TRAVEL NOTES FOR KEY LARGO
ABOUT KEY LARGO DIVING:
If you're looking for some nice tropical diving similar to what you find in the Caribbean, but located conveniently in the United States, Key Largo is the answer. It has colorful reefs , lots of marine life, good visibility, and lots of interesting wrecks. Best of all, It's right here in the USA and you can get there by car. Aside from diving, there is also an interesting above-water environment. Lots of small shops and restaurants give everyone plenty to explore even if they are not diving. They Keys have a unique laid back vibe that is contagious.
When you first arrive in Key Largo one of the first things you notice is there are lots and lots of dive operators squashed into a small area on a single stretch of road. You probably won't have any problem finding a company to dive with, even a the last minute.
If you are arriving at night, keep in mind that many of the businesses in Key Largo close relatively early. It's a good idea to contact the hotel you are staying with to make sure there won't be any problems arriving at off hours. This applies particularly to the many small mom and pop hotels all throughout the Keys. If you're staying with a big hotel it probably won't be an issue.
When making your diving arrangements, it's a good idea to read-up on the place you choose to dive with because service and prices vary, especially during the high season when the dive shops are busy. As always, safety is most important, so look for operations that are known to be dependable and safe. I've listed a few dive operators below to check out.
If you are used to diving at resorts or live aboards, then you are probably used to the idea of having a dive-guide lead the dive and point things out along the way. This is not the case in Key Largo. Most diving arrangements do not include a guide as part of the price. They rent you the equipment and take you out to the site, and then it is up to you to do the rest. Not a problem for any up to date certified diver, but if you just like having a guide, then you may have to pay extra.
The reef dives off Key Largo are generally very shallow in the 15 - 35 ft. deep range. During our dives at Carry (Lighthouse) the underwater swells were strong and pushed us around a bit in some places. But the marine life was vibrant with lots of different fish species scattered all around, and the visibility was good at about 50 ft. In my opinion the reef dives were very pleasant, but they lacked having any spectacular 'wow' factor. But for the convenience and price, it's a heck of a good place to get some warm-water dives under the belt, and practice your camera skills on some interesting reef-y scenery.
If you are seeking something a little more adventurous in your dives, you will want to head to one of the many wrecks that scatter the keys. Spiegel Grove is the biggest at about 500ft long and 80 - 130 feet deep. Also there are a couple of sunken Coast Guard Cutters, named the Duane and the Bibb, that are excellent dives. If you have a choice, you might choose to dive the Duane first before the Bibb because it lies right side up and is easier to navigate and enjoy; not to mention the Duane is just a very cool wreck.
If you don't own a pair of scuba gloves, you should consider getting some before going on the wreck dives. All the wrecks are tied off by ropes and buoys which you must descend by hand. The seas can get a little choppy making it difficult to hold on at the surface. Some lightweight gloves will save you from the irritation of fire coral and rope burns.
When you sign up for the wreck dives you will be asked to pay a non-voluntary fee of about $15 per person. This fee is to help pay off the cost of sinking the ships for artificial reefs. In turn we got a "Shipwrecks of the Florida Keys" medallion which you can take home as a souvenir. So make sure to factor in the extra cost per person if you plan on doing wreck dives.
On our stay in 2009 we dove with Silent World Dive Center. On our trip Silent World had a very professional and friendly staff, and their service was good. Most importantly they kept safety as a top priority. We were happy with their service and would dive with them again. There are also many other dive shops in the area such as Conch Republic Divers, Ocean Divers, Amy's Amoray Resort, Quiescence Diving Services, It's A Dive, and Pleasure Divers to name a few. Check here for more dive operators.
Depending on your budget and preferences, there are lots of choices for hotels around Key Largo. There are a couple high end resorts if you are looking for a more refined vacation, or you can choose from a myriad of small mom and pop motels that are scattered throughout the keys.
Personally speaking I am more interested in spending my money on diving, and I tend to care less about an expensive hotel. That being said there are some pretty decent budget motels you can find but there are also some pretty lousy ones too. The first time we dove in Key Largo we stayed at the Conch on Inn. The second time we stayed at Ed and Ellen's Lodgings which is right next door from Silent World Dive Center. Both of these places were adequate but nothing fancy. Definitely part of the old-school Keys experience.
Lots of airlines fly into Miami (MIA) which is only about an hour or two from Key Largo. We chose to fly AirTran out of Westchester Airport (HPN) into West Palm Beach (PBI). For some reason the price is less than flying into Miami and it is only about 3 hours from Key Largo by car.
WHEN TO TRAVEL:
Pretty much any time of year is good. It can get a bit cool in the winter time. When we visited in March 2009, it was just starting to warm up again. Water temps were in the 71 - 73*F range and the weather was in the 79* - 84*F range. In the summer it get's very hot.
RESTAURANTS: Fish House, Hobos, Ballyhoos Seafood Grille, Upper Crust Pizza, Snappers. Hideout Restaurant, Snooks, Key Largo Conch House,. There are tons of bars and restaurants. Check here for some ideas.
--> The Fish House is a great place to eat and a must-do at least once. Huge menu and friendly service. They get fresh fish daily and prepare it just about every way possible. Can't miss it from the road.
--> Hobos is a small cafe that has been renovated recently and offers American cuisine like burgers, salads, and fish. It's a great place for a quick lunch or to have a couple drinks after diving. They have good fresh coleslaw. Well priced and tasty.
--> Balyhoos is a little pricy for the food in my opinion but it was still good. Well worth it for the all you can eat deals. But for just a regular lunch, we enjoyed going to Hobos.
DIVE SITES: See maps below: