The first thing to know about Islamorada in the upper Florida Keys is that it’s actually made up of six islands that include four main islands connected by the Overseas Highway and two additional beauties just offshore. Together, they are Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, and the offshore islands of Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key.
Islamorada locals consider their slice of paradise a “village of islands.” And it’s safe to say that nearly all of the passions here revolve around that sparkling, clear Florida Keys water. In addition to being a world capital for backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly-fishing, Islamorada is a scuba diver’s paradise with both wrecks and extraordinary reefs to explore. And divers who follow our lead to these favorite sites above and below the water’s surface are in for one beautiful adventure.
Reef & Wreck Magic
For a fun underwater surprise, the likes of which you don’t find just anywhere, put a dive at Pleasure Reef on your itinerary. Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures runs regular boat trips to this shallow reef (just 25 to 30 feet deep) where clouds of schooling fish and nurse sharks abound. The real treat comes during the “flying eel show,” when the ribboning green eels thread their way across the sand as dive instructors feed them. If you’re up for it, you might even get the chance to feel a moray slide through your hands.
Islamorada Dive Center makes frequent visits to Davis Reef is another beloved site on Islamorada’s diving trail, and a good spot to look for snoozing sea turtles prone to nodding off under the reef’s shallow ledge. And if you’re into seeing all the weird and wonderful underwater critters that emerge after dark — crabs, basket stars and the like — the easily navigable ledge at Davis Reef is a favorite spot for night diving too.
For a deeper dive and a shot at seeing passing pelagics such as eagle rays, consider a dive with Seamonkeys Divers at Islamorada Marina at Crocker Reef and Wall. The sloping reef makes a gradual descent to 90 feet and is a good place to admire huge coral heads clouded with fish as well as barrel sponges and gorgonians.
And when it’s time to experience the thrill of one of the best wreck dives in the Keys, you’ve come to the right place. Islamorada’s crown jewel dive site is the purpose-sunk wreck of the Eagle, a 287-foot-long freighter that once served the Eagle tire company. Any number of dive shops can bring you here to dive, among them Conch Republic Divers, Florida Keys Dive Center and Key Dives at Bud ’n’ Mary’s Marina. The maximum depth here is 110 feet, but there’s much to be seen on the shallower portions of the wreck too, with clouds of baitfish filling the cargo holds, and big-ticket pelagics — including bull sharks and even the occasional sawfish — prone to pass by on the currents of the Gulf Stream.
While diving might be why you come to Islamorada, you’ll find plenty to do once you towel off at day’s end too.
The History of Diving Museum offers a fascinating peek into the sport’s storied past and mankind’s perpetual pull toward the world’s oceans, with an incredible collection of antique diving helmets on display.
KeyZ Charters leads hourlong boat tours through winding mangrove channels where you might spot American saltwater crocodiles at home in the waters, as well as iguanas, osprey, dolphins and manatees. Longer tours take in fascinating historical sites like the Alligator Lighthouse that dates to 1873 and Indian Key Historic State Park, an island that was once used for salvaging shipwreck cargo.
And a day’s fun isn’t done in the Florida Keys until you find yourself perched somewhere and poised to enjoy another sunset. Lazy Days Restaurant has a waterfront terrace with fabulous views and is famous for its breaded and deep-fried cracked conch. If you happened to have been out fishing and hooked some fresh fish yourself, the chefs will prepare it for you and serve it with a slew of sides for your crew.
Another favorite Islamorada watering hole and restaurant is the dockside Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar (look for the giant mermaid sign at mile marker 82 and you’ll know you’ve arrived), where patrons are just as likely to arrive by boat as by car. Order a Key Lime Colada — a cocktail with a true sense of place that goes down like a treat after a day of diving. And if you’re visiting during stone crab season (mid-October to mid-May), the sustainable crustacean is a pricey but incredibly delicious Keys specialty you won’t want to pass up.
For more information visit fla-keys.com/islamorada
Plan Your Trip
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