The Florida Keys are best known for sparkling turquoise water, palm tree lined beaches, and fresh seafood. This island chain off the southern tip of Florida is also known as a hot tourist destination.
With flocks of sun seekers making the trip down US 1, and even more floating in on the massive cruise ships that dock in Key West, the crowds are plentiful and the prices at restaurants, popular attractions, and even campgrounds reflect the high demand.
In spite of the high cost associated with the Florida Keys, it is possible to camp and vacation on these tropical islands without breaking the bank. Follow these simple tips and tricks for saving money while camping in paradise.
How to save money on camping fees
Visit during the off-season
The campgrounds in the Florida Keys are far more expensive during the busy season from December through March. To save money, why not go in the off-season instead?
Spring and late fall can be quite nice in the Keys. October and November are especially appealing with near-perfect weather, fewer visitors, and cheaper camping fees.
The summer months are the cheapest, but also not ideal when it comes to weather. With temperatures climbing into the 90s, high humidity, and rain nearly every day, it may be a little more uncomfortable to visit this time of year.
Get the monthly rate
If your schedule allows, the best way to get a deal on camping in the Keys is by paying the monthly rate. Most RV parks offer a significant discount if you pay for a month at a time. Be sure to reserve early though as those spots fill up fast.
State parks are cheaper than private parks
There are four Florida State Parks in the Keys that offer spacious sites close to nature for a reasonable price. With the average per night price for private parks running over $100 (during the winter months), the state parks are by far the best deal in the Keys.
The four parks, Bahia Honda, Curry Hammock, Long Key, and John Pennekamp offer sites for around $40 per night. Considering that all of the parks have access to beaches, kayaking, trails, and even underwater reefs, this is one amazing deal. (Editor’s note: All are still recovering from Hurricane Irma.)
Look for a workamping or camp host job
What if you got to camp in the Florida Keys for free??? If you don’t mind doing a nominal amount of work in exchange for a campsite, then work camping at one of the state parks is an excellent option.
Here are a few resources that will help you find that perfect position for a month or two in paradise on the cheap:
How to save money on fun in the sun
Set limits & stick to them
If this is your first time visiting the Florida Keys you’re going to want to do it all. The options for tours and experiences are numerous and they all sound like fun.
But…if you go on the glass-bottom boat tour, sunset cruise, boat trip to the Dry Tortugas, guided kayak trip, deep sea fishing excursion, and rent that jet ski…you’re going to spend a LOT of money.
Instead of breaking the bank during one epic week, set limits and stick to them. Do some research ahead of time and decide on one or two things that you really want to experience instead of trying to cram it all in.
Shop around for the best deals
With a little diligence, it is possible to find discounts and deals on popular activities in the Florida Keys. There is a lot of competition between the numerous outfits that rent kayaks, bikes, and jet skis.
As a result, many offer deals and special prices to draw in the customers. By taking the time to shop around and compare prices you can often find good deals. In addition to deals on rentals, many of the popular attractions like museums and aquariums offer online coupons and discounts.
Before you go, check their website for coupons, or visit one of these deal websites:
Don’t miss out on free fun
There are countless ways to have fun in the Florida Keys for free. You could spend the day at one of the free public beaches, try your hand at fishing off one of the bridges, ride your bike on old US 1 (if you don’t have a bike you can rent one for around $10/day), walk down Duval Street, enjoy free entertainment at the sunset celebration at Mallory Square, tour the Wild Bird Center, go for a hike in the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge, or simply sit outside and enjoy the warm weather!
How to save money on food
Eat out early for the best deals
The Florida Keys has some amazing restaurants. From fresh seafood to Caribbean & Cuban-inspired cuisine, eating out is always a pleasure in the Keys.
But in order to keep your budget in check, try going out to eat earlier in the day. Lunch is always cheaper than dinner, and many places offer happy hour deals and discounts.
Expensive does not always mean better
Sometimes that cheap hole-in-the-wall place has better food than the fancy waterfront seafood restaurant. To save money on good eats, seek out smaller places off the beaten path.
You might be surprised to find a fantastic menu with local flair in the most unassuming location. Try some of these local favorites for great budget-conscious dining in the Keys:
- Bien – Key West
- Garbo’s Grill – Key West
- Duetto Pizza and Gelato – Key West
- Key Lime Cafe – Key Largo
- Frita’s Cuban Burgers – Key West
Eat and cook at home
Even if you enact a strict budget plan for eating out in the Florida Keys, the fact remains that if you eat out for every meal things are going to get pricey very fast. One way to save money is by preparing and eating food at home.
When you’re camping—especially in an RV—cooking at least one meal a day at home is simple. There are plenty of grocery stores in the Keys to keep your pantry stocked. In addition to pantry staples, there is also an abundance of places to buy fresh seafood produce.
Fresh seafood markets are located all up and down the Keys. Here you can buy fresh fish, lobster, clams, crabs, shrimp and so much more for a fraction of the cost you would pay in a restaurant.
From Key Largo to Key West these are some of the best fresh seafood markets:
- Key Largo Fisheries – Key Largo
- Mr. Lobster – Islamorada
- Key’s Fisheries Market & Marina – Marathon
- Fanci Seafood – Cudjoe Key
- Eaton Street Seafood Market – Key West
While the Florida Keys might be a chain of islands with not much space for growing crops, the rest of Florida is bursting with produce. Fortunately, the Keys are close enough to some of the major growing areas that local produce is easy to come by.
The produce at these markets is far cheaper than what you will find at the grocery store, and probably much fresher as well. Check out these markets for the best produce:
- Big Pine Flea Market: Weekends 8-12
- Key West Green Market: Thursdays 9-2
- Islamorada Green Market: Monday 9-3
Have you been to the Florida Keys before? Where would you recommend visiting?