

When you get to Key West, you need a place to put your items and lay your head in between your daily adventures.

That place is usually a hotel.

You may be shocked at the cost, though.

From the very beginning, you should plan to spend an exorbitant amount of money on your hotel.

Key West has the most expensive lodging in the entire United States during peak season.

The average cost of a double room in Key West over President’s Day weekend in 2021 was $472 per night.

You will need to pay more for luxury amenities, such as a perfect view or a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom.

You can always opt to travel to Key West during the off-season to get a bit of a discount.

However, the average hotel room will still cost $250 a night.

It really won’t be worth it if it rains throughout your entire trip, so most people stick to planning their visit during the peak season to have the best experience.

In order to minimize the cost of your hotel, you can compromise on amenities.

You should spend most of your time outside of the hotel exploring anyway, so you probably don’t need luxurious rooms with a lot of space or an ultra-large bed.

Ask about discount rooms that only come with the bare minimum.

It’ll still be comfortable, but it won’t have the unnecessary extras that will only go unutilized.

You can also look into alternatives to hotels.

For example, you can find an Airbnb.

You may also find a bed and breakfast or a hostel, but you might be required to share a bathroom or even a bedroom.

 

House Market

About 25,000 people have decided to make Key West their home, and it looks like more people want to follow suit.

After a relatively disappointing 2019 resulting in only 191 homes sold, the number increased dramatically in 2020 to 286.

That’s over a 50% increase!

The median price of a Key West home in July of 2020 was $635,000, a 9% increase from July 2019.

While some people are deterred by the high cost of living, many people from the city are relatively used to it.

Plus, after living in the chaotic hustle and bustle of the city for years, Key West offers a peaceful change of pace.

It’s a seller’s market, especially since prices show a trend of increasing over time.

It’s best to buy now to take advantage of the growing market before it’s too late.

 

4. Unique Ecosystem

Coral Reef and Tropical Fish in Sunlight

 

Key West boasts the third-largest barrier reef in the entire world and the largest (and only) barrier reef in North America.

For many people, Key West offers the only practical way to experience a coral reef in person.

The coral reef in Key West stretches the length of the Florida Keys for more than 350 miles.

The coral reef provides a home to more than 500 types of fish and 40 species of stony coral.

You may even see dolphins, manatees, and sharks.

Naturally, you will have the opportunity to explore the coral reef by scuba-diving.

While you may be able to see some things from the comfort of your boat, you won’t get the full experience unless you actually get into the water.

The local authorities work hard to preserve the coral reef.

Not only do they want to support the environment, but the coral reef sustains 70,000 jobs and approximately $8 billion toward the economy.

However, thanks to added acidity in the water and climate change, only about 2% of the original coral still exists.

As part of the effort to preserve the coral reefs, the environmental organization Reef Relief supports 116 buoys designed to prevent additional damage to the reef due to anchor damage or other trauma.

 

5. Transportation

Seven Miles bridge. Florida Keys. Aerial photo

 

A complex system of 42 car bridges connects the Florida Keys to the rest of the state, including the longest bridge, the Seven Mile Bridge.

All routes offer majestic views you will not want to miss.

If you choose to drive, you will need to spend money on gas.

Unfortunately, the price of gas in Florida recently hit a seven-year high with an average of $3.17 per gallon for standard gas.

While prices fluctuate greatly, gas prices in Key West consistently cost about $0.10 to $0.30 more per gallon than average.

While you won’t use up too much gas while driving around the island, you will use up a lot of gas if you decide to travel to a new location since Key West is rather far from all other major cities and landmarks.

In fact, Key West is closer to Cuba than it is to Miami.

However, you may not have access to a car or want to spend the money on a rental and gas.

Luckily, you can find a wide range of alternative methods to get around.

If you are going somewhere close, you can use a bike or motorized scooter to get around.

For people who appreciate the speed, you may be able to rent a motorcycle.

Buses and trolleys also transport people to the most popular destinations.

 

6. Entertainment

The historic and popular Sloppy Joe's Bar on Duval Street in downtown Key West.

 

Not that anyone could get bored of the serene beaches, but tourists have a large number of options when it comes to entertainment.

You can choose among a wide range of museums that will interest people who enjoy literature, science, and history.

You also have the option to go to different concerts and shows, depending on who is in the area at the time.

Finally, you can enjoy walking and people-watching around town.

You will probably see impressive street performers who entertain the crowds for tips.

One street performer during a recent visit performed tricks on a unicycle while another one did tricks with their dog.

The street performers don’t charge an admission fee, but it supports the community when you tip the acts you liked the most.

 

7. High-Quality Food

tacos in mexico, mexican food, tacos al pastor

 

When in Key West, you should forget your diet and enjoy the food.

Being a tourist destination, you have to expect prices to be a little bit higher than you’re used to.

However, the food is sure to be great!

Being on the ocean, seafood lovers will find themselves in a food paradise with fresh seafood options around every corner.

If you have the opportunity to sample the fresh fruit, you should definitely give that a try, as well.

Since Key West is so close to Cuba and contains a large Latin population, you will also find numerous Latin-inspired restaurants and food carts with everything from Mexican tacos, Cuban sandwiches, Puerto Rican rice, and Spanish paella.

For people who don’t like seafood or Latin food, you are sure to find something you enjoy, such as pizza or burgers, at one of the 400 restaurants in the small four-mile area of Key West.

 

8. Party Environment

pub full of womans underwared as a decoration

 

People come to Key West to relax and enjoy themselves.

You’ll be able to feel the party in the air as soon as you arrive.

That’s because community leaders work hard to maintain the party atmosphere to keep energy levels high in tourists.

It’s a shame if you visit and don’t take the time to enjoy a couple of cocktails at your resort or one of the numerous bars.

Embrace the party environment.

You’ll feel a part of the party when you catch up with other tourists and locals while music plays in the background.

Socially lubricated strangers laughing around you will feel like old friends, and you may even actually develop true friendships.

While entertaining and fun, plan to spend a substantial amount of money on drinks.

Not only do the drinks add up over the course of a couple of nights, but the drinks cost slightly above average.

Many bars must handle the endless party and the mess left behind every morning.

They also put themselves in a somewhat risky position when it comes to damage to their building.

To make up for the additional staff and supplies, the cost of cleaning and repairs, they make it up in the cost of the drinks.

If you plan to drink your own liquor on the beach to save money, you will find yourself disappointed since Key West beaches strictly prohibit open containers of liquor.

Not allowing drinking on the beach helps the government contain empty cans and bottles that can diminish the beauty of the beaches, so you have to pay the high cost for the drinks at the designated locations if you want to drink.

Getting caught drinking your own liquor at the beach will lead to a hefty fine more expensive than the cost of a couple of drinks at the appropriate location in the first place.

The authorities have signs everywhere and ignorance isn’t an excuse in the eyes of the law, so don’t try saying you didn’t know the rules.

Some people choose to turn away from the party environment and instead solitarily embrace the peace of the ocean breeze coming in from the gentle waves.

You can reduce your stress levels and increase positivity by relaxing in one of the most beautiful places in the world while ignoring the parties in the streets.

You may even be able to visit a spa and get a massage to really rub the relaxation into your bones.

 

9. Cultural Significance

aerial view over northern key west including mallory square and cruise liner

 

Key West has a proud and colorful history filled with famous names.

Ponce de Leon discovered the Florida Keys in 1513.

The common myth is that he was searching for the mythical Fountain of Youth.

While he may not have found immortality, he was the first person to walk on the land that would make people feel young for generations.

In 1845, the Florida Keys officially became a part of the United States of America with the rest of Florida as the 27th state.

One of the most popular Key West residents was the great Ernest Hemmingway.

Hemingway and his wife lived in Key West from 1931 to 1939 in the famous Hemingway House.

Hemingway and his wife kept the home in their possession even after they left Key West.

Now, you can tour the house yourself to learn more about Hemmingway’s love affair with Key West.

In the house, you’ll get the opportunity to look through Hemmingway’s personal possessions, such as furniture and his library.

However, the most striking thing about the house is the 50 six-toed (polydactyl) cats on the property cared for by management in honor of Hemingway’s own fondness for cats, especially six-toed cats.

Hemingway received a six-toed cat as a gift and considered the deformity good luck.

 

10. Tourism Industry Halt

View Slopppy Joe's Bar in Duval Street a landmark in Key West circa 2012

 

The tourism industry experienced a dramatic upset during the recent pandemic.

For an extremely long time in terms of business, harsh restrictions on public outings caused the entire tourism industry to impatiently wait on pause.

Considering tourism makes up the majority of the Key West economy, the area had virtually no income coming in.

However, the bills continued to accrue.

Now that people are feeling comfortable going on vacation again, Key West businesses needed to increase prices a bit to make up for the income they lost.

When visiting Key West, we must all do our part to adhere to Covid-19 safety precautions.

Whether you agree with wearing masks or not, this simple act can make visitors feel safe.

More and more people will vacation again, spending more money.

It’s also best to wash hands and sanitize often.

If you do feel sick, do everyone a favor, and stay in the hotel, and relax in solitude by the pool.

With that being said, it’s completely safe to visit Key West right now.

Plane tickets are lower than normal, too, thanks to the low demand.

Take advantage of the opportunities while you can.

Just take the proper precautions!

 

Conclusion

All vacations cost money.

However, not all vacations are worth the money you spent.

Key West may cost more than you expected thanks to its remote location and tropical paradise surroundings, but you will surely have a good time.

Key West runs on island time, and it’s always five o’clock somewhere.

If you make the most of your experience, it will feel like a steal.

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