Exploring Nature in Key West
I love exploring and adventuring on every vacation that I book. The beach and waves always recharge me but so does exploring. Finding a new “to do” is always a cool part of the escapism that vacations represent. I recently found an oasis on my trip to Key West and it was probably the most peaceful place I have ever visited in my life… I am not one to utter the word “tranquil” but this place is the picture you would find in the dictionary under tranquil.
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory was breathtaking. When you walk through the doors to the conservatory it is like walking into another world! A winding path leads you through lush green plants, trees, and colorful flowers while butterflies flutter by and birds chirp from the trees. The calming sounds of the music played remind me of a meditation or yoga soundtrack. All these elements with the sun rays passing through the windows leave you feeling like you are in a world made for a Disney princess.
“During your breathtaking journey you will experience an impressive collection of flowering plants, colorful birds, cascading waterfalls and trees that set the stage for the ‘flowers of the sky.’ Witness a variety of some 50 to 60 butterfly species from around the world, along with over 20 exotic bird species, all under a climate- controlled, glass enclosed habitat.”
I have been to countless zoos over the years but this place is set in such a calming space that it truly is a whole new experience like none other. They have something special here and I think they know it. It’s all right in the heart of Key West located right on historic Duval Street. It is considered to be at the Southernmost point of Florida.
Artist Behind the Gallery and History
Sam Trophia is the artist behind the gallery (we will come back to this later) and he is one of the founders of the nature conservatory. He first fell in love with butterflies at the age of 9 when he, “witnessed the incredible transformation of a homely caterpillar into a beautiful Monarch butterfly, which forever captured his interest in the butterfly world.” (Source) By the time he was 15 he was studying, learning about and raising Monarch butterflies at his home in upstate New York. In 1975 he was a part of a research team that through banding realized that the Monarch butterflies migrate from the Eastern half of America to Mexico every year.
“From hobby and science to fulfilling a lifelong dream, Wings of Imagination – The Butterfly Gallery, became a reality in 1992. The culmination of over two decades of fascination, love, and appreciation of the beauty of the butterfly, the gallery is one of the most spectacular spots to visit in Old Key West.” (Source)
Since opening the gallery in the 90’s Trophia wanted to offer a “hands on” way that people could experience the peaceful nature of the butterflies he had come to love. So, “in 2003, he and his partner George Fernandez expanded the space with the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory opening. This butterfly museum in Key West has now been one of the area’s most popular attractions for nearly 20 years!” (Source)
The butterflies are not collected from the wild – they come from Butterfly farms. “The captive breeding of butterflies is well suited to tropical regions and can be an environmentally beneficial endeavor through the release of excess production into the wild and the culture of native shrubs, flowers and trees as host and nectar plants.” (Source)
Family Friendly & Educational
The conservatory is not just a stroll through the park. They added a Learning Center which is a nice “introduction into the world of butterflies.” So you can bring the whole family and learn together. That is what I enjoyed the most. My kids loved learning about all the different varieties of butterflies. There are so many…it’s unreal.
“The Learning Center explores all aspects of the butterfly world with a wall size mural map, depicting butterfly identification by country of origin, as well as illustrated information on butterfly anatomy, physiology and a look at the incredible Monarch migration.”
You also get a rare view of caterpillars as they develop on their host plant. This is a nice touch to an already amazing experience.
Flamingos, Turtles, etc…
If things couldn’t get any better… there are flamingos in the space as you walk through. Within an arm’s reach in the conservatory. My daughter nearly fainted when he eyes met the cute pink friends she had only seen on the Discovery channel or on one of her 5 flamingo shirts. Again, this is why exploring on vacation is so key. She hasn’t stopped talking about this stop… And there were turtles!!! Those with the lush green environment, the beautiful flowers on top of flowers, 50+ types of butterflies fluttering around (the flowers of the sky), flamingos… it’s just something you can’t really truly understand how unbelievable it is until you experience it. You can preview the conservatory by going to their live feed here.
Before you take off on your next adventure make sure you carve out some time to visit the gift shop at the conservatory. It features a ton of butterfly art, garden decor, apparel, jewelry, toys, souvenirs, books and educational items, holiday gifts and you can even book your special wedding day at the conservatory!! Sam Trophia’s own wall art butterfly display pieces are available in the store as well. Be sure to check out the online store before you go to get some ideas ready when you are there in person. Check out the online gift shop here to get a close look at what they are offering.
Other Nature Spots to Explore
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is not the only nature attraction in Key West. The urban island packs a lot into it!
There is a Berg Nature Preserve that is packed with small harmless and cute creatures like birds, butterflies, lizards, land crabs, snakes, and frogs. Located at 1700 Atlantic Boulevard this is an easy stop while you explore. The kids will love this spot. Pro Tip: The creatures are there but the trick is to be quiet as you walk or they will scurry away before you can see them.
If you want to get out on the water – Fury – offers some great snorkeling adventures including some dolphin watching. There are a bunch of custom tour options that your whole family will enjoy! This Key West gem even features a state of the art catamaran with a glass bottom! It includes air conditioned tours where you get a front seat view of all the creatures of the sea. “You will have the opportunity to see North America’s only living coral reef, one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Majestic elkhorn and impressive brain coral, sturdy in appearance yet fragile and vulnerable, stand sentry for the more than 300 species of fish that complete the colorful and intriguing seascape.” (Source) Be sure to book ahead!
Another great stop on those rainy days is located at Key West’s famous Mallory Square… the Key West Aquarium! We had a blast with the family and there was a hands-on experience with sharks! “Guests can get up close and personal with one of the Florida Keys most common shark-the Nurse Shark.” (Source) Here are a few of the sea creatures we got to see on our tour at the aquarium: turtles octopus, sharks, lionfish, jelly fish and spiny lobster…There are guided presentations that you can book prior to your visit including a beach walk where they point out different creatures and talk about the ones you will find in your adventures. This was a great educational visit for my family and my daughter was able to feed the nurse sharks!