Scuba Diving in Key Largo: Worlds of Corals, Christ and Wrecks

Scuba Diving Key Largo Florida Keys
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Anyone coming to the Florida Keys for scuba diving should not miss Key Largo. This is the place to go for the most colourful corals of the Florida Keys and some wrecks worth diving. Find my tips and dive site recommendations in this blog article along with some of my favourite photos of that trip.

During my ten-day trip along the Florida Keys, I also stayed in Key Largo. And of course, I also spent a few days diving there. It was magical to see what was waiting for me in the water. The dive sites are highly recommended for beginners as well as for advanced divers. Since the larger dive shops usually have several trips to the different dive sites per day, everyone can can join no matter their level of experience.

From Miami, it takes just over an hour to reach Key Largo – which puts you in the middle of a diving paradise. If you are only in Florida for a stopover, or don’t have much time, you can also take a day trip here and go scuba diving in Key Largo. However, there are so many different beautiful dive sites here that several days of diving are definitely worthwhile.

Note: I was travelling the Keys in July 2023. Shortly afterwards, water temperatures rose rapidly, causing coral bleaching. More info here.

My favourite dive spots in Key Largo

What truly captivated me about the underwater world of Key Largo is the variety and colourfulness of the corals, which are the most beautiful and healthy here compared to Marathon and Key West. It is also here that I have seen the largest schools of fish.

The dives also tend to be shallower and are ideal for novice divers and those who enjoy long dives.

Wrecks around Key Largo

The east coast of the USA is famous among divers for its wrecks. However, many of them are not accessible to recreational divers due to their extreme depth. These are reserved for tech divers only. Fortunately, things are different in the Keys. For there are some shipwrecks that lie at less than 10 metres. And many others are still within the limits of what you are allowed to dive as a recreational diver with your Advanced Course.

A brief explanation of terms

  • USS = United States Ship = ships of the US Navy
  • SS = Steam Ship or also Sailing Ship
  • USCG = United States Coast Guards

SS Benwood

This wreck collided with a warship during World War II and subsequently sank in 1942. As she posed a danger to other ships, she was then further demolished with dynamite. The Benwood was 105 metres long and today lies at a depth of 7–14 metres. Particularly impressive is the still intact bow of the ship and large parts of the deck. There is also an anchor to be discovered in front of the bow. However, this does not belong to the Benwood, but to another wreck. With some luck, you will find large schools of fish and also turtles here.

SS Benwood at a glance

USS Spiegel Grove

Key Largo is famous for this wreck and attracts many divers who want to go there. The currents here vary from light to strong.

The USS Spiegel Grove lies at a depth of 20–40 metres and was intentionally sunk in 2002 to create an artificial reef. It is the largest wreck ever sunk for this purpose. Originally, the Spiegel Grove sat on its starboard side until Hurricane Dennis raised it in 2005, so that it now sits perfectly straight on the seabed.

During my visit, Spiegel Grove was also scheduled, and we were already at the dive site, but unfortunately the current was just too strong that day for a safe dive to be possible. Fortunately, there are some wrecks in Key Largo and so an alternative can be found in almost any weather.

USS Spiegel Grove at a glance

  • Depth: 20-40 m
  • Level: Advanced and Nitrox recommended
  • Current: light to strong
  • Note: Descend along the rope – gloves recommended due to shells and fish hooks
  • More info on the USS Spiegel Grove

SS City of Washington

The City of Washington was towed by a tugboat off the coast of the Keys until it ran aground and sank in no time in 1917. Before that, she was used for passenger transport and cargo between the USA, Cuba and Mexico. She was then used to carry troops during the Spanish-American War.

The SS City of Washington is a rather atypical wreck, as a lot of it is no longer intact and the remains are quite widely scattered. Due to the coral growth, some of the parts are no longer identifiable as a wreck and one could think that it has always been a natural reef.

City of Washington at a glance

More wrecks in Key Largo

In addition to the above, there are also two Coast Guard wrecks that can be explored by diving:

  • USCG Bibb: lies at 30-40m depth on its side and is unfortunately often not diveable due to the strong currents.
  • USCG Duane: lies at 21-37m depth and was sunk on purpose. Bull sharks are frequent guests here.

Tip: Due to the depth, it is recommended to dive with Nitrox. All dive centres offer it for an extra charge. Those who are not yet certified can also take a course on site.

Reefs around Key Largo

The coral reefs off Key Largo are, for me, the most beautiful in the entire Keys. I got to see six of them on my trip, and it’s really hard to single out any one in particular because they are so special and different. My highlights are the following:

Banana Patch

This dive site is part of Elbow Reef and certainly a little garden of Eden. This is where I saw the most colourful corals in the Keys and could have easily stayed there for hours. The soft corals and abundance of fish are almost magical, and if you’re lucky, you’ll also see large schools of silverside minnows (small silver fish) being chased by snappers.

Banana Patch at a glance

Snapper Ledge

Another highlight is Snapper Ledge with its huge schools of snappers. A rocky ledge overgrown with corals winds through the dive site, revealing small protective bays every now and then. It is here that the snappers can be found and sometimes they leave their sheltered position and swim around freely. Thousands of fish join together, which means you can’t even see through them. Simply magical and a must-do for me in the Upper Keys!

Snapper Ledge at a glance

Christ of the Abyss

The underwater statue of Christ is actually one of three in the world, designed and sunk by artist Guido Galletti. In addition to the Florida Keys, there are others in San Fruttuoso in Italy and St George’s in Grenada.

In 1965, the 260-kilogram statue, along with a 9-ton base, was sunk off the coast of Key Largo at about 7.6 metres and has been populated by coral ever since.

I don’t want you to miss a little gag from the dive briefing: Our captain described the dive spot and how we could find the statue. He mentioned briefly that we shouldn’t touch Jesus because otherwise we would burn. Shortly afterwards, he followed up: “No, I’m not kidding. The statue is covered in fire coral. And they burn.”

Great photos can be taken of the Christ of the Abyss and the reef around it is also healthy and colourful. Definitely a highlight in Key Largo.

Christ of the Abyss at a glance

Pickles Reef

This dive site is also a particularly interesting one because farmed corals have been and continue to be planted here. Many small coral structures can be found here. These are counted and measured regularly to observe their development and draw conclusions.

Pickles Reef at a glance

Recommendations for Diving Centres in Key Largo

In fact, I went diving with three different dive shops. It just happened that way because of different activities. I felt comfortable and above all safe with all three. The briefings were detailed and the crew courteous.

Quiescece

This dive centre focusses on private trips only. So if you are travelling with other divers on the Keys and want a boat for yourself, this is the place to be. These are also designed exactly for this and offer space for a maximum of six divers or snorkellers.

Horizon Divers

The first dives we did in the Keys were with Horizon Divers. We were on their larger boat, which also provided plenty of shade during breaks. If you dive in the mornings and afternoons, you can let the crew know that lunch is available in the harbour restaurant for the surface interval.

Rainbow Reef

Rainbow Reef is definitely the biggest dive centre I have ever been with. Whereas in the Keys you usually have to book dive guides separately, this dive shop includes them in their service (the guides appreciate tips, of course). Rainbow Reef has several dive boats that make several trips a day and go to different reefs and dive spots. Ideal for those who want to choose what they want to see.

Note: I was invited to join a press trip to discover the Florida Keys. I spent a few more days in the Keys at my own expense to dive some more reefs and enjoy the islands at my own pace.

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Grüß dich, I'm Viki!

At Chronic Wanderlust, I write about my two great passions: travelling and diving – and have been doing so since 2013.

I usually spend a solid majority of the year travelling to experience extraordinary underwater adventures, taking road trips through countries I don’t know (yet) or exploring my home country of Austria.

As a certified divemaster, passionate underwater & travel photographer, road trip enthusiast and individual traveller, I collect unique moments all over the world.

I don’t believe that severe cases of wanderlust – aka chronic wanderlust – can be cured, only treated. On this blog, I want to show you how this can best be realised.

Curious to get to know me better? Find out more about me here.

 
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