Marathon, in the laid back Florida Keys, is flanked by sparkling aquamarine ocean on either side, and dotted with salt water lagoons. The area is absolutely beautiful, and a great base from which to explore various unique opportunities to meet the local wildlife. Here’s how to have an amazing animal interaction there: 

Get Up Close and Personal with Dolphins

The Dolphin Research Centre is a not-for-profit research and education center that offers some really interesting programs for adults, and kids, to have an intimate dolphin experience. You can swim with their Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, or have them paint a t-shirt for you (a perfect experience for kids under 5, who are too young to actually be allowed in the water with the dolphins). Older kids, teens (and adults) can even attend a week long dolphin camp program where they get to learn everything about these beautiful animals, and play researcher/ trainer too.

Go to Turtle Rehab

Injured turtles from all over the world are brought to The Turtle Hospital to be rehabbed, and then hopefully released back in to the wild. The small group tours they offer are interesting, and seeing the injured (often by boats) turtles being taught how to swim again using special life jackets is fascinating. Kids will love the baby turtle pool, and being able to feed the resident turtles (who were too badly injured to be released again).

Visit an Old Fashioned Marine Park

Theater of the Sea has been in operation since 1946, and has a very retro feel about it. This thoroughly charming tourist attraction (that also has a strong conservation commitment and animal rehab facility) offers dolphin, sea lion and parrot shows, as well as opportunities to swim with dolphins, sea lions and stingrays. The sea lions are hilarious, and you can’t help but laugh at their antics in the show even though you’ve probably seen their kind of shenanigans on TV before.

Stay at Hawks Cay Resort

This luxurious family resort has an onsite dolphin research facility, Dolphin Connection, where guests can swim with, feed, and help train bottlenose dolphins (resort guests can see the dolphins at play at any time, as they live in a lagoon just next to the pool). There are also diving instructors on site, and fishing trips are part of the programming available at the resort. Set in lush grounds, the resort is teeming with iguanas and seabirds (that have a tendency to try and steal the food from your plate), so you’ll have plenty of unscheduled animal encounters too.

View the Reef

The glass bottomed boat tours at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offer excellent wildlife viewing without having to actually get wet. As the boat takes you out over the reef you’ll see little sharks, parrotfish, barracuda and all manner of brightly colored tropical sea life. (If you’d prefer to get in the water with the fish, the park offers both diving and scuba expeditions.)