Key Largo

The first and largest of the Florida Keys, only an hour from major South Florida urban airports, Key Largo is proud to be the "Dive Capital of the World." Most full-service Key Largo hotels and Key Largo resort facilities cater to those diving Key Largo reefs and wrecks. But this is also a great place to go sport-fishing, kayak, swim with dolphins, or base your adventures to the nearby Everglades.

Key Largo caught national attention in the 1948 Oscar-winning hurricane film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The only location actually filmed there was at the Caribbean Club Bar. Coincidentally, the actual steam vessel from Bogart’s The African Queen can be chartered from the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort.

One of the top dive sites in the world, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was created in 1960 as the nations first undersea preserve. The 188-square-mile park is a sanctuary for some of the only living coral reef in the continental U.S., with 40 species of coral and more than 650 species of fish. The original plans for Everglades National Park included this part of the reef within its boundaries, but was blocked by local property owners. The park is named after a championing conservationist and former Miami Herald editor.

The visitor center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium that re-creates a reef ecosystem. The dive shop provides snorkeling and scuba gear. If you’re not diving, you can rent motorboats, sailboats, windsurfing boards, or canoes, or take the 2-hour glass-bottomed-boat tour. You can hike either a dirt or boardwalk nature trail through hardwood hammocks, and canoe along mangrove channels and narrow tidal creeks.

The Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary has prohibited spear fishing and coral collection since 1975, and is part of the 2800-square-mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Some areas also prohibit hook and line fishing.

Here you can dive to a number of spectacular wrecks and underwater attractions. At 510 feet long, the Spiegel Grove is the largest ship ever to be intentionally scuttled to create an artificial coral reef. The Bibb and the Duane, two 327-foot Coast Guard cutters were purposely sunk here a quarter century ago and are now covered in coral. The Benwood is a wreck from WWII now home to schools of fish. Moray eels and barracuda frequent the historic wrecks along the Elbow reef. Another unique attraction is the bronze Statue of Christ of the Abyss, located 25 feet under water, and visible to surface snorkelers.

Dolphins Plus and the Dolphin Cove Research & Education Center offer bottlenose dolphin swims and encounters. For landlubbers, the Maritime Museum of the Florida Keys chronicles ill-fated ships run aground off the Keys.

Some of the best charter captains and guides in the world provide Key Largo boat rentals and Key Largo fishing trips out beyond the protected areas. Over 10 percent of the IGFA saltwater line class and fly-fishing world records have been set in the Florida Keys.

Key Largo accommodations range from the all-inclusive Marriott's Key Largo Bay Beach Resort to the family-friendly Popp’s Motel. Jules Undersea Lodge (rooms are underwater) is popular with diving honeymooners.

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