SCUBA diving and snorkeling in Key West
Diving and snorkeling the coral reefs and wrecks around Key West are spectaular. If you are interested in wreck diving, there are only a few around Key West that are available to visitors, but the few they have are world class! On May 27th Key West sank the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg as an artificial reef in 140 feet of water seven miles off Key West. The Vandenberg is the second largest ship purposely sunk as a artificial reef. Info On Diving the Gen. Hoyt S.Vandenberg! Tropical fish are abundant on the reefs and there is snorkeling available on a sailing catamaran or schooner out to the reef for a day of fun. Some of the dive boats here in Key West also offer night dives so the nightlife on the reef may be observed.
West is also hoping to join Miami and other U.S. cities as ports of entry for travel to Cuba, 50 years after Key West-to-Havana flights ceased when Fidel Castro took power in the island nation.
Last week, a letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control requesting that Key West be declared an entry port.
Up until recently, the travel restrictions to Cuba were pretty onerous,'' Horton said Monday. Those have been relieved quite a bit. We hope this is a trend that will continue, and eventually all travel restrictions to Cuba will be lifted.''
In February, Tampa also requested that the Treasury Department designate it as a port of entry for Cuba. Miami, Los Angeles and New York are currently the only three U.S. cities with airports allowed to operate flights to and from Cuba.
Horton said Tampa's request is still under consideration. He said he does not expect to hear anything soon from the federal agency on Key West's request.
I imagine this will take a while,'' Horton said.
Marti Adams, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Treasury who handles this issue, said she could not comment Monday.
Key West is the closest U.S. city to Cuba -- only 90 miles apart at one point. Air travel from Key West to Havana began in 1920 as the United States' first international commercial flight, transporting mail and passengers on converted World War I aircraft.
The Key West airport already has a 5,000-square-foot federal inspection station staffed with Customs, Immigration and Department of Agriculture personnel, part of a $31 million face lift that will be complete in September.
`We can process nine to 19 passengers at one time with no additional expenditures necessary,'' Horton said. ``If demands increase, we can then expand.''
Cape Air, a Massachusetts-based independent regional airline, said it would like to provide service for the Key West-to-Havana route with its fleet of 57 nine-seat Cessnas. Cape Air already serves Key West with routes to Fort Myers.
`We've been interested in flying to Cuba since we began flying out of Key West almost 20 years ago,'' said Michelle Haynes, director of communications for Cape Air.
Haynes said that if Key West is declared a port of entry for Cuba, Cape Air could quickly begin flights, with round trips costing about $220.
Travel from Key West to Cuba already is allowed via boat for those who qualify. Such travel requires a special permit from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Upon reentering the United States, travelers by water have to clear Customs, just as they would upon return from any other international destination.
``It's a different world for us,'' said Raymond Archer, director of port operations for the city of Key West. ``We already are a port of entry for some travelers from Cuba.''
He said he is working with immigration and customs officials on any improvements that may be necessary to process boats if travel restrictions to Cuba are eased further.
In April, the Obama administration lifted travel limits on Cuban-Americans visiting family in Cuba.
The idea to go after port of entry status with Cuba was the brainchild of Michael Browning, leader of the Cuba Committee of the Key West Chamber of Commerce.
Horton said if Cuba opens up for travel, he expects Miami and other big cities would remain the main hubs. But he said he also thinks Key West's airport, which now serves about 453,000 passengers annually, would get Cuban tourism business as well as private aviation.
``I think we would see a lot of the single engine [planes],'' he said. ``There's a huge difference flying 90 miles over water than 200 or 300 miles.''
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