The jumping-off point to the Florida Keys is Key Largo, 42 miles southwest of Miami. After leaving the city behind, visitors will want to head straight for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park — the first underwater preserve in the United States — and the adjacent Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary.
A combined 20 miles long, these refuges feature 55 varieties of delicate corals and almost 500 different species of fish. And the 9-foot-tall “Christ of the Deep,” a 4,000-pound bronze statue, presents an unexpected underwater shrine.
Diving is the best way to tour the underwater paradise, but many of the wonders are visible from the glass-bottom boat, snorkeling and sailing tours also offered at the parks. For those who prefer snorkeling in an enclosed in-shore lagoon, the Key Largo Undersea Park offers a unique array of undersea adventures. Visitors can study the remains of a shipwreck, explore an underwater research laboratory and view a bizarre underwater art studio.
If one day isn’t enough, how about spending the night at the Jules Undersea Lodge, the world’s first underwater hotel, anchored 30 feet beneath the lagoon’s surface.
It’s a free attraction but a little diffcult to find because the ship is smaller than most visitors think.
Situated on the Eastern Side of the US 1 (Atlantic side) at Mile Marker 100, right behind the Holiday Inn Hotel.
Key Largo Visitors Center: ca. Mile Marker 106
106000 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL