The Florida Keys, despite constant harassment from reef-wrecking hurricanes, offers some of the best scuba diving in the USA. With great wrecks, reefs, critters and much more, diving in The Florida Keys is not to be underestimated.
In this guide, we’ve collated all the best places to dive, the top dive sites you won’t want to miss, as well as our recommendations for how to get there, where to stay, and more.
Where to dive around the Florida Keys:
1. Key Largo
This is probably the most popular reef in the state and is ideal for divers of all skill levels. It is without a doubt the best place for exploring big shipwrecks.
There is the 510-foot Spiegel Grove as well as the former Coast Guard cutters Bibb and Duane that await the more advanced divers. Fish like the oceanic jacks, silversides, and barracudas love it here.
Nearby Molasses Reef is perfect for novice divers as it is a shallow reef, but is full of healthy, colorful coral teeming with a wide variety of spectacular marine life, such as nurse sharks, lobsters, and moray eels.
2. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
You will be awe-inspired by a bronze statue of Jesus Christ with his hands raised toward heaven. It is said there are as many as 40 living coral species and 650 varieties of fish that call this place home, so you will definitely want to take your camera!
There are also caves in the vicinity that make for awesome places to explore.
3. Key Biscayne
Key Biscayne and the Biscayne National Park are a mecca for anyone that enjoys diving shipwrecks. There is a trail mapped out that includes six different wrecks to explore.
There is the DEMA Trader, which is a 165ft freighter that was caught smuggling drugs. US Customs agents sank the ship and cut holes into the sides to make it a safe place for you to see the inside.
Check out the galley and sleeping quarters where humans once lived, but are now home to barracudas, groupers and so much more.Another wreck is at Half Moon Preserve, and is the Germania which was once a champion racing yacht but got caught in WWI and was sunk by British warships in 1908. It is great for novice divers, as it is in shallower water.
There is a lighthouse called Fowey Rocks Lighthouse which is not only fun to explore above water, but tons of colorful fish abound around it, making it great for snorkelers as well as divers.
4. Big Pine Key
This is home to what many consider the best shipwreck of the Keys – the Adolphus Busch Senior. It is currently the largest wreck in the Lower Keys.
Originally named Ocean Alley from Haiti, this 210ft freighter was featured in the 1957 movie “Fire Down Below.” In 1998, as part of the Artificial Reef Program it was sunk into the sea at 50-100ft deep. It is a fascinating wreck, full of amazing marine life.
5. Looe Key
Located just off of Big Pine Key, this is probably the best place to see a healthy living reef. As part of the National Marine Sanctuary, it is a beautiful protected underwater ecosystem.
The reef is in deeper water than most and features such things as some amazing spur-and-groove coral configurations and almost every type of coral and sponge that exists in the Keys.
There are also some impressive 35ft rock ledges to explore, and literally hundreds of types of fish. Not truly an island (or Key), this is an amazing place to see in Florida. There is also plenty of chances for good snorkeling in Looe Key.
6. Key West
Key West is not only the largest city in the Keys, but it has some amazing shipwrecks that you will want to explore. The 187-foot steel-hulled ship Cayman Salvager once transported Cuban refugees in the 1970’s and ’80s.
She sunk in about 90ft of water just off the coast. Also here you will find the USNS Vandenberg, which has been used in the creation of a spectacular 520ft artificial reef.
Florida Keys Dive Sites
Easy to reach from the Upper Keys and conveniently close to Key Largo, you’ll find Molasses Reef amidst the clear water of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Molasses Reef is famous for hosting more than 30 of the most beautiful dive sites in the Florida Keys.
Each site is marked by a numbered mooring buoy and each dive offers something different to please every style of diver. Molasses Reef was named long ago, after a cargo shipwrecked here, spilling her sweet sticky contents before sinking to the seafloor.
USS Spiegel Grove
The USS Spiegel Grove faithfully served the US Navy for more than 30 years before being decommissioned and purposefully sank on Dixie Shoal in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Her new duty fulfills an important purpose – to serve as the foundation for an artificial reef. At the time of her sinking, she carried the distinction of being the largest deliberately placed artificial reef in the world.
She is immense, running 155 meters from bow to stern. At such a size, even the most experienced wreck diver must return countless times to explore her entirety.
Most divers take in her majesty one dive at a time, often starting on her top deck alongside horse-eye jack, barracuda, and parrotfish.
Renowned for being one of the best wreck dives in the world, the USS Vandenberg is the crown jewel of Key West diving. This enormous vessel stretching 160 meters long and 10 stories tall, rests on the seafloor 42 meters below the surface.
The USS Vandenberg has earned the reputation as the best artificial reef dive site in the world and is well known for its advanced diving ranging in depth from 21 meters to 30 meters.
The USS Vandenberg is considered a “must-do” for any advanced diver checking the Key West wrecks off their bucket list.
Christ of the Abyss
Christ of the Abyss is arguably the most famous and widely visited underwater site in the world and hands down the most popular in the Florida Keys.
Located just off the coast of Key Largo in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the bronze statue cast by an Italian sculptor welcomes visitors with his upward gaze and open arms.
Christ of the Abyss is an iconic, larger-than-life representation of Jesus Christ, weighing in at 1800 kilos and standing 3 meters tall in water 8 meters deep. Christ of the Abyss is suitable for both divers and snorkelers who can hope to see large rays hovering above the white sandy seafloor.
Boasting a reputation for being one of the “fishiest” dives in the Florida Keys, Snapper Ledge is fun for everyone.
The biggest attraction here is the enormous schools of yellowtail snapper so thick you can’t see through to the other side.
Snapper Ledge is also home to one of the largest and healthiest brain corals in the Upper Keys. Other frequent sightings include nurse sharks, moray eels, and lobsters. With an average depth of 6 meters, the site is top-notch for both diving and snorkeling
Dive Charters in the Florida Keys
If exploring the multitude of wrecks is on your bucket list, or you absolutely must dive a rebreather, try Hall’s Diving Center & Career Institute.
Whether you are an experienced wreck diver or curious to try wreck diving for the first time, Hall’s Diving Center offers all the equipment and courses needed to safely visit the USS Spiegel Grove or any of the other wrecks in the Florida Keys.
Veterans of the US armed forces can take advantage of Hall’s offers professional diver training programs that can be paid for using GI Bill benefits.
With a reputation as the most family-centric dive center in the Florida Keys, Key Dives is a full-service facility offering valet-style diving at more than 60 dive sites throughout the Keys.
All dives are professionally guided with a maximum of 6 divers to each divemaster. Divemasters not only lead every dive but will also point out many of the critters that inhabit the reef and even write the names on a slate for you to learn!
Key Dives is also committed to coral reef conservation and shares 2% of all revenue with its non-profit partners Coral Restoration Foundation, REEF, and Mote Marine Laboratory.
For many divers, beating the crowds is just as important as the dive site or the vessel that gets you there. U.S. 1 Dive Center, located on Summerland Key in the Lower Florida Keys, specializes in small groups and customized itineraries.
Limiting the number of divers to 6 per trip, divers can expect personal attention and uncrowded dive sites. With the ability to customize any charter, U.S. 1 Dive Center gives divers the ultimate flexibility.
Getting To The Florida Keys
The 4 international airports in the Key West region include Key West International (EYW), Florida Keys Marathon International Airport (MTH), Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL), Miami International (MIA).
Most major airlines offer service to one or more of these destinations. A number on Demand Charter Service companies also service these destinations.
The Florida Keys Overseas Highway stretches from north of Key Largo to Key West. Getting to the Florida Keys Overseas Highway requires driving south from the Florida Turnpike until reaching highway U.S. 1.
Upon reaching the start of U.S. 1, follow it south 22 miles until reaching Key Largo. Know your mile markers! Once you reach Key Largo, the U.S. 1 becomes the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. On the right side of the highway are green mile-marker signs.
- Key Largo – 58 miles from Miami – Mile Marker 108-90
- Islamorada – 76 miles from Miami – Mile Marker 90-63
- Marathon – 111 miles from Miami – Mile Marker 63-47
- The Lower Keys – 128 miles from Miami – Mile Marker 47-4
- Key West – 159 miles from Miami – Mile Marker 4-0
The Key West Express operates passenger ferries from Marco Island and Ft. Meyers Beach. The ferry ride takes approximately 3.5 hours. Experienced boaters will also find navigating to the Florida Keys straightforward.
Where To Stay In Florida Keys
Overnight accommodations in The Florida Keys run the gamut from luxury hotels and resorts, to cozy guesthouses and vacation rentals, to RV parks and campgrounds.
Spread throughout the Florida Keys, the plethora of accommodations spread throughout the Florida Keys offer something for everyone. Choosing a region of interest can help narrow the choices.
Key West is renowned for being Florida’s tropical paradise. Revered for its eccentricity, Key West has historically attracted artists, authors, and musicians (namely Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and Jimmy Buffett), are inspired by the region’s unique history, cultural diversity, and romantic palm-lined sidewalks.
Lower Keys are made up of several small islands that are home to a national marine sanctuary and two national wildlife refuges. Beautiful beaches, ample opportunities for wildlife watching, and access to RV and camping sites seem to attract visitors seeking a quieter, less urban experience.
Marathon, located in the middle of the Florida Keys island chain, is known as the ideal destination for families.
Home to the Florida Keys Aquarium, which features sharks, stingrays, a coral reef exhibit, and a 200,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, Marathon is fun for the entire family! Marathon also boasts an international airport, making getting in and out easy with an entourage of kids.
Islamorada is best known as the place where professional saltwater fly fishing and sport fishing first started.
However, there is so much more to experience in Isla Morada! Divers will be thrilled to visit the History of Diving Museum, which showcases how diving has shaped life as we know it.
Key Largo is called by some the “Diving Capital of the World” and is arguably the most popular destination for divers.
Key Largo is just an hour by car from two of South Florida’s major airports and is just 6 miles by boat to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Key Largo is also popular amongst kayakers and is home to a wild bird rehabilitation center.
Our recommendations for the perfect Florida Keys dive trip
Although we did mention a lot of the great dive sites that you should visit in the information above, you need not worry about memorizing it all. If you dive with a reputable dive shop, they will be sure to take you to all of the best from there.
Although the Florida Keys are relatively large in area, especially when it comes to driving times each day, it is possible to stay and dive in a central location, and still be able to be taken to the best dive sites off-shore, and eliminate long daily drives.
Although Key West has the most awesome shops and culture and things to do, if you are here for diving, we recommend setting up camp in Key Largo.
As for a great dive shop in Largo, we have tried out Sailfish Scuba a few times, and highly recommend it. They have a great dive shop with great gear, as well as nice boats and guides/instructors.
We recommend spending a week exploring the best dive sites around the Keys, including the “wreck trek” offered by Sailfish Scuba. If you have more time to dive other great scuba locations in Florida, here are some other great spots to add to your trip:
West Palm Beach shark dives. If you want to get close to some bull sharks and other apex predators, there are a number of shark feeding expeditions offered in WPB that you won’t want to miss.
Various caves, springs, rivers and cenotes. check out some awesome freshwater dives in places like Devil’s Den, the Blue Grotto, and more. There is diving available for any level from snorkeler to tech diver.
The USS Oriskany wreck near Pensacola. The Oriskany is the biggest purposely sunken ship wreck in the world, and one you want to visit. This huge aircraft carrier has to be explored in numerous dives, and will keep you busy for a long time.
The Florida Keys offers some of the best diving in America, and any diver will want to visit at some point.
Have you got a favorite spot to dive in the Keys? Let us know your experience in the comments!