Key Largo is the gateway to the Keys, offering tons of draws and dopamine, worthy of its reputation. Islamorada on the other hand is a more intimate look at the wonders of the Keys. It is a village after all. Both can easily be conquered along a single long highway.
The first stop to the fabled Florida Keys adventure, Key Largo is one of the many reasons why Southern Florida is a destination to behold. But despite being the gateway to the Keys, Key Largo and all its charms and features is a destination worth staying long in.
In Key Largo, you’ll have a plethora of places to explore and things to do. National parks, dive sites, restaurants, and a whole lot more speckle the fabled town. Key Largo in all of its glory is the perfect blend of nature, history, and the thrills of a thriving town.
What Makes Key Largo Unique?
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Reef parks and aquatic reserves dot the entire Florida Keys, thanks to the well-gifted nature of Southern Florida. You can expect to find iconic natural reserves around these parts, but none more famous than the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Spanning 25 miles (40 km), the famous park is perhaps the most famous underwater feature of the Keys.
John Pennekamp State Park holds a lot of features that have thrilled and astounded water-loving tourists. The iconic park displays submerged features. Most of them are statues, cannons, and shipwrecks, perfect for diving and exploration.
But the park’s biggest draw has to be the marine life it houses. As you dive deeper, you will see an abundance of fishes swimming around the unique Christ of the Abyss statue. Standing on concrete, with arms wide open looking up towards the surface, it is a sight to behold.
The wealth of marine life present in the park is largely due to the myriads of safe habitats for a vast array of marine animals. You can see perfect spots for marine life, as well as tropical vegetation, giving the right conditions and ingredients for life to thrive.
Thanks to its underwater features, and safe conditions you can do several activities here. Further making the park famous for the adventurous. Apart from diving, you can snorkel, and enjoy a catamaran ride around different spots of the reef. Some catamaran tours even include an extra trip to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which is a whole nother gem in itself.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park also has beaches that are perfect for a long and fun excursion across the depths. You can do many other activities here such as kayaking, canoeing, picnics, and lounging by the sand.
With water making up most of its geography, Key Largo is teeming with aquatic features from beaches to seas teeming with marine life. You can expect to find a plethora of exciting activities to do here. Some of the most popular options are snorkeling, paddling, kayaking, and many more.
Here are some of the most go-to activities:
Aquatic state parks aside, you can find an abundance of other snorkeling spots across Key Largo that holds the same beauty and life. One thing about many of Key Largo’s famous spots is how inviting and safe they are. They can be especially popular among beginner snorkelers.
Snorkeling tours are the perfect choice if you’re a beginner at snorkeling. This gives you the thrill of the experience, but without the risk of doing it alone. Popular snorkeling sites across the waters of Key Largo tend to have calm seas and gentle currents. They are safe and perfect for snorkeling for all experience levels.
One of the popular tour packages you can book is the Key Largo Snorkeling Tours, catering to different levels of snorkelers. But it is the most ideal choice for beginners. This tour can take you around the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. You can explore in great conditions along with rich marine life here.
Paddling or paddleboarding is made perfect in Key Largo thanks to its calm conditions. Mostly having gentle seas, swimming, kayaking, and even paddleboarding is best done here.
You can paddleboard across lush mangrove forests across the city. These places don’t only offer calm conditions, but they’re a whole different scenery in itself. You can easily book paddleboarding activities via your hotel, or many tour companies in town.
With its abundance of marine life and perfect conditions, fishing is easily one of the most popular water activities in Key Largo. But with the abundance of fish comes a whole slew of fish species as well. Trying to decide the best catch is a fun challenge to have.
Key Largo is surrounded by marine conservation parks, making it teeming with a variety of potential catches. The entire Florida Keys sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. To make things more interesting, the island chain runs along with the Florida Keys Reef Tract. The vast underwater wonder is the third-largest barrier reef system in the world.
You can choose from the many fish species that call the Florida Keys’ waters home. There are mahi-mahi, groupers, marlins, snappers, and even sailfish. Key Largo is also speckled with many fishing charters you can book with, so you can be sure to have that fabled Key Largo fishing experience.
Key Largo’s proximity to rich marine life and aquatic wonders has made it worthy of underwater excursions. Scuba Diving from Key Largo is one of the best scenes you’ll ever get. You’ll be diving around reefs, rocks, and even shipwrecks.
Key Largo sports two incredible dive sites that offer great experiences. These sites offer a rich combination of nature and history, further proving how special diving is from here. One of these is Molasses Reef, a massive reef system that goes as deep as 90 feet (27 m). The coral reefs here are its best selling point, with their beauty and peculiarities.
Another spot is the USS Spiegel Grove Wreck, a piece of sunken history in the Florida Keys. The US navy ship is 500 feet long (152 meters) and was used post-World War 2. It sank in 2002 near Key Largo. After its discovery, it then became a local wonder.
However, only experienced divers are allowed to reach it. The shipwreck lies 70 feet or 21 meters deep, with strong currents around.
Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
The Florida Keys isn’t all about high-energy thrills, it can also be perfect for downtimes, and chill adventures. You can easily walk, bike, and do a road trip around the interconnected islands. There’s no better place to do that than in the very vein that connected all of Florida Keys.
Starting in Key Largo, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail offers sweeping views of an engineering marvel. The iconic Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is 76 miles (122 km) long beginning in Key Largo and all the way to Key West. The expanse, however, isn’t just for cars and trucks. It also has many recreational amenities for cyclists and skaters willing to traverse its length.
The highway is also best to get a beautiful sweeping view of the Florida Keys in all its blue water splendor. Some cars and motorists even make stops at different points of the road to get a picture, or even just marvel at the incredible scenes.
Wildlife and Nature Conservation Parks
The Florida Keys may just be a part of the Sunshine State of Florida, but even its stretch is speckled with several natural parks. The island chain isn’t just for pure entertainment and thrill. Many spaces in its vast expanse are made for certain purposes. The most popular of which is conservation and protection of the rich natural life around.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
With over six miles (9.7 km) of bike paths, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park is a cyclist’s paradise. It offers beautiful sceneries and pristine nature, hikers even swear by this location.
Historically, the expanse was saved by one Dagny Johnson, an environmental activist. She helped in stopping the development efforts of the park. Now, the state park is home to a plethora of protected plant and animal species. Just like its mouthful of a name, the park boasts a handful of charms as well.
Due to its unique tropical environment making the right conditions, the park is the largest West Indian Hardwood hammock. This gives both hikers and cyclists an incredible setting for their adventures. The park also offers self-guided tours, along with marked paths and signages all over.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Expanding over 2,900 square nautical miles, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is packed. It is speckled with the best diving spots in Key Largo. The park was established in 1990 to protect the marine life, as well as the reef that thrives in the area.
Some of the best diving sites in all of the Florida Keys are found right off the coasts of Key Largo. The marine sanctuary houses several shipwrecks and popular reefs such as the Grecian Rocks, Molasses Reef, and the French Reef.
Everglades National Park
Though not exactly in the Florida Keys, the Everglades National Park is a famous itinerary nearby Key Largo. Found in mainland Florida, the coveted national park is a nature lover’s paradise.
The park consists of swamps, rivers, and marshes, making it rather peculiar to most. It also has mangrove forests, vast grasslands, and woodlands. The Everglades is undeniably varied and diverse, making it the perfect biome to host thriving natural life.
The Everglades houses a wide variety of animal and plant species, making it an important site. The park houses diverse sets of birds, reptiles, fish, and other animals. It even protects 35 endangered animal species. From panthers to manatees, you can find that many animals here are well-protected.
Apart from hiking, trekking, or cycling through the expanse, you can also kayak and canoe here. The Everglades offer various ways to explore and experience it. You can also avail self-guided tours via marked paths and signages.
Packed with two coveted titles, Islamorada may feel small but it definitely has the biggest impact in all of the Florida Keys. Thanks to its ridiculous abundance of natural beauty, visiting or even staying in Islamorada is one of the best ways to experience the Keys.
Expect to be in awe of its natural resources, pieces of history, and well-gifted draws. Islamorada can be considered to be one of the major keys in the island chain. And the best thing about it is it’s completely accessible from Key Largo.
What Makes Islamorada Unique?
The Sportfishing of the World
Thanks to rich marine resources, spanning from marine animals to reefs, Islamorada boasts the best fishing scene in the world. The Keys are sandwiched between the Everglades park and the Atlantic Ocean.
You can expect to find near-endless fishing possibilities. Plus, the stretch also sits near the Florida Keys Reef Tract, the third-largest barrier reef in the world. You might have a wealthy catch but the disadvantage is that you have so much water to cover.
From the many aquatic reserves and marine life sanctuaries across the village of Islamorada, expect to find a wide variety of fish. Here are some of you most likely catch:
The tarpon bite in Islamorada is legendary, with monster fish packing the shallows in the spring and a consistently good bite all year. For sight anglers and fly fishermen, the tarpon is perhaps the most worthy challenge. They can easily be lured out and put up a worthy fight once hooked.
A diverse range of large, delicious Snappers can be found on the area reefs and wrecks. The Keys’ signature species is the yellowtail snapper. Inshore, Mangrove Snapper can be found, as well as heavyweight brutes like Cubera Snapper further out.
Mahi-Mahi meets all of the criteria for an ideal offshore capture. They’re huge, tough, and look quite unusual. Mahi-Mahis can be caught in late spring and summer. Trolling around blue-water structures is the most common way to catch them. Getting to the better sites takes some time, but it’s well worth it.
Natural Resources Galore
There is an abundance of coastal marshes, mangrove forests, and seagrass habitats around the village. All of these ecosystems are one-of-a-kind, providing food, shelter, and nursery grounds for a diverse range of fish. Crustaceans, marine animals, reptiles, and bird species are also present.
The Florida Keys are sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean’s rough waters by the world’s third-biggest barrier reef. As a result, the majority of the village is protected from massive waves that could devastate various habitats. This has helped the area’s ecosystem to thrive.
You can visit the Theater of The Sea where you can learn more about the marine wonders of Islamorada, with a side of interactive entertainment. You can do a lot here. Swimming with dolphins, seeing endangered sea turtles, and even getting up close with sharks are just a few. The park is famous for its exciting interactive displays and activities.
Water Activities Aplenty
The Florida Keys are known for their gorgeous sunny days and exciting aquatic activities. This beautiful line of islands is surrounded by warm, turquoise blue waters and has sandy beaches. Because there is so much to do in Islamorada, it is one of the greatest places to visit in the Florida Keys. It’s the ideal retreat location for discovering nature’s unique aquatic life.
You’ll find a plethora of options in the village, whether you’re seeking surface fun, or underwater thrills and exploration. Here are some of the most famous things to do:
Abundant in marine resources, and marine life, sportfishing is one of the most popular activities in Islamorada. Awash with several spots for fishing, you can never run out of places to get a good catch. Plus, you can expect to find a variety of fish species as well.
Snorkeling and Diving
Islamorada is surrounded by beautiful reefs and teeming marine life, thanks to its proximity to natural wonders. You can find plenty of spots and sites to dive and snorkel in the village, especially as it is considered to be one of the best in the Florida Keys.
By booking with different charters, you can dive and snorkel around spots such as Davis Reef, Alligator Reef, and Conch Wall.
In Islamorada, various ecotour companies offer kayaking experiences. But they also put the environment’s health first.
Tourists will find some of the most interesting portions of the ecosystem in the mangrove expanses. Birds and a slew of other animals reside in these habitats. Paddling through these picturesque tidal canals is a great way to appreciate the natural beauty. You can see the complexity of this delicate environment.
Blessed with gorgeous shores and sandy beaches, Islamorada is a beach capital in the Florida Keys. Islamorada does have smooth continuous beaches that are underrated. Most of the beaches in the Keys aren’t as desirable. Islamorada is not just gifted underwater but on the surface too.
Here are three of the most popular places to visit:
Anne’s Beach is one of Islamorada’s few public sandy beaches. It’s often referred to as a “paradise stretch.” The water is clear and shallow here, making it ideal for small children.
Anyone looking to practice paddleboarding or snorkeling in a safe environment can also enjoy it here. However, because there is little cover in the region, it is recommended that you carry an umbrella and sunscreen.
Long Key State Park
It’s easy to understand why it’s such a valued spot, with magnificent beaches that provide the perfect backdrop for a stunning sunset. Long Key State Park is a great place to go bird watching, swimming, or sunbathing. Plus, it also has the Golden Orb nature trail, which is the longest in the Keys.
Before the devastation of Hurricane Irma in 2017, Long Key State Park was a favorite among the rich and famous.
Located offshore from Islamorada, the Indian Key is a historic and natural jewel. It used to be the seat of Miami Dade Country in 1836. Now abandoned and uninhabited, it still holds remnants of its past around the ghost town. You can still walk the roads of the original village, past the ruins of historic building foundations.
But apart from its historic appeal, the island is gifted with gorgeous shores, mangrove expanses, and turquoise beaches. You can explore the abandoned town, kayak around mangrove trees, and swim at the stunning beach.
Is Key Largo Better Than Islamorada?
When it comes to holidays of all sorts, Key Largo is a much better option than Islamorada. Key Largo, the gateway to the Keys, pretty much has everything you could ever want. The town is packed with the right blend of nature, history, and entertainment.
However, it is not saying that Islamorada is way below. The legendary village has its quirks and draws as well. But, a worthy holiday is well-spent in a place that has everything in its right albeit in large doses. And that is Key Largo.
Is Snorkeling Better in Islamorada or Key Largo?
Contrary to popular belief, the best snorkeling scenes aren’t in the big names of Key West or Key Largo. The middle keys have proven to have the best underwater features, which ironically just lie between Key West and Key Largo.
So you can expect to experience better snorkeling in Islamorada. Diving charters and snorkeling tours can take you to spots such as the Alligator Reef Lighthouse, Cheeca Rocks, and Crocker Wall.
Where to Stay – Key Largo or Islamorada?
Islamorada is the place to go if you want a more laid-back, small-town vibe, whereas Key Largo is the place to go if you want a more crowded, high-energy vibe. In either scenario, visitors will discover a superb holiday spot that highlights the best of the stunning Florida Keys.
How Do You Get From Islamorada to Key Largo?
Thanks to the extensive Overseas Highway, you can easily get to Key Largo from Islamorada by car. The drive only takes less than 30 minutes, but sometimes it may take longer than that because of the many worthy stops along the way.