Guide to Scuba Diving The Florida Keys

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, The Keys should be on every diver’s to-do list.

Listed below are all of the best places and things you won’t want to miss, as well as our recommendations for where to stay, when to go and more.


Where to dive around the Florida Keys:

florida manatees

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.
Christ of the Abyss
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 exist 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.


Our recommendation for the perfect Keys dive trip

florida lobster

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.

There are plenty of hotels or AirBNB options in the area where you can stay. Click HERE to search through options.

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.


Conclusion

vandenberg wreck

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. Check out our guide to diving WPB HERE.

Various caves, springs, rivers and cenotes. check out some awesome fresh water 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. If you have more time for a longer dive holiday, we put together a full guide to all scuba diving around Florida that you can read HERE, to plan out the perfect trip!

Justin Carmack on FacebookJustin Carmack on Instagram
Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!

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