Budget Travel

The best methods to save on a budget trip to Key West

One of America's favorite winter destinations, the southernmost city in the continental USA is a four-mile-long sprawl of rainbow-colored Caribbean homes, shaded verandas, palmetto fronds, open-air bars and resorts with sea views. What Key West isn't, however, is affordable.

To enjoy the balmy winter sunshine – Key West sees daytime highs of 77°C, even just in January – you'll either need a healthy budget, or perhaps a little ingenuity and flexibility. By being selective about where you stay and eat and how you can get around, you can live our prime life with no princely holiday fund.

Here are our top suggestions for methods to save money on a trip to Key West anytime of year, but be aware that this makes your trip more affordable rather than truly cheap – think of it as "discount Key West" rather than "the Florida Keys on the shoestring."

Visit Key West within the off-season

Unless you're totally set on winter sun, the simplest way in order to save would be to visit Key West once the crowds aren't here. The fall (September -November) may be the low season in Key West, and room rates can drop by 50 percent or more. The, storm-prone summertime also see affordable prices, and you'll find decent discounts in April and could after the winter crowds thin out.

With fewer people, cheaper rooms in hotels and plenty of sun, what's to not love about the low season within the Florida Keys? Hurricanes. Tropical storms within the Gulf blow through regularly from June towards the end of October; they don't always make landfall, but Hurricane Irma scored an immediate hit on Key West in September 2022, causing widespread devastation.

Eat on the cheap

Dining out can be a pricey business in Key West. Entrées in a mid-range restaurant run within the $16-25 range, but you can skirt for this cost by self-catering and counting on local supermarkets, or grabbing takeout Cuban sandwiches ($5 -8) and other similarly basic meals at local cafes and counter-service spots, which can be found throughout Old Town. Good picnic spots for self-caterers include Mallory Square, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park at 1801 White St.

Skip the rental car in Key West

One cost that is completely optional in Key West is a car rental. Flights run directly to Key West Airport terminal, a $9 -20 taxi ride in the center, and once you are in Old Town, it is simple to get about by walking or by bicycle or bus. It's even cheaper to take the bus from Miami; a ticket on a Greyhound or Flix will definitely cost around $13-25.

For easy exploring, bikes could be rented from companies for example Eaton Bikes for around $18 each day, which is well worth it for the convenience of being able to get across town quickly without having to be worried about parking. Walking isn't too onerous either, considering Key West's small size, although it can be a draining ordeal within the hot summer months. There's additionally a moderately useful local bus service – fares start at $2 one-way.

Seek out low-cost activities on Key West

Key West attractions don't all have a painful entry fee. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park charges a modest $2.50/6.50 admission fee for each pedestrian/vehicle, as well as for that price you receive the run of the historic fortress and access to among the best beaches in the Keys.

Nearby is the free Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, an all natural history museum providing a window onto the unique natural environment of South Florida. You can view the underwater side of that world just for the cost of renting a mask and snorkel at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. If it's sun and sand you crave, sandy Higgs Beach, a man-made beach after Reynolds St, is among the few open-to-all public beaches within the Keys.

Catch a pocket-friendly show at Mallory Square

At sunset, buskers, fire-eaters, jugglers and acrobats gather in Mallory Square for an evening carnival that has entertained generations of Key West tourists. There is no admission fee, however the entertainers live on tips, so this isn't technically free, but it's still certainly one of Key West's cheaper evening experiences.

If you like watching people wear amazing costumes of beautiful glitter faeries, saucy superheroes and just about other things imaginable, we advise visiting during the dreamlike bacchanalia of Fantasy Fest – costs do increase a bit throughout the festival but watching the parades is free of charge.

Explore the Old Town for free

Key West's Old Town is full of fascinating lanes and alleyways lined by a veritable catalog of old Caribbean architecture and historical homes, many painted in attractive pastel tones. Nobody will charge you for travelling and taking photos, and you may download a totally free walking tour with web sites sights of historical and cultural interest.

Visit free attractions in the heart of Key West

Even the middle of old Key West has its own share of samples by mail to complete. Keep an eye out for that entrance to West Martello Tower, a lush, free-to-visit garden planted amidst ruined Civil War-era brickwork and maintained by the Key West Garden Club.

In the middle of town, the important thing West Cemetery, a romantically moldering necropolis that houses graves owned by some of the oldest families on the island, is also liberated to explore. Duval St may be the main nightlife strip in the Keys, and while the bars might not be free, the people-watching is.

Be flexible about in which you stay in Key West

Sure, the important thing West dream is a room overlooking the water, but you'll pay for the privilege. Staying in the backstreets, and selecting guesthouses and B&Bs over hotels and motels can bring savings. Hotels on the east side from the island (ie not Old Town) tend to be cheaper, but you'll either need to pay for taxis or use a hotel shuttle service or rental bike if you want to get to the main drag of Duval St.

Booking far ahead of time can sometimes bring savings, but you'll still find many rooms topping $200 every night, even just in low season. A more reliable approach to slashing costs is remaining inside a property with shared bathrooms; the Key West Bed & Breakfast is a reliable choice.

Day trip to Key West from another island

Another method to sleep cheaply on a holiday to Key West would be to not sleep on Key West whatsoever. There are dozens of other islands in the Florida Keys, and accommodation is cheaper on all of them, although remember that these are relative savings. Key West Transit's Lower Keys Shuttle along with other local buses services provide inexpensive connections between Key West along with other islands.

You'll discover the greatest number of hotels and motels on Marathon (a 1 hour drive away) and large Pine Key (Forty-five minutes away). Another convenient choice is the not-too-expensive Looe Key Dive Center, about 40 minutes from Key West. The most obvious disadvantage is the fact that you will need to arrange transportation to your lodging if you're planning on drinking in Key West in the evening.

Pitch a tent at a nearby campsite

The cheapest accommodation option of all is camping, although in practice this often means RV sites instead of peaceful tent sites. There are no campsites on Key West itself, but there are a few tent and RV sites on next-door Stock Island, including Leo's Campground.

Sugarloaf Key has got the southernmost KOA Campground in the country and you'll find decent tent sites from as little as $50 every night at Bahia Honda State Park, on Big Pine Key.

Daily costs

The major reason for that very high cost living in the Florida Keys may be the archipelago's distance from almost everything (the biggest nearby major metropolitan area is Miami, still three hours away by road, even in good traffic). Because Key West is both a tourism hotspot and the last island within the chain, the already expense from the Keys are exacerbated here.

  • Midrange accommodation: $170 -250
  • Self-catering apartment: $250 -500
  • Cuban coffee: $3.50 -6
  • Cuban sandwich: $8.50 -10
  • Dinner for two: $40 -90
  • Mojito: $10 -16
  • Slice of Key Lime pie: $7 -11

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