World-Class Diving In Our Own Backyard
Alex and I are both avid scuba divers! She's more of a tropical, warm-water diver and I'm a little bit more hard core. Before we went on this adventure, I was diving at least once a week in La Jolla, CA in an 7 mil wetsuit, hood and booties to brave the cool 50 degree water temp! Brrrrrr...
But since we've been in the Keys, we had been anxious to get in some warm water diving and maybe a shipwreck since we heard there are so many up and down the coast of Florida. What we didn't know was that Florida is also home to the world’s third largest coral reef system along the Keys! What?! The first biggest is of course the Great Barrier Reef in Australia followed by Belize and then the reef in the Florida Keys!
On discovering this, we set about finding a great spot to experience the reef for ourselves. After asking around and doing some research, we decided to book our dive at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Fl. The park is very close to the reef and is the official concessionaire of the state park that protects part of the reef.
Read along or watch our video of this awesome two tank coral reef dive:
Our Two Tank, Two Hour Dive
We chose a 9:00AM dive trip, and couldn’t have picked a better morning. It was bright and sunny, and the wind was decreasing from the previous night, so the seas were fairly calm. We checked in early with the dive shop, got fitted for gear, and met the crew of our boat. A short 30 minute boat ride across turquoise water brought us to our first dive site.
Both dives on this trip were on the Molasses Reef, which is a local favorite spot. Our first stop was called Fire Coral Cave, and while we didn’t find the cave, we did find plenty of fire coral, some barracuda, a sleepy nurse shark, and an abundance of colorful reef fish whose names we didn’t know.
Our second dive was at a nearby site only 5 minutes away, called Eagle Ray Alley. We didn't need a long surface interval, so we hopped back in as soon as we arrived. We didn’t see any eagle rays for which the site is named (they usually show up in the summer), but we did see another two nurse sharks, two sea turtles, plenty more colorful fish, barracuda, and the endangered Elkhorn Coral.
We really enjoyed these dives and the reef was just beaming with color! The water was a refreshing 70 degrees and very clear, giving at least 50 feet of visibility. Add to that these dives were shallow (at the deepest point we were around 30 feet down) so the dives were each an hour long, giving us plenty of time to chase fish and explore all the nooks and crannies of the reef. We were exhausted after the two dives, but smiling ear to ear!
Dive With John Pennekamp
There are two times daily, 9:00AM and 1:30PM, for dive trips here, and each of those trips includes two tank dives, each one at a different location, giving you plenty of opportunity to explore. The depth of the reef is super shallow, so you are able to stay down for almost an hour each dive. Price is $75 per person. If you need gear, they will provide everything you need for an extra $29 per person. Additionally, there is a park entry fee of $4.50 per person.
We found the staff to be very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Our boat crew (Sarah and Captain Dan) made the trip especially enjoyable and helped us get the inside scoop as to where to find certain features in the reef. It felt like a VIP experience!
Let us know if you too have done a dive here or if this is now going on your bucket list! Let us know what you think!