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Florida Keys Diving

Voted Best Overall for its accessibility and show-stopper wrecks

By Brooke Morton | Created On November 7, 2023
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Florida Keys Diving

A group of people swimming underwater

The Florida Keys’ fishy reefs, vibrant dive community and abundance of iconic wrecks catapulted it to the top of most readers’ picks.

Courtesy of The Florida Keys

Named the Best Overall dive destination in the United States and Canada, the Florida Keys is a perennial favorite for its warm water, easy accessibility and Wreck Trek highlighting nine must-see big-action attractions. The Keys scored another three first-place wins—Underwater Photography, Beginner Diving and Snorkeling—rounding out its appeal as a destination that welcomes newbies and freedivers as well as seasoned shooters.

Starting in Key Largo, the northern-most island in the chain, the signature dive is the USS Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot Navy dock-landing ship sunk in 2002 that hails as one of the largest artificial reefs in the world. The ship is famous among wreck and technical divers for its four penetrable decks. The wreck also stands out for its abundant marine life: Swarms of barracuda, grouper, horse-eye jacks and schooling silversides blanket the top deck.

Key Largo is also home to one of the most beginner-friendly wrecks of the bunch: the 345-foot SS Benwood merchant freighter, which starts in 25 feet of water. Endless schools of snapper and grunts weave between the ship and its surrounding wreckage, all of which is dappled in sunlight.

Head to Islamorada, one of the next islands south on U.S. Route 1, to explore the Eagle, so named for the cargo of Eagle brand tires this 287-foot freighter was carrying when it sunk in 1985. Hurricane Georges in 1998 cracked the ship in two, revealing the wreck’s inner holds, a warren sheltering green moray eels, lobsters and angelfish. This site also serves as an oasis for passing goliath grouper and eagle rays.

A scuba diver looking at an anchor

The Benwood Wreck is a part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and is a testament to the fascinating history and marine biodiversity of the region.

Courtesy of The Florida Keys

In Marathon, one of the middle Keys, the must-dive wreck is the 188-foot Thunderbolt, sitting in 60 to 115 feet of water. With frequent currents, this is a more advanced dive, but well worth a visit to encounter the bronze propellers, swim through the wheelhouse and explore the top deck alongside eagle rays, tarpon and green sea turtles.

The standout attraction in the lower Keys is the Adolphus Busch Sr., a fully intact, 210-foot cargo freighter sunk in 1998 to a depth of 110 feet. This site is known to attract pelagic life, from lemon sharks cruising midship to the occasional hammerhead passing by. Two resident grouper patrol the ship, making for excellent photography subjects. Come summer, thick clouds of silversides rain down on the top deck.

In Key West, the southernmost isle in the chain, the biggest attraction is the 522-foot USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. This behemoth was a labor of love for locals, with metalworkers devoting hours to removing doors and rectangles from the hull and interior walls to make countless safe passageways through the ship. Every guide dives it differently, making it one more Florida Keys wreck dive guaranteed to be a unique experience every time.

Key Largo Must-Do

Rent a paddle-board or motor-boat and head less than a mile off Key Largo to a popular sandbar where locals gather on weekends, with as many as 100 boats meeting up for drinks and sunbathing.

Key West Must-Do

The Conch Republic is a great place to explore by bike. Rent one for the day, or choose a guided experience, such as Lloyd’s Tropical Bike Tour, for a local’s look at the hidden gems, including examples the island’s unique architecture, from Bahamian- to conch-style houses.

2024 Readers Choice Awards

The Florida Keys’ warm, inviting waters earned it a total of nine Readers Choice awards, including first place in Beginner Diving, Snorkeling, Underwater Photography and Best Overall.

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