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The Florida Keys are one of the largest barrier reefs in the world covering over 100 miles.

Likely one of the most popular scuba sites in all of the United States, the Keys are a great dive location for divers of all backgrounds.

Florida Keys Dive Sites

Molasses Reef

molasses reef dive site keys

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

USS Spiegel Grove dive site keys

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.

USS Vandenberg

USS Vandenberg dive site keys

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 abyss dive site

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.

Snapper Ledge

snapper ledge dive site keys 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

halls diving and career institute site

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.

keys dive site

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.

keys dive site

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

By Air

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.

By Car

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

By Sea

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.

History of Florida Keys

Key West’s first significant historical event can be traced to the first European explorer to lead an organized mission through Florida, Ponce de Leon.

Ponce de Leon came across the Island now known as Key West during his search for the fountain of youth. Ponce de Leon named the island “Cayo Hueso” (Bone Island) referring to the island’s light-colored limestone rock formation.

Key West has officially named U.S. property when Lt. Commander Matthew C. Perry (no, not the guy from ‘Friends’), stuck a U.S. flag on Key West soil.

Key West’s first governor, William Pope Duvall, was appointed by prominent U.S. leaders Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and James Monroe.

Key West experienced an economic boom during the mid-1800s due to the island’s array of marine industries.

Wrecking, salvaging, salt manufacturing, and catching regional aquatic life such as turtles put Key West on the map in the mid 19th century as the richest city per capita in the United States.

The Key West lighthouse on Whitehead Street was constructed in the mid 19th century and is still standing today for tourists to get an elevated perspective on the Island.

Key West played an interesting role in American Civil War History. While Florida claimed its loyalty to the Confederacy during the Civil War, Key West remained a Union dominant territory due to it’s U.S. Naval affiliation.

Following the Civil War, nearby Cuban refugees from Cuba’s Ten Year War settled in Key West and opened businesses.

Henry Flagler, a key financier that aided the overall economic development of Florida continued his contributions toward the state by extending his railway track to connect Key West with mainland Florida.

The side of Key West history I find most fascinating is Ernest Hemingway’s presence on the Island. When visiting Key West, I took the time to tour Hemingway’s house, a historic landmark open to the public.

Hemingway was known for his admiration of cats and owned multiple polydactyl cats (cats that contained an extra toe). Hemingway’s landmarked property in Key West continues to house cats that are direct descendants of Hemingway.

Throughout the tour, you can examine Hemingway’s office, pool, and other personal spaces of his home. Additional notable people that frequented Key West around this time included playwright Tennessee Williams and President Harry S. Truman.

For those looking to explore Coral Reefs during a diving venture, Key West is an exceptional destination. The Florida Keys are home to the U.S.’s only living coral barrier reef.

Key West history contains a multiplicity of shipwrecks through the town’s rich Marine culture for tourists and local divers to explore. An area between Key Largo and Key West is known as “Shipwreck Trail” and contains 10 shipwrecks.

San Pedro is the oldest shipwreck having sunken in 1733 when a Spanish fleet found themselves caught in an intense hurricane, while the newest addition to shipwreck trail includes the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.

The General Hoyt S. Vandenberg sink created the largest artificial reef in the keys, as well as the second-largest artificial reef in the world.

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