With so many great diving destinations throughout the world, one ought not to overlook diving off the Florida Keys, the American Bahamas.
The Florida Keys has been likened to the Bahamas and shares many similarities with the Bahamas. In fact, the Keys have been called the Conch Republic and Florida’s Bahamas. With similar weather and beautiful waters, it’s a great place to relax in a tropical paradise unlike any other place in the U.S. Another similarity is the quality of the SCUBA diving experience. The Florida Keys is a 120-mile archipelago stretching between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. The waters off the islands offer a unique diving experience for both snorkelers and the SCUBA enthusiast.
Northern, the Middle to the Lower Keys on to Key West
There are great diving locations all the way from the Upper Keys (Key Largo and Islamorada), through the Middle Keys and of course, the lower keys terminating at Key West which points the way to the Dry Tortugas (arguably the last Key, located about 70 miles west of Key West). The diving is excellent almost anywhere in the Florida Keys. The so-called bay side of the contiguous Keys provides numerous types of fishing, however, the diving is mediocrely lacking the crystal clarity of the waters off the south side of the Keys. Reef diving in general, is usually in relatively shallow waters; typically not more than 40 to 50 feet in depth.
The diving off the northern Keys and in fact, all of the Keys is quite interesting because of the beautiful, expanse of coral reefs stretching for over 100 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The Northern Keys is home to numerous artificial wrecks as well as real wrecks. In fact, Islamorada also is the location of a real Spanish galleon in less than 40 feet of water. There are numerous fish that abound in and around the reef line. A diver with basic snorkeling equipment can see interesting marine life while splashing along on the surface. However, to see marine life in a very close and personal way requires the use of SCUBA gear.
The Middle Keys offers Sombrero Reef, Delta Shoal, Middle Reef Coffin Patch, Adelaide Baker (The Dutch Key Wreck c. 1889), Critter Ridge, The Gap, and Shrimp Boat Reef. These are all interesting dive sites. Most are in waters from 25 to 50 feet in depth which offers unique sea life and interesting reef exploration. The Lower Keys dive locations would include Looe Key, Content Keys and South Beach Patches, Key West harbor, as well as many other dive locations. For the adventurous, there is some incredible sea life off of the Dry Tortugas, but as mentioned above, this is a long boat ride or short seaplane ride from Key West.
Dive Boats, Dive Operations & Accommodations
The Keys offers numerous dive operations from large dive boats with 20 or more divers to more personal “six-pack” dive operations for five or six divers. All have trained, licensed, and experienced crews to assist. Most include rentals for snorkel gear to full SCUBA outfits. For the more experienced, there are powerboats that may be rented permitting ultimate dive freedom for adventuresome divers.
There are, of course, almost any type of accommodation for the diver. These include hotels and motels specializing in dive packages. Additionally, there are rental homes and condominiums located throughout the keys with enough space to handle large groups of families or friends interested in dive vacations. In fact, there are even beautiful state campgrounds in the Northern Keys (John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park) and Bahia Honda State Park in the lower Middle Keys. Bahia Honda is located directly on a sandy beach (a rarity in the Florid Keys).
Of course, when in the Florida Keys, despite the great diving, a vacationer can not dive all the time. There are other diversions and great dining opportunities. That’s when divers over a cold beer, talk about the incredible reefs, the fish and the beauty of the waters, and the weather of the Florida Keys.