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Visitors always ask, "What do you do in Key Largo?" Living here full time for the last 15 years, I'll tell you what my friends & I do!
Most Key Largo activities involve being on or in the water. We are fortunate to have the North America's largest living coral reef right here. If you don't have your own boat, you can rent a boat or join a charter. The Chamber of Commerce welcome center located at MM106 as you drive onto Key Largo has tons of discount coupons for charters like Quicksilver and Reef Roamer. Some include snorkel gear in the price and some offer prescription dive masks for a small extra charge. Destinations vary by wind and weather conditions. There are morning and afternoon charters.
Florida Bay Outfitters (MM 104) rents kayaks, has kayak excursions and can pretty much answer any question you might have related to the exploration of the coast by kayak. You can also rent kayaks in John Pennekamp Park.
Florida Bay (right side of the highway southbound) offers lots of coastal exploration. It is also the southern boundary for the Everglades National Park. It is possible to see manatees (usually in winter months) along the shoreline, egrets and other birds, and iguanas (on docks and in mangroves along the shore).
The Atlantic Ocean (left side of the highway southbound) offers an entirely different experience. It is possible to encounter a dolphin or see a ray or a sleeping shark in Pennekamp Park. Kayaks are so quiet, they don't disturb wildlife.
Just like with kayaking, you can choose between Florida Bay or the Atlantic Ocean. Florida Bay usually involves shallow water and a 'flats boat.' Your guide will often turn off the motor and 'pole in' to very shallow water, possibly in Everglades National Park. You can fish for tarpon and snook among many other types.
When deep sea fishing, you will be on a much larger boat. Price depends upon the type of fish you want to catch and how far out you will go. You can fish for dolphin (NOT Flipper) which is also known as mahi-mahi, sword fish, tuna, snapper, etc.
If you'd like to go fishing and not spend for a private charter, Sailor's Choice Party Boat leaves from the Holiday Inn Marina and costs $40 per person. They have a nominal rod rental fee and have morning and afternoon fishing trips.
You can bring your own boat or rent one. If you bring your own, you can launch at Caribbean Club (bar) at MM 104 for $15, and leave your vehicle and trailer parked there. If you stay at the Marriott, you can use their boat ramp for free.
What to do by boat? Fish, swim, dive, snorkel, explore. Or, do what we call the Barmuda Triangle. That involves designating a boat captain who will NOT drink (yes, the Keys strictly enforce sober boating laws). The boat passengers can visit and imbibe at Gilbert's, Caribbean Club and Cactus Jacks. All have ample dock space. On a Saturday & Sunday, Gilbert's has live music and it is a favorite stop for go-fast boats.
If you choose to swim, snorkel or dive, make sure to have your regulation dive flag displayed. This isn't just to comply with the rules. It is for your safety. On weekends, there is a lot of boat traffic and realize that not every boater may be as experienced as you are.
There are tons of places that rent jet skis. Most charge around $65 a half hour and $90 or so for an hour. The Chamber of Commerce welcome center at MM 106 has discount coupons. You must be at least 14 yrs. old, by state law, to operate a jet ski by yourself. Rental operators may require you to be at least 18 and I know one who will not rent to anyone under 21 yrs. old.
By state law, each rental operator will have a designated ride area. This is for everyone's safety. It is usually free of obstacles and has less boat traffic. Don't venture out of the designated ride area or else the ride operator will immediately ski out to you and may request you return to shore ( and forfeit any remaining ride time). This is all for your safety.
Key Largo is truly the "dive capital of the world." We have a dive operator every 100 yards along US1! Most offer morning, afternoon & evening dives. A dive experience can be tailored to meet your needs or you can go with a group. You can get dive certified in as little as a weekend. Experienced divers can visit a string of wrecks offshore. Newly certified divers can visit the more shallow reefs. There is truly something for every type of diver here.
The Key Largo Princess glass bottom boat leaves from the Holiday Inn Marina at 10am, 1pm and 4pm daily. Each adult is $30 and children are $15. While this is a less active way to be on the ocean, let me say if you are prone to motion sickness, skip this ride. Looking down and going slowly are a bad combination. If you are fine with that, it is a pleasant 2 hour ride. The bar is well stocked and open for the entire time. There are discount coupons available at the Holiday Inn and if you reserve ahead, you can save 20%.
This is probably one of the most popular activities in Key Largo. However, it is by reservation ONLY and you must reserve MONTHS in advance. Slots seem to be nearly always full. A 1 hour structured swim (you, other paying participants and an instructor) is $220. To bring friends to watch costs each of them $10. They take still photos and video which you can purchase. Think $$$ for the entire experience.
While it is a unique experience, very few locals have ever done it.
I have seen the boat packed with individuals loudly chatting away. The boat's motor roars loudly. Both scare off any possible wildlife. For the manatee part of this tour, they enter residential canals looking for the sea cows. If a manatee hears a boat motor, it will deep dive to avoid injury from the boat. Your chance of seeing a manatee on this tour is next-to-none. At minimally $50 per person for this 2 hour tour, you are better off to rent silent kayaks and explore on your own, not frightening wildlife.
Locals don't take this tour.
Yes, locals do go out on the casino boat!
The casino boat and the shuttle to it depart from the Holiday Inn Marina. The earliest sail is 2pm and the casino closes at 11:30pm. As their schedule changes, it is best to check their current schedule via their website and also make a reservation via their website. If you become a member of their players' club, the admission charge is either greatly reduced or waived. The Holiday Inn may also have free passes.
The Florida Keys are a string of limestone islands. We really don't have white sandy beaches. There is a small beach in John Pennekamp Park. Some of the hotels and resorts have man made beaches. The Hilton and the Marriott have nice man made beaches. If I want to spend the day on a white sand beach, I drive to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.
If you are unlucky enough to stay at a hotel without a swimming pool, you still have a few options. The Big Chill (MM 104) allows folks to use their pool on a daily basis if you spend $25 on food and drinks per person. That's pretty easy, considering appetizers run $10 and a non happy hour beer is $4.50.
The other option is Jacobs Aquatic Center at MM 100. It has an olympic sized pool. Family admission is $25 on a weekend. Individual admission on a weekend is $10. If you'd like to visit Jacobs Aquatic Center, it is best to check their website (jacobsaquaticcenter.org) first as all the schools have scheduled swim classes at their pool. The public is "fit in" after the classes.