Key Largo, Florida is known as the scuba diving capital of the world. This is because there is a very large amount of dive sites easily accessible to divers. The Florida Keys is located along the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world. While scuba diving in Key Largo divers have access to deep and shallow coral reefs along with a large variety of wreck dives. Here we will layout what to expect and some different things to consider when you plan your trip.
Everything you need to know about scuba diving in Key Largo
Key Largo, Florida is a small island town about 1 hour south of Miami International Airport. If you are coming to Key Largo primarily to go scuba diving you will likely spend most of your time inside of 4-5 mile area. It is often said there are more dive shops than restaurants here. You will have no shortage of options in regards to your dive trip choices.
How To Get To Key Largo
There is not a commercial airport in town. The three closest airports are Miami International (60 minute drive), Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (90 minute drive), and Key West International airport (2 hour drive). Most people will rent a vehicle at the airport and drive the rest of the way.
If you fly into Key West your 2 hour drive will take you through all of the Florida Keys. It’s a really nice drive with lots of different places to stop and most will enjoy the drive a lot. The airline options that go into Key West is limited so you may or may not have this option.
Flying into Miami or Fort Lauderdale is pretty much the same thing but Fort Lauderdale is a little further to the north. The drive in from both will be mostly highway and you can expect some traffic during popular commuting times. You can make this decision simply based on the cheapest flights or rental cars. The final 25 minutes of your drive will be through the everglades. There is pretty much absolutely nothing but road, state troopers, and fences to keep the wild life off the roads. Its pretty cool site to see if you come in during daylight hours.
Once your arrive in Key Largo you will hear the locals refer to locations as mile markers, or MM. A mile marker is simply a marker each mile. In addition to the mile marker the side of the island will be given too, either bay side, or ocean side. For example, if you want to check out the world famous Caribbean Club you would go to MM103 bay side. Navigating Key Largo is pretty easy. There is 1 main road called Overseas Highway (rt.1) which runs from Key Largo all the way to Key West. Most people spend their time between MM104 and MM99.
Where To Stay In Key Largo
One of the biggest things to consider when choosing where to stay is what you plan to do when your not diving. Do you want to be able to walk to dinner? Do you want to be able to walk to and from the dive boat? If you answered yes to either of these then you should find a hotel at MM103 or MM100. Both locations have different dive shops and restaurant/bars within walking distance. If you stay anywhere else you will most likely need to do some driving.
Key Largo is home to a few traditional hotel brands with varying amenities and several different boutique style motels. You may be able to find some Airbnb type accommodations but due to local zoning rules these can be difficult to come across. Some places will have pools while others will not and that is also the case with bay side beaches. Some have food onsite while many do not. If you are particular about the amenities you’d like to have contact us and we will help guide you in the right direction.
In addition to Key Largo you could also stay in Tavernier or Islamorada (pronounced eye-la-morada. Both of these locations are within a 25 minute drive and still in the Florida Keys. If you are ok staying outside of the keys Homestead and Florida City are within a 30-40 minute but these are not vacation areas.
We can package your hotel, dive trips, and other activities from Key Largo to Key West.
Key Largo Nightlife
Things get started really early here. It’s pretty much 5 O’clock in Key Largo starting at noon. You will notice that things quiet down relatively early here. Everyone is up and active early and in the sun all day long. Most restaurants close around 9-11pm. After 10pm you are very limited on where you can get food and drinks so plan accordingly. Live music is something that almost every restaurant has daily. Most of the local favorites are on the water so expect great views, outdoor dining, and a light breeze. Between Key Largo and Islamorada you have many different tiki bar style restaurants to choose from. Dominos delivers late and there is a 24/hour McDonalds drive thru. Drive safe and sober in the keys, there is a very large police presence and a lot of bad drivers.
Things To Do Besides Scuba Diving In Key Largo
There is no shortage of activities to do while your in the Florida Keys. Every type of water activity is available almost everywhere. Jet ski rentals, sunset cruises, kayaking, biking, fishing, snorkeling, nature trails, and many different types of shops and restaurants. It is also very fun to just go drive around the keys. If you are staying in Key Largo and have a rental car consider driving through Islamorada. From Key Largo enter Anne’s Beach into your gps. This is about a 35 minute drive. There are so many cool things to see and places to stop on this drive. You could easily spend an entire day just making this drive and stopping along the way. Some other notable attractions are John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, History Of Diving Museum, and Theater Of The Sea.
Day trips to Marathon (1 hour drive) and Key West (2 hour drive) are also very doable. There is so much to see along the way that the drive goes by pretty quick. A Day trip to South Beach and downtown Miami is a little more than an hour drive. Not as much to see on the commute because it is mostly highway.
Everything About Scuba Diving In Key Largo
The dive capital of the world has no shortage of scuba diving. Dive sites are reached by boat charters. The reefs are located 4-6 miles offshore. This takes approximately 30-45 minutes by boat. Dive sites are located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The most notable reef dive sites will be part of Molasses Reef, French Reef, Elbow Reef, Carysfort Reef, and everything in between. The 3 most popular wreck dives in Key Largo are the USS Spiegel Grove, USCG Duane, and USCG Bibb. These wrecks are located just outside of the reefs.
Dive trips depart in the morning between 800am-900am and return to the dock 1145am-1230pm. Afternoon dive trips depart 1230pm-1pm and return 430pm-530pm. Night dives are not as readily available but generally run several nights per week. The timing of night dive trips changes throughout the year.
You can expect to dive at 2 different dive sites on each trip. Two aluminum 80 tanks is the standard. Different shops provide different amounts of time at each dive site. If you are an efficient breather and like a full 1 hour underwater choose your dive shop carefully. Most shops claim they give you a full hour underwater but that is not the case many times.
Different shops use different boats. You can expect to see the traditional v hull style dive boat that accommodates around 30 divers, catamaran style boats that accommodate similar numbers, and there are a few operators with smaller boats for 6-12 divers. Some shops are more relaxed whereas others are very strict with a tight schedule. Everyone’s preferences are different.
Scuba instruction is readily available with all the major certifying agencies. PADI and SSI are the most popular. Most shops offer a full range of recreational courses through entry level career courses. The option to add guide with you is also available through most shops. Some shops provide private guides, whereas other shops offer complimentary guides for everyone on the boat. You get what you pay for so plan accordingly to ensure your expectation is met.
Scuba gear rental is an option through all the different dive shops. You are able to rent full sets of gear or just the individual pieces that you need. Different shops carry different brands. The age and condition of rental gear varies shop to shop. If you have strong preferences in regards to gear be sure to ask plenty of questions to make sure you get what you want.
Key Largo Dive Sites
Generally speaking there are 2 types of dive sites in Key Largo. Deep and not deep. Deep dives require advanced certification and the dive shops will let you know if a trip is a deep dive before you book the trip. On non deep dives you are normally in water that is 20-35 feet deep. First thing many people ask when they get on the boat is how deep will they be diving. Unless your doing a wreck dive you do not need to be concerned about diving in really deep water and making sure you do not go too deep. Key Largo has really great visibility so you can always see the bottom from the surface on non deep dives.
There are some deep reef dives. These are going to be along a wall or ledge and sometimes done as a drift dive. These dives will require advanced certification and are generally in the 60-90 feet range. Deep dives are generally prescheduled and you will know at the time of booking whether or not the boat is “going deep”.
Deep wreck dives in Key Largo will be in water that is about 140 feet. The USS Spiegel Grove sits in approx 140 feet but most people stay within 90 to 110 feet deep. USCG Duanne sits at about 130 feet, most the dive will be around 105 ft. USCG Bibb is laying down on its side and you will spend most of your dive between 110-115 feet. Nitrox is available through most shops for nitrox certified divers.
Florida Keys Weather
The weather in Key Largo and all the keys is generally warm throughout the year. From May until October you can expect temperatures to consistently be 86-91 degrees. Check out this website for historical weather data. You can see every individual day for past couple years. During this time of year water temperatures will be in the mid to upper 80’s. Wetsuits are optional and most people dive in a bathing suit and rash guard.
The “winter” season in Key Largo is November through March. Temperatures during this time of will be in the 70’s and low 80’s. January and February are most likely times for cooler weather. Occasionally temperatures will drop into the upper 60’s and even cooler overnight. Water temperatures this time of the year will be in the 70’s. For example on January 6, 2021 water temp was 75.5 at 31 feet. February 5, 2021 water temp was 73 degrees at 30 feet, and finally on February 17, 2021 water temp was 77.8 degrees at 34 feet. During this time of the year you will see some brave souls not wearing wetsuits but most people will have on 3mm to 5 mm wetsuit. Drysuits are very uncommon to see.
Most dive shops dive rain or shine. Lightening will obviously get dives cancelled. The most important weather variable that we follow is the wind. Wind creates the waves which can some times make the seas too rough to safely go scuba diving. Conditions are smoothest when the winds are coming from the North west. Seas become the roughest when the winds are from the South East. Most dive shops do not allow students in seas over 3 foot and boats get cancelled when seas are 4 feet or higher.