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The Best Scuba Diving In Key Largo

scuba diving key largo

When we talk about Florida Keys scuba diving, Key Largo might be the first thing that comes to mind. Would you like to know why this key is called the “Dive Capital of the World”?

Well, Key Largo boasts vibrant coral reefs, diverse marine life, and clear blue waters, making it a paradise for divers of all levels. For those new to diving, numerous Key Largo scuba diving shops and certified instructors provide training and guided dives for beginners. You might have a hard time choosing one.

That’s why this article is created – to help you with the who, the what, the where, and the when during your Florida Keys islands tour. Read on!

What Makes Key Largo Great For Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving in Key Largo, Florida by Karim Lounes

Key Largo’s appeal for scuba diving lies in several factors that combine to create a remarkable underwater experience:

Diverse Marine Life

The waters around Key Largo are home to a rich biodiversity, including tropical fish, sharks, rays, turtles, and even the occasional manatee. Divers can expect encounters with vibrant coral gardens, dramatic drop-offs, and thrilling swim-throughs as they explore the underwater landscape.

Clear Waters

The crystal-clear waters of Key Largo provide excellent visibility, allowing divers to admire the vibrant colors of the coral reefs and spot marine life from afar. Visibility often exceeds 100 feet (30 meters), allowing divers to fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of the underwater landscape.

Warm Water Temperature

Key Largo’s warm, tropical climate makes it an ideal diving destination year-round, with water temperatures typically ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit (around 24-30 degrees Celsius). The vibrant underwater ecosystem offers endless opportunities for fascinating encounters with marine life.

Keys Average Water Temperature

scuba diving key largo water

In the Florida Keys, swimming is available year-round. In December and January, the water’s temperature never falls below 73°F. Winter temperatures average 75.4°F, spring temperatures 78.6°F, summer temperatures 85.6°F, and fall temperatures 82.8°F.

If you want to scuba dive in the Florida Keys, pick a season, location, and minimum allowable sea/ocean temperature that works for you. See this link to learn more about the Keys’ water temperature.

Discover hidden-gem beaches,  explore the Florida Keys food scene, find the perfect accommodation, experience the Keys’ stunning waters, and much more.

Scuba Tours

From shallow reefs to deep wrecks, Key Largo offers a diverse range of dive sites suitable for all levels of experience. To learn about the best spots, you can always book a scuba diving tour.

Key Largo 2-Tank Scuba Dive Trip Within Pennekamp Reserve

two-tank scuba diving key largo

Image Source: Viator

Full of vibrant live coral and other marine life, John Pennekamp State Park is well known as one of the greatest dive spots in Key Largo. This excursion includes scuba diving at two distinct locations, and you may see lobsters, huge barracudas, parrotfish, and more. 

Only certified divers should participate in this dive, which includes two tanks and weights. Scuba gear rentals are also available.

Small, Guided Shallow 2-Tank Dive Experience in Key Largo – ALL GEAR INCLUDED

shallow scuba diving key largo

Image Source: Viator

With this two-tank guided diving adventure, you can explore some of the Florida Keys’ greatest reefs and wrecks. Each trip makes two stops, possibly at The Elbow Reef, Grecian Rocks, Christ of the Abyss, or the City of Washington. In addition to the tall, towering coral formations, you may observe sharks, turtles, eels, crabs, and eagle rays.

Private – SCUBA Dive the Reefs of Key Largo For Up to 8 Certified Divers

private scuba diving key largo

Image Source: Viator

Savor a 3-hour and 15-minute trip with private scuba diving. Dive Key Largo’s breathtaking reefs with a maximum of eight other certified divers. Your group will have the entire spacious dive boat to themselves when you rent it exclusively. 

Take in the breathtaking John Pennekamp Coral Reef, where you can spend up to an hour each exploring two different locations. Compared to packed 40 diver boats, you’ll see more marine life when you travel in smaller groups.

Where To Scuba Dive In Key Largo

Key Largo is home to a diverse array of marine species, including colorful tropical fish, majestic rays, docile nurse sharks, playful dolphins, and even the occasional gentle manatee. Here are some of the locations where you can spot these wonders:

1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Scuba Diving at John Pennekamp by Scuba Diving Magazine

Location: Key Largo, FL 33037

What You’ll See: For any diver visiting the Keys, a visit to Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must. The famous Christ of the Abyss, a recreation of the bronze cast of Jesus Christ in the Mediterranean Sea that is submerged in around 25 feet of water and stands 8.5 feet tall, may be seen here, along with the bright, living coral reef.

Where to Eat Close By

Lazy Lobster

 

At Lazy Lobster, you can enjoy reasonably priced fresh seafood, vegetarian pastas, pastas with seafood, steaks, and poultry. There are daily lobster specials, a kids’ menu, incredible homemade desserts, and a variety of wines and beers to choose from. 

Enjoy a meal inside or outside on the large terrace with tiki decorations and a tropical atmosphere. Listen to calming live music every night!

Favorite menu item: Lobster – patrons love all things lobster!

The Fish House
  • Location: 102401 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: fishhouse.com

 

The Fish House is among the few businesses that still only buy entire fish from nearby commercial fishermen and a restricted group of other suppliers. To maintain the greatest quality, they fillet the fish on-site.

Favorite menu item: It’s obvious by the name – they specialize in fish dishes!

Tips for Diving at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

  • Be careful when exploring the mangrove swamps, marine life, tropical hammocks, and living coral formations.
  • A great area to dive if you’re new to diving or simply want a refresher is the waters near Cannon Beach.
  • Open water to instructor diving is available at the PADI Five-Star Gold Palm dive shop located within the park.

2. Molasses Reef

Scuba Diving Molasses Reef by Pangea Travel Blog

Location: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary – Key Largo

What You’ll See: Sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and reef sharks are among the many marine species that call Molasses Reef home. This magnificent reef is situated in a specially designated protected section of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Where to Eat Close By

Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe

 

Savor delicious meals and enjoy waterfront dining in Key Largo while interacting with the welcoming staff. Renowned for its mouthwatering fish dishes, Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe is a local favorite.

Favorite menu item: Lobster BLT – A famous twist on a BLT. Maple bacon, crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, and, of course, lobster! Served on a flaky croissant with homemade spicy mayo, and your choice of side.

Italian Food Company

 

The Italian Food Company is dedicated to serving authentic Italian cuisine. It has carefully chosen the best Italian imports, and its offerings include handmade Italian meal bundles, traditional delicacies, and original hand-painted Italian ceramics, including dinnerware and pottery.

Favorite menu item: Pasta – Penne alla Vodka, Rigatoni Bolognese, Gnocchi Sorentina, and many more!

Tips for Diving at Molasses Reef

  • This location offers guided dives.
  • Since it’s on the barrier reef’s edge, ensure the weather is calm before diving.
  • If you’re coming by boat, 33 distinct mooring buoys are here. The buoys closest to the lighthouse have lower water levels.

3. USS Spiegel Grove Wreck

Spiegel Grove Wreck by ScubaTech Key Largo

Location: Off Key Largo

What You’ll See: The USS Spiegel Grove is a retired Navy ship intentionally sunk in 2002 to create an artificial reef. Over the years, the wreck has become a haven for marine life, attracting diverse fish species, including snappers, groupers, barracudas, and even the occasional sea turtle or nurse shark.

Where to Eat Close By

Alfredo’s Cookhouse
  • Location: 102250, 102250 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: alfredocookhouse.com

 

Alfredo’s Cookhouse is a family-owned business boasting over 50 international dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. Since 2017, this restaurant has been offering affordable meals and warm hospitality.

Favorite menu item: Hibachi Chicken – chicken breast grilled to perfection served with sautéed vegetables and chicken fried rice (your choice of sauce: lemon and butter, teriyaki, or sweet and spicy).

Hobo’s Cafe
  • Location: 101691 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: hoboscafe.net

 

Hobo’s Cafe offers the freshest fish in the area and provides a genuine seafood restaurant experience. National Geographic has named this establishment as one of the most authentic Keys eateries. It is a cornerstone of the Florida Keys culinary scene.

Favorite menu item: Waffle fries – this is offered as a side dish but is one of the most famous dishes for patrons.

Tips for Diving at USS Spiegel Grove Wreck

  • Diving the USS Spiegel Grove requires careful planning and awareness of potential challenges.
  • Strong currents are common in the area, particularly around the wreck’s superstructure, so divers should be prepared to navigate these conditions. 
  • The wreck’s sheer size can make it easy to become disoriented, emphasizing the importance of maintaining good buoyancy control and staying close to your dive buddy.

4. French Reef

Scuba Diving the Christmas Tree Caves at French Reef in 4K

Location: 11 km southeast of Key Largo

What You’ll See: Even for inexperienced dives, French Reef’s numerous caverns and arches are easily accessible. Hourglass Cave, so named because of its shape, is at the south end. The name “Christmas Tree Cave” comes from the massive star-shaped coral mound at the start of the formation, which rises over the surface.

Where to Eat Close By

Snook’s Bayside Restaurant & Grand Tiki
  • Location: 99470 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: snooks.com

 

Snook’s Bayside Restaurant & Grand Tiki is a restaurant, sports bar, and nightclub combined. The atmosphere of the place varies with the time of day and the sun’s location in the sky. The restaurant is largely al fresco and has a patio beside the sea. 

Favorite menu item: Lobster Bites – all customers’ favorite. Maine lobster chunks beer battered and fried served with honey mustard sauce.

Bayside Grille & Sunset Bar
  • Location: 99540 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: baysidegrill.com

 

The elevated dining room at Bayside Grille & Sunset Bar provides a distinctive dining experience with a view of the magnificent Florida Bay. The panoramic view of all glass makes this possible. 

There is air-conditioned dining on warmer Keys days; on more pleasant days, there is al fresco. The dining area offers an extensive food and beverage experience and the most photographed sunset in Key Largo.

Favorite menu item: Seafood Enchiladas – corn tortillas stuffed with shrimp, scallops & mahi, house enchilada sauce, Monterey & Jack cheeses, island rice

Tips for Diving at French Reef

  • This is a great site for a second dive after the Spiegel Grove of Benwood.
  • Has depths between 15 to 40 feet.
  • This is an ideal location for snorkelers and divers who don’t want strong currents. However, due to the lack of water movement, visibility can be affected.

5. Pickles Reef

Scuba Diving Pickes Reef by Key Largo Scuba Diving

Location: Southeast of Key Largo

What You’ll See: Pickles Reef is a shallow reef zone with a crest-back structure and generally flat reef framework outcrops. The majority of the water in the area is clear, and researchers observed gorgonians such as sea fans, sea plumes, sea rods, mustard hill coral, and encrusting fire coral. There were also a variety of sponges, fish, and invertebrate species in abundance.

Where to Eat Close By

Snappers Oceanfront Restaurant & Bar

 

Snappers Oceanfront Restaurant & Bar is a laid-back waterfront restaurant by the Dove Creek Resort that serves fresh fish. You have to go to this gorgeous location to sample the delicious food and flavorful drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. This one’s for you if you like elegant outdoor restaurants with a laid-back yet luxurious ambiance and a tranquil view of the waterfront! 

Favorite menu item: Snapper – patrons love all things snapper!

Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill
  • Location: 522 Caribbean Dr, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: sharkeysgalley.com

 

Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill is a well-liked hangout. Situated on Key Largo Harbor, the restaurant is adjacent to the Rainbow Reef Dive Center. It features a ground-floor full-service bar and an upstairs calm dining space. There are TVs showing sports, air conditioners, and peaceful music on its outdoor patios every night.

Favorite menu item: Fish Tacos – Chipotle mojo marinated mahi mahi wrapped in corn tortillas, deep fried & topped with jack cheddar cheese & pico de gallo

Tips for Diving at Pickles Reef

  • Situated 5.7 nautical miles east-southeast of Key Largo is the “F” beacon at Pickles Reef. This is the site of a Civil War wreck. The beacon is situated inside the barrier grooves of the reef, which are six to ten feet deep and to the south by southeast.
  • Great photo opportunities for nature photographers.
  • Depths range from 6 to 30 feet.

6. Elbow Reef

Scuba Diving at Elbow Reef, Key Largo by rpdwpb

Location: East of Key Largo

What You’ll See: The Elbow is a bank reef with a distinct spur-and-groove structure and robust deepwater corals. It’s home to several sunken wrecks, one of which is the City of Washington, a 1917 schooner lost off the Elbow Lighthouse. The Civil War wreck has timber beams and iron rivets located directly north of the lighthouse.

Where to Eat Close By

Shipwrecks Bar & Grill

 

A pleasant seaside pub and grill, Shipwrecks pub & Grill offers indoor and outdoor dining options. The crew will be happy to cook your catch any way you would like.

Favorite menu item: Everybody’s talking about their Coconut Onion Rings!

Sundowners

 

Since 1985, Key Largo’s Sundowners restaurant has served sandwiches, steaks, seafood, and sunsets across Florida Bay. Admire the view from the glass-walled dining room, or step outside to unwind on the patio or terrace that overlooks Florida Bay. When you eat at Sundowners, don’t forget to feed the tarpon on the rear dock!

Favorite menu item: Shrimp Kabobs – shrimp, onions, peppers, mushrooms, Key lime butter with jasmine rice

Tips for Diving at Elbow Reef

  • This reef’s lighted tower makes it ideal for anyone diving the Florida Keys at night.
  • Several excellent shallow sections make it a great place for snorkelers or for learning to dive.
  • Crystal-clear water provides great photo opportunities.

7. Snapper Ledge

Snapper Ledge Scuba Diving Tour by First Stage Scuba

Location: Southeast of Key Largo

What You’ll See: Snapper Ledge is a fantastic shallow dive location with two well-defined, high-profile ledges and so many fish that you might have to bat them away to truly appreciate the reef. The enormous schools of Grunts, Snappers, and Schoolmasters at this location are well-known. Nevertheless, since nurse sharks, moray eels, and turtles are frequently spotted here, it’s also a great area to watch larger species.

Where to Eat Close By

Harriette’s Restaurant

 

Built on the site of a former modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom family home, Harriette’s Restaurant opened its doors on May 17, 1982. You can practically envision Grandma baking and preparing the enormous muffins at the back of the house, and the dining room still has that cozy, family-like vibe.

Favorite menu item: Homemade Biscuits – need I say more? Everyone always loves anything authentically homemade!

Calusa

 

Calusa is an ocean-friendly restaurant recognized by the Surfrider Foundation. Executive Chef Andy Papson offers contemporary American cuisine with a distinct Creole-Caribbean twist, emphasizing locally grown, sustainably sourced seafood from the Florida Keys and seasonal veggies. Savor breakfast, supper, Sunday brunch at Pink Flamingo, and sunset celebrations every night with views of Florida Bay and the skyline tinted like watercolors.

Favorite menu item: Brussel Sprouts – bacon lardons, over easy egg, parmesan

Tips for Diving at Snapper Ledge

  • An excellent place for both novice and expert divers
  • There’s plenty of bottom time with a maximum depth of 25 to 30 feet
  • This is a fantastic spot for night diving as well.

Finding The Best Key Largo Scuba Diving Spots

From shallow reefs to deep wrecks, Key Largo offers a diverse range of dive sites suitable for all levels of experience. Beginners can enjoy gentle drift dives along colorful reefs, while advanced divers can explore challenging sites such as deep wrecks and intricate swim-throughs.

While water temperatures may vary slightly throughout the year, diving is possible in Key Largo at any time, allowing divers to escape the cold and enjoy the warmth of the ocean whenever they please.

You might already have picked out the best Key Largo scuba diving spot from this list, so we’ll let you follow your judgment!

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Scuba Diving Key Largo FAQs

Absolutely! Key Largo is renowned as the “Dive Capital of the World” for a reason. Its crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life make it a paradise for scuba diving enthusiasts of all levels.

Scuba diving in Key Largo is fantastic year-round due to its warm, tropical climate. However, the best time to dive is typically during the winter and spring months (December to May) when water temperatures are comfortably warm, visibility is excellent, and the weather is generally more stable.

The most popular dive site in Key Largo is often considered to be the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Within the park, the Christ of the Abyss statue and the USS Spiegel Grove wreck are particularly iconic and draw divers from around the world.

On average, a single-tank dive with a certified instructor or dive master may range from $60 to $100, while guided boat dives to popular sites like the USS Spiegel Grove may start around $80 to $120 per person.

While Key Largo enjoys warm water temperatures year-round, wearing a wetsuit is still recommended for protection against the sun, coral scrapes, and potential jellyfish stings. In the winter months, water temperatures may dip slightly, so a lightweight wetsuit or rash guard can provide added warmth and comfort.

Janelle
Author: Janelle

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