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Key Largo, Florida Keys

Whether you’re a brand-new diver or an old salt, traveling solo or with the whole family, if you’re ready to be captivated by an underwater wonderland, you’ll find your perfect match in “the Diving Capital of the World.”
By Patricia Wuest | Updated On November 28, 2023
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Key Largo, Florida Keys

A scuba diver swimming under water

Key Largo is renowned for its spectacular diving opportunities, particularly its proximity to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Key Largo Is a Perfect Match For ...

Experienced divers who are hoping to dive the nine wrecks that make up the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail — they’ll get their thrills on the Spiegel Grove, Duane and Benwood.

Families who delight in fun including all kinds of watersports, delicious seafood and interesting history.

New divers who cannot wait to experience an underwater haven for tropical fish and corals — Key Largo’s shallow reefs are stuffed with both.

A person in a canoe in a river

In addition to diving, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers opportunities for kayaking, snorkeling, and exploring the scenic mangrove trails.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

The Florida Keys is home to the only living-coral barrier reef in the continental U.S., just five miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. Lucky for all the islands in the chain, it runs the length of the archipelago, and the islands’ location and climate, as well as the efforts of some passionate conservationists, has allowed America’s only coral reef system to thrive. Key Largo’s conservation legacy is a remarkable one that dates back to 1960, when John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park became the United States’ first underwater preserve. It received federal designation as the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975. In 1990, President George H. Bush signed into law the bill that established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which incorporated the Key Largo sanctuary. Today, this region has six Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs) that ensures the protection of this extraordinary and fragile ecosystem.

Key Largo: A World Apart

Whether you’re driving from or flying into Miami, you’ll head south to the fabled Overseas Highway — U.S. Route 1. Key Largo is not only the northernmost of the Florida Keys; it is also the longest. Key Largo and surrounding communities were once known as Rock Harbor, but after the title and background scenes for the 1948 Hollywood classic “Key Largo” were filmed here, the local post office changed its name. A residential community is nestled among the dive resorts and shops, restaurants and marinas, and all those conveniences, along with its away-from-it-all vibe, makes Key Largo hugely popular with visitors. For divers, there’s an extra bonus: with so much accessible diving off its shores, Key Largo has been dubbed “the Diving Capital of the World.”

Scuba divers under water

This artificial reef, created by intentionally sinking the USS Spiegel Grove, is a massive site attracting advanced divers.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Diving in Key Largo

Divers will want to make at least one dive on the impressive Spiegel Grove. Intentionally sunk six miles from Key Largo in 2002, the 510-foot former Navy dock landing ship is an amazing artificial reef to explore. It’s almost completely coated in corals, and you’ll find everything from colorful yellow-tail snapper and French angelfish to bigger pelagics like goliath grouper and barracudas. Another spectacular wreck dive is the Duane, a former U.S Coast Guard Cutter that’s often frequented by mantas and sharks. Current and depth combine to make these wrecks appropriate for advanced divers only.

One of the most fun dives for the whole family to enjoy — especially if there are new divers and snorkelers in your group — is the 4,000-pound bronze Christ of the Abyss statue in only 25 feet of water. This is an endlessly entertaining site, and includes the nearby reef called Dry Rocks.

The Molasses Reef SPA is arguably the most popular reef in the Upper Keys for diving. It features the classic spur-and-groove formation and it’s a highway for busy tropical fish like snappers, angelfish and parrotfish. Another SPA and spur-and-groove reef that’s visited frequently is the Elbow. These two systems feature clear water and abundant corals, including populations of rare elkhorn corals.

Beginner divers can also get a small taste of wreck diving on the remains of the Benwood in 25 to 50 feet of water. There’s not much left to see of this former merchant marine freighter, but learning a bit about its history makes it come to life. On the night of April 9, 1942, the Benwood was on a routine voyage from Tampa, Florida, to Norfolk, Virginia. The ship was traveling completely blacked out due to the threat of German U-boats in the area. Unfortunately, the tanker Robert C. Tuttle, was also blacked out and traveling in the same area, and the two ships collided. The Benwood suffered a crushing blow to its bow and took on water quickly. Soon afterward, the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship.

A person and person sitting at a table with food and drinks

Seafood lovers can explore local cuisine at places like the Key Largo Fisheries Marine Reserve, where you can enjoy fresh catches of the day.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Topside Fun in Key Largo

Throughout the Keys you’ll find restaurants serving up delicious seafood entrees and Key Lime pie for dessert, and Key Largo is no exception. Whether you’re grabbing breakfast, lunch or dinner, you have a lot of choices here.

Many of the resorts and hotels have small private beaches for those divers who like a sand-and-fun vacation. Rent a kayak for at least one morning or afternoon — it’s so peaceful to get out on the turquoise water and spot wading birds and small fish.

If there are nondivers in your group, sign up for a glass-bottom boat tour so that they can see what they’re missing underwater. Dolphins often love to ride the waves alongside the boat, and your captain will take you to places where you can see corals and tropical fish.

If you want to add a “backcountry” adventure to your vacation, Key Largo is bordered by Everglades National Park, an untamed place to observe South Florida’s wildlife and only 30 minutes from Key largo by car.

At a Glance: Key Largo

Average water temp 69°F to 88ºF >> What to wear 3 mm in summer; 7 mm in winter >> Average viz 60 feet or more >> When to go Year-round >> What to pack besides dive gear Beach shoes — you’ll be spending a lot of time in and out of the water and you’ll want something besides flip-flops to protect your feet