With Key Largo being known as the Diving Capital of the World, the 120-mile Florida Keys island chain is an absolute paradise for divers and seafarers thanks to its crystal clear blue waters, exotic marine life, and historic sites. Whether you’re fascinated by coral reefs, into exploring shipwrecks, or simply want to see underwater sea spectacles, the Keys offers a plethora of experiences for divers, snorkelers, and sightseers, of all levels, alike. We selected the top dive sites for you to check out, plus skilled dive shops and places to stay for your next briny adventure in the Florida Keys.
The Location: Known as a premier sportfishing destination, the diving nearby this village of islands is also grand.
What to See: Intrepid divers will like the challenge of exploring The Eagle, a Dutch freighter that lies in 110 feet of water; generally well lit, you might catch groups of nurse sharks, silversides and grunts. Alligator Reef is one of the largest reef systems in the Upper Keys with more than 500 species of marine life; a towering 136-foot tall lighthouse marks the spot. Pickles Reef is a shallow area great for snorkeling and photographing, with numerous sea creatures and tropical fish.
Where to Dive: Islamorada Dive Center, located at the Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle, runs every dive experience at more than 40 dive sites. Customer and crew favorites include: The Eagle wreck, Hens and Chickens Reef, Crocker Wall and Davis Reef.
Where to Stay: The upscale Cheeca Lodge & Spa extends a luxurious stay with its Jack Nicklaus-designed executive golf course, a 5,700-square-foot spa, a private beach, three restaurants and a 525-foot-long pier for fishing.
The Location: The diving here ranges from shallow reefs to large shipwrecks. Key Largo is also home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
What to See: If you’re an experienced diver looking to explore wrecks, the 510-foot Spiegel Grove, and the two U.S. Coast Guard cutters Duane and Bibb, are not to be missed. Molasses Reef is one of the most popular reefs in the Upper Keys with beginners, and is known for its clear waters, many species of colorful fish and beautiful corals with diving depths up to 100 feet.
Where to Dive: Keys Diver offers daily snorkel and dive trips, plus scuba diving certification. They also partner with Coral Restoration Foundation and accommodate divers interested in volunteering their skills.
Where to Stay: Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort provides spacious accommodations and suites, a private beach and an onsite marina, offering dive and snorkel trips and instruction.
The Location: The Heart of the Florida Keys, Marathon is a 10-mile-long, family-oriented island community known for its fishing, laid-back lifestyle and seafaring traditions, and offers cool sites of wrecks and reefs.
What to See: The Thunderbolt, a 188-foot military ship sitting upright in 115 feet of water, attracts divers with its colorful sponge, coral and hydroid, and varieties of large fish such as angelfish, barracuda and jacks. Sombrero Reef, marked by a 140-foot lighthouse, is one of the most magnificent coral reefs in the Middle Keys; with depths ranging from five to 35 feet, this protected marine preserve is perfect for divers and snorkelers of all levels.
Where to Dive: Hall’s Diving Center and International Diving Career Institute has scuba and snorkeling for the family and offers friendly service. They also have an excellent reputation for training master divers.
Where to Stay: Hawks Cay, nestled on the small, secluded island of Duck Key, has onsite villas and countless activities including scuba diving and snorkeling, which are made available to guests.
Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys
The Location: In what are also known as the Natural Keys, there’s more remarkable diving at Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys.
What to See: Looe Key, a 5.5-square-mile protected underwater ecosystem named for a frigate, which sank here in 1744, provides some of the best sites of living reef; while the wreck no longer exists, the coral here creates an unrivaled undersea oasis. Marked by a series of mooring buoys, the Adolphus Busch Sr., a 210-foot freighter that sits intact in about 100 feet of water, is a wonderful place for the experienced diver to observe sea life and explore the wreck.
Where to Dive: U.S. 1 Dive Center, a new kid on the block, prides itself on its passion for diving and the small personalized dive trips it offers divers aboard a six-pack custom dive boat; the U.S. 1 Dive Center is just a 30-minute boat ride from Looe Key reef.
Where to Stay: Located on the private island of Little Torch Key, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Little Palm Island Resort & Spa awaits with a tranquil idyllic ambience, chic coastal-style bungalows, a marina and an array of water activities. During your time at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, be sure to visit SpaTerre for its signature oceanside Madrugada water massage.
The Location: The southernmost city in the continental U.S., Key West has long been the premier destination for snowbirds and locals for its laid-back island lifestyle, rich history and majestic sunsets — the diving here is also fantastic.
What to See: Sand Key islet, about seven miles southwest of Key West and marked by a 110-foot light tower, is well-known among snorkelers for its abundant coral and calmer waters; there’s enjoyable diving on the oceanside of the key, too. The Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg is another massive wreck and artificial reef home to many species of marine plants and animals. Joe’s Tug, a 75-foot tug sitting in about 65 feet of water, is an easy and rewarding dive for both beginners and experienced divers; visibility is also generally good, making it a magnificent locale for photos.
Where to Dive: Dive Key West, Inc. is the largest full-service dive facility in the Florida Keys, offering scuba diving and snorkeling in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, including inner reefs (with a three- to 30-foot depth) and outer reefs (with a 35- to 45-foot depth), wreck dives, and night dives.
Where to Stay: Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort exudes Key West grandeur yet has all the contemporary amenities of a modern resort. The Reach, A Waldorf Astoria Resort is a small, elegant hotel within walking distance to Old Town Key West.