Key Largo Scuba Diving: Everything You Need to Know

The Florida Keys are known for their balmy weather, crystal clear turquoise water, and abundant wildlife. While all 800 of the Keys have their own allure, if you’re looking for the best place to scuba dive here, Key Largo should be at the top of your list. Here’s everything to know about Key Largo scuba diving, from the best dive sites to choose from to what you can expect to see underwater. 

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Woman scuba diving in Key Largo with coral reef in the background
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Table of contents

Let’s dive in (get it?!) to the basics of scuba diving in Key Largo. 

Is there a good coral reef in Key Largo?

Fun fact— the Florida Keys Reef Tract is actually the third largest coral reef on the planet, behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System in Central America. Plus, it’s the only living reef system in the continental U.S.

Unfortunately, due to global warming, it’s definitely not what it used to be, with some estimates indicating that 90% of its coral has been lost over the last 40 years. That’s not to say that diving here isn’t worth it—the most popular dive sites will obviously focus on areas where the coral is still alive and thriving, with plenty of wildlife. 

Spotted pufferfish in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

For what it’s worth, when my husband, Justin, and I dove in Key Largo (in early 2024), we were pretty impressed by the coral at the sites we stopped at, with plenty of soft and hard species, ranging from elkhorn and brain to fan and star corals. 

What kind of wildlife can you see while scuba diving in Key Largo?

Honestly, we were a teeny bit on the fence on whether diving in Key Largo was going to be worth it, given we had heard mixed things about the reef, we were going in the heart of winter (and we’re babies about the cold!), and it’s not the cheapest place to dive. That being said, we were ABSOLUTELY blown away by the amount of wildlife we saw on our dives! 

Turtle swimming in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

The reef around Key Largo boasts over 260 species of fish, including stingrays, eagle rays, manta rays, and several different kinds of sharks; 80 species of coral; crustaceans, like lobsters; and five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles.

During our dives in Key Largo, we saw THOUSANDS of tropical fish, including a stingray and an ENORMOUS pufferfish and multiple sea turtles, in addition to a variety of other creatures, like lobsters, eels, and nudibranchs. 

Best Time for Key Largo Scuba Diving

One of the best things about scuba diving in Key Largo is that you can do it pretty much year round. 

Couple scuba diving in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

Summer is the busiest time to dive here, but you’ll have pleasantly warm water, incredibly flat waves, and excellent visibility. Just be mindful of hurricanes that can rip through the Keys, especially from mid-August through mid-October (pssst… I’d recommend getting travel insurance, like through our friends at World Nomads, if you’re heading to Florida during this time). 

During the wintertime, the water is obviously colder, with water temperatures getting down to the low 70s in February. We went scuba diving in Key Largo in January and, to be honest, I was really psyching myself out for literally MONTHS about how freezing it was going to be. It turned out to be TOTALLY fine—a bit on the cool side, yes, but definitely nothing to be worried about with a wetsuit on! 

Woman scuba diving in a coral reef with fish in the background in Key Largo, Florida

Beyond the cold, the wind tends to be a bit stronger in the wintertime, which can make the seas much choppier and with lower visibility. When we went, we got pretty lucky with calm waves and decent visibility (around 40 feet), so it’ll obviously vary from day to day.

The only time I’d say to strictly avoid is the last Wednesday and Thursday of every July, when lobster season opens up in the Keys. During these two days, people flock to the waters to recreationally hunt lobsters and many of the reefs become a bloodbath for our poor crustacean friends, rather than a place to enjoy the underwater beauty of the Florida Reef. 

Best Dive Shops in Key Largo

Honestly, there are dozens of dive shops in Key Largo, with plenty of awesome options to choose from. Almost all of them are located less than a mile from the Overseas Highway, with their own docks and dive boats to take you out.

Here are some of the best ones:

1. Silent World Dive Center

This is the dive shop that Justin and I used when diving in Key Largo and we thought they were incredibly impressive. 

People getting onto a dive boat at the Silent World Dive Center in Key Largo, Florida

Our entire experience with Silent World was seamless. Since we live and travel in an RV full-time, we don’t have our own scuba equipment—but with this dive shop, gear rentals were automatically included in the package we purchased (which is definitely NOT the case with most Key Largo dive shops). Plus, all of the groups on our boat were super small (about four to five divers per guide). 

Everyone at Silent World was incredibly nice (which unfortunately hasn’t been the case with some of the dive shops we’ve used) and went out of their way to make sure you were having the best experience possible. Our guide, Kilian, was awesome and did an excellent job of pointing out wildlife underwater that we would have otherwise missed. 

Couple underwater whiel scuba diving in Key Largo, Florida

They take divers to a number of sites in Key Largo, like the Elbow Reef and Christ of the Abyss Statue, depending on the conditions for the day. We booked this all-inclusive two-tank dive with them and couldn’t recommend it enough.

2. Amoray Dive Resort

If you’re looking to do several dives in Key Largo, you might want to consider Amoray Dive Resort, which is actually a full-blown hotel that you can stay at! The resort offers a dive shop in the lobby, an onsite dive boat, and multiple daily scuba and snorkeling tours (how nice would it be to just walk a dozen steps from your room, right onto the dive boat?!). Beyond all of its scuba goodness, the resort offers other nice features for its guests, like an outdoor pool and free bike rentals.

Tropical fish in coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

Whether or not you choose to stay at the resort, the dive shop’s staff is extremely professional and excellent at communication, such as in the event that dive sites need to be adjusted due to weather or sea conditions. It also offers a variety of diving options, including reef, wreck, deep, and night dives and even courses in the Florida Marine Sanctuary. For example, check out this two-tank dive, where you’ll head out on their 45-foot catamaran to the best two dive sites, based on the day’s conditions, and includes tanks, weights, and use of snorkeling gear.

3. Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo

Sea Dwellers, a tiny boutique establishment who proudly purports to be the longest running dive shop in Key Largo, offers tours to a wide array of dive sites—in fact, they regularly visit over 50 sites! Some of their most commonly visited sites include Molasses Reef, Benwood Wreck, and the French Reef. And bonus—another one of Sea Dwellers’ claims to fame is that they spend 65 minutes at each dive site—which is the longest of any Key Largo scuba diving operator. 

Their staff are extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and really go out of their way to make sure you’re having an excellent time above and underwater. Plus their equipment, from their dive boat to the scuba gear itself, is incredibly well-kept and up-to-date. 

Man scuba diving in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

If Sea Dwellers sounds like your speed, check out this two-tank dive, which includes tanks, weights, snacks, water, and the use of reef safe sunscreen.

4. Island Ventures

This small dive shop is a great option if you’re diving with a large group, given they focus on providing private charters. 

One of the coolest things about Island Ventures is that they really try to provide guests the experience they’re looking for, whether you want to go out with a group of snorkelers and divers, check a bucket list dive site off your list, or see a particular kind of wildlife in the Keys. And, if you don’t have any specific dive sites that you want to hit, Island Ventures has some really incredible sites that they tend to hit a lot, like Snapper Ledge and Pickles Reef. 

Christ the Redeemer statue underwater while scuba diving in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida
Photo by microgen of Deposit Photos

They also tend to schedule their tours to leave on the early side, so that, if you happen to head to a popular site, you’ll be the first ones there. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like getting up early on vacation, that’s okay too—it’s a private charter and Island Ventures is flexible in their bookings!

Check out this private charter option, which stops at two separate sites and can include tanks and weights, if needed.

Best Dive Sites in Key Largo

There are HUNDREDS of dive sites around Key Largo so I’m obviously not going to cover them all, but I’ve listed some of the crowd favorites below. 

It’s worth noting that, if you book a group tour with a dive shop, you can absolutely request that they hit a certain site, but the captain and crew will almost always select the sites that will have the best diving, based on the day’s conditions. 

1. Elbow Reef

  • Depth: 10-45 feet
  • Good for: Beginner to advanced divers

Named for its shape when viewed aerially, this reef is home to multiple shipwreck sites, including Mike’s Wreck and the City of Washington. 

There’s plenty of shallow reefs here for beginner divers to explore, and more advanced divers can head to deeper areas, like a drift dive to Nelson’s Ledge, which drops to 70 feet and offers the opportunity to see some HUGE game fish. 

Tropical fish in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

The reef offers colorful coral heads—some as tall as 15 feet—and plentiful wildlife, from sea turtles and rays to moray eels and Caribbean reef sharks, plus hundreds of species of tropical fish. Best of all, this reef is a bit further offshore than most of the other Key Largo scuba diving sites, so it tends not to be very busy. Justin and I dove here and we were the only dive boat in sight! 

2. Christ the Redeemer Statue

  • Depth: 15-40 feet
  • Good for: Beginner to intermediate divers

Let’s get this one out of the way, as it’s arguably the most popular dive site in the area.

In 1965, a nine-foot tall, bronze sculpture of Jesus, with his arms outstretched, was lowered into 25 feet of water a couple miles off Key Largo’s coast. Ever since then, this unusual underwater site has become a bucket list dive for many visitors. 

Christ the Redeemer statue seen while scuba diving in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida
Photo by microgen of Deposit Photos

The statue is located on the seaward side of the Key Largo Dry Rocks, a shallow reef that’s kind of shaped like a hand, with sandy channels between each of the fingers, in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.  

Truth be told, this area gets a bit of a beating from the sheer volume of divers and snorkelers, given the popularity of the sculpture. However, there’s still quite a bit of brain coral, a decent variety of soft corals, and tropical fish in the area. In full transparency, I’ve actually heard from multiple divers that this area isn’t particularly worth diving in if you’re not overly interested in the sculpture itself—but if getting your photo snapped with a Jesus that’s 10 feet underwater is on your bucket list, this is one of the only places in the world where you can do that! 

3. Spiegel Grove

  • Depth: 65-130 feet
  • Good for: Advanced divers

In 2002, a 510-foot long ship, the USS Spiegel, was intentionally sunk about six miles off the coast of Key Largo. This massive ship is actually the largest ship to ever be intentionally sunk to create a new reef for divers—and the resulting artificial reef is MUCH larger than any natural reef structure found in the Keys. 

Goliath grouper seen underwater

The deck of the boat is about 65 feet underwater and bottoms out at 130 feet, making this site only suitable for advanced divers. However, divers who are qualified to explore the Spiegel’s impressive hull will get the chance to see over a hundred species of fish, including goliath grouper and Crevalle jacks; nurse and reef sharks; and sea turtles. Those who are certified to wreck dive can even enter the hull and explore through the ship’s hallways. 

Given the ship’s jaw-dropping size and the abundance of wildlife you can find here, this is one of the most most sought-after dive sites in Key Largo, especially for advanced divers. 

4. French Reef

  • Depth: 20-45 feet
  • Good for: Beginner to intermediate divers

This shallow reef is best known for its many swim-throughs, which can be accessible to even beginner divers, and caves. For example, the reef offers the aptly named Hourglass Cave or the Christmas Tree Cave, which has a large conically-shaped mound of star coral that towers over its top. 

Stingray seen underwater in the Atlantic Ocean while scuba diving

The French Reef is sheltered from many of the strong currents in the Keys, so this is an excellent choice for divers (or snorkelers!) who are looking to enjoy calmer waters. That being said, visibility here can be a challenge, due to the lack of water movement, and it also tends to be one of the busiest dive sites.

Despite those drawbacks, there’s lots to love about this site, including the chance to see larger pelagic fish, eagle rays, sharks, and even manta rays here.

5. Pickles Reef

  • Depth: 15-25 feet
  • Good for: Beginner and intermediate divers

This reef was the site of multiple wrecks over the years, with several unusual barrel-shaped cylinders of cement scattered across the ocean floor. It’s believed that these cylinders were once dry cement, which were transported in barrels aboard a long-ago wrecked ship.

School of grunts seen while scuba diving in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

This reef consists primarily of spur and groove coral formations and is an excellent place to see large schools of fish, including grunts, snappers, and sergeant majors. And, as a bonus, with its shallow depth, you can enjoy plenty of bottom time here. 

6. Snappers Ledge

  • Depth: 15-25 feet
  • Good for: Beginner and intermediate divers 

Snappers Ledge is incredibly popular, due to the sheer density of fish here. There’s usually massive schools of fish, including snapper (hence the name), grunts, and goatfish, as well as parrotfish, pufferfish, and wrasse. It’s also an excellent spot to see sharks, who like to chill underneath the ledge, and rays, who often swim just off the ledge. Plus, there’s one of the largest and healthiest examples of boulder brain corals in the Keys. 

Parrotfish seen while scuba diving in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

Snappers Ledge is also one of the best snorkeling spots in the Keys, so this is an excellent option if you want to go out with a group of divers and snorkelers alike. Just be aware that there can be a strong current here—while this gives the water excellent visibility, this isn’t a spot I’d recommend for swimmers who aren’t confident in the water.

7. Molasses Reef

  • Depth: 10-60 feet
  • Good for: Beginner to advanced divers

Molasses is one of the most requested dive sites in the Keys and it’s not hard to see why—in fact, you can find over 600 species of fish, coral, and other sea creatures here, including sea turtles, Caribbean reef sharks, stingrays, and skates. Despite its popularity, the coral here is quite beautiful, with enormous heads of staghorn and elkhorn coral, some as tall as 15 feet, stretching up from the sea floor.

Part of Molasses’ stunning biodiversity is due to the fact that it’s located within the Key Largo Management Area and considered a Sanctuary Preservation Area (i.e., fishing of any kind isn’t allowed here).

Wench covered with coral at Molasses Reef in Key Largo, Florida
Photo by Deepwrecks on Deposit Photos

Most of the reef is fairly shallow and perfect for beginner divers, but, for more advanced divers, currents along the edge of the reef are also awesome for learning how to drift dive. 

8. USCG Duane

  • Depth: 70-120 feet
  • Good for: Advanced divers

In 1987, the USCG Duane, a 327 foot long cutter, was intentionally sunk off of Key Largo’s shores in 120 feet of water. 

With the ship’s crowsnest found at 60 feet underwater, you’ll need to be an advanced open water diver to properly explore this wreck. Beyond just exploring the outside of the hull, this site  is also popular for wreck diving and deep diver certifications. 

Bull shark underwater in Florida

Over the last several decades, the Duane has seen an immense amount of coral and sponge growth and now serves as the home to hundreds of species of fish, including barracuda, yellowtail snapper, goliath grouper, spadefish, and bull sharks. From time to time, there’s even been some real bucket list worthy wildlife sightings here, including hammerhead sharks and a lone great white shark! 

9. Conch Reef and Wall

  • Depth: 50-100 feet
  • Good for: Beginner to advanced 

 The Conch Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area offers both a lively reef that’s suitable for beginner divers and one of the best developed reef walls in the Keys, with a top depth of 45 to 55 feet and sloping all the way down to over 100 feet. Advanced divers typically explore the wall as part of a drift dive.

True to its name, you’ll find lots of queen conch and fish, like grouper, snapper, and barracuda, as well as larger forms of sea life, including schools of manta rays and Caribbean reef sharks.

Manta ray swimming underwater

It’s worth mentioning that this site is right by the Acquarius Sea Base, the world’s only undersea research laboratory (where scientists actually stay for 10 days underwater!), and the Conch Reef Research Only Area, which is generally closed to the public. You can get heavy fines for accidentally entering this area, so I’d only recommend heading here with a guided tour to avoid any issues.

Frequently asked questions about Key Largo Scuba Diving

Can you scuba dive in Key Largo without being certified?

Yes, there’s a number of dive shops that offer tours to non-certified divers, covering the fundamentals of diving without going through the lengthy (and expensive!) process of certification. For example, check out this all-day adventure, including two open water dives, with Amoray Dive Resort, or this all-day option which also includes two open water dives, through Scuba Fun Dive Center, who have extremely patient and knowledgeable guides. 

Man doing the shaka sign while scuba diving in Key Largo, Florida

Alternatively, Key Largo is also one of the best places to snorkel in Florida, so if you’re not keen to devote an entire day to learning how to scuba dive, you’ll have plenty of options to join a snorkeling tour, like this tour to shallow reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; this tour, which frequently stops at the Christ the Redeemer statue; or this private option that’s perfect if you have a big group. 

Is Key Largo scuba diving any good?

Yes, Key Largo offers excellent scuba diving, no matter the level of diver you are—in fact, I’d argue that it’s some of the very best in the entire United States.

Sea turtle in a coral reef in Key Largo, Florida

That being said, everything is relative. If you’re comparing the coral here to what you’d find in the Maldives or French Polynesia, the Keys’ reef is unfortunately a bit more beat up than what you might see in the world’s best dive sites. 

As mentioned above, we were a bit on the fence about scuba diving here, due to some of the negative things we had heard about the reef, but we are SO glad we went—we had one of the best dives in our lives here! 

I hope you have the best time scuba diving in Key Largo! Do you have any questions about diving here? Let us know in the comments below! 

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