City Profile: Key Largo

By: VISIT FLORIDA staff

ADD TO FAVORITES
For a diving experience offered nowhere else in the U.S., visit Key Largo and experience the living coral reefs and wrecks.

Just this side of paradise (and a bit south of Miami) lies a chain of coral islands. Cross the Monroe County line and you'll be in the first of the Florida Keys, Key Largo. While the island is legendary for its lore of pirates and sunken treasure, today countless visitors have discovered the real treasure of Key Largo lies offshore - in its world-class diving.

Long known for the clarity of its waters, Key Largo's star diving attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the nation. Florida's coral reefs are home to more than 600 species of fish and 35 species of stony coral. The park is contained within the more recently designated Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to diving and snorkeling, the park offers guided walks, canoe trips, a glass-bottomed boat tour, picnicking, camping, fishing, boating and more.

Adjacent to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the former Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This underwater sanctuary encompasses more than 2,900 nautical square miles of reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove-fringed islands. A nine-foot statue entitled "Christ of the Abyss," a gift from an Italian entrepreneur, has become world renowned as a Key Largo icon and landmark for divers. Old movie buffs will be delighted to find that the original African Queen, the boat made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the movie of the same name, makes its home here as a stationary exhibit.

Fresh seafood, of course, is the specialty here, and no seafood lover should leave without sampling the sumptuous bounty of the local waters. The island is also dotted with colorful shopping areas filled with "Keys-style" merchandise.

A bit farther south, the quiet town of Tavernier lies along the Overseas Highway. The word Tavernier, which means tavern keeper, is the fourth or fifth most common name in France. Rumor has it that the island was named in honor of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a famous French traveler and jewel trader. Now visitors can stop by this charming hamlet and tour a restored turn-of-the-century home, church and postal office.

The first stop on the road down to Mile Marker 0 in Key West, Key Largo retains its own distinct island mentality, sure to delight honeymooners or family vacationers alike.

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