There’s no shortage of things to do in Key Largo, located just about an hour’s drive from Miami. From scuba diving and paddleboarding at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to munching on coconut onion rings at the Blackwater Siren, there are more wonderful activities than you could ever hope to get to in a week or two.
But before you finalize your plans, check out these things you probably didn’t know you could do in Key Largo. If experiencing the quirky, fascinating side of Key Largo — and avoiding the crowds — sounds like your idea of a good time, keep these activities in mind.
1. Take A Ride On The African Queen
If you’re a Humphrey Bogart fan or love Katharine Hepburn, this should be one of your top Key Largo picks. The vessel became famous when Bogart and Hepburn starred in the 1951 film by the same name.
While the movie was filmed in Uganda, the African Queen is now located in Key Largo and serves as a leisure canal cruise boat. Take a turn at the wheel — just ask the captain’s permission! — or enjoy a romantic dinner cruise in the evening.
The boat is located in the Marina Del Mar; if you can’t locate it, the friendly locals will show you the way. The boat’s captain is entertaining, knowledgeable, and friendly.
2. Dive Into Your Room At Jules’ Undersea Lodge
If you’re into scuba diving, you’ll love this unique adventure hotel in Key Largo. Jules’ Undersea Lodge is the world’s only underwater hotel, and you have to scuba dive your way to your room. But don’t plan to stay if you don’t meet the medical requirements and can’t sign the waiver without hesitation.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge used to be a research laboratory and underwater habitat, but now guests can spend the night staring out the 42-inch round windows watching reef fish like barracuda, angelfish, and parrotfish from the comfort of their bed.
Not only can you enjoy the unique setup of this lodge, but you can also take scuba-diving lessons at the park — including an open-water certification course and a PADI Discover Scuba Diving course — and enjoy free diving around the lagoon.
You might even rub elbows with a celebrity: Jules’ Undersea Lodge has hosted actor Tim Allen, singer Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, and former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau.
3. Visit Christ Of The Abyss
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to something amazing that you’ll miss out on unless you grab a scuba tank and gear and head out to the site of the Dry Rocks coral reef.
A 9-foot-tall bronze statue of Christ was dropped down into the waters of the site, about 25 feet off the coast of Key Largo, in 1965. This particular statue is actually the third cast from an Italian mold. The original statue from the mold, Il Cristo degli Abissi, was set in place in the Mediterranean 11 years earlier, just off the coast of San Fruttuoso. The second was cast in 1961 and submerged off the coast of Saint George’s, Grenada.
The statue was sculpted by Guido Galletti and commissioned by Italian diver Duilio Marcante in memory of Dario Gonzatti, his friend and fellow diver. Gonzatti was the first Italian to use scuba gear and tragically lost his life in 1947. The statue was intended to serve as a reminder of Christ in the New World and as a memorial to all those who have lost their lives at sea.
You can see the top of the statue and catch some glimpses of it while snorkeling in Key Largo’s most popular state park, but since the top of the statue is 8 to 10 feet below the surface, you’ll get much better views as a scuba diver.
4. Go Bird-Watching At The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center
If you love birds, you simply must visit the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. Wild birds of all kinds gather at the sanctuary, and you’ll see them flying about as you enter the no-fee facility and enjoy the grounds.
During your visit, you’ll learn about the mission of the center, which is to rescue injured and otherwise harmed birds, rehabilitate them, and release them back into the wild. You can learn about the situation of each bird at the facility by reading the card posted by the cage they’re living in while they heal.
This is, of course, a great place to bring kids to learn about birds, conservation, and wildlife, but it’s also a wonderful way for adults to spend the afternoon in a peaceful — albeit sometimes noisy — environment focused on healing and care.
If you find yourself in love with a particular bird, you can “adopt” them through the adopt-a-bird program that helps to fund the care and feeding of each bird in the sanctuary. On the adoption page, you’ll see photos of and information about the current residents, birds from owls to pelicans to hawks.
5. Research Fish Species With EcoSail
If slippery critters are more your thing, you can join EcoSail for a tranquil glide through the Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys bays. You’ll learn about the creatures and plant life of the area, and you’ll have the opportunity to paddle through tunnels, explore underwater forests, and go snorkeling in the mangroves.
You can also help the captain in his population research by identifying fish and taking note of the aquatic life you see while you’re out exploring the stunning area.
6. Watch The Dolphins At Island Dolphin Care
If you love dolphins and delight in the bond between the lovable creatures and humans, the Island Dolphin Care program is an experience you’ll never forget. The organization strives “to provide unique, animal-assisted, therapeutic, motivational, and educational therapy programs to children, adults with special needs, and their families and caregivers.” The program doesn’t just benefit bipeds — through interactive activities, educational opportunities, and research, participants in the program come to value and respect dolphins and their environment.
You can schedule a guided tour in advance to learn more about the program, observe the dolphins up close, tour the facility, view the aquariums and gardens, and meet invertebrates in a touch-tank experience. You can also just drop in to observe the intelligent creatures from a balcony.
If you’re really eager to spend some quality time with the happy, healthy dolphins, you can choose between various dolphin-interaction experiences that may include kisses from the dolphins or even the chance to feed them.
All proceeds from the program’s gift shop go toward scholarships that help the soldiers, families, and children in the program.
7. Run Or Walk The Historic Overseas Heritage Trail
If you’re longing for a stroll along the seaside, head to the stunning historic Overseas Heritage Trail, a paved 90-mile network of trails for walking, hiking, and biking. You can start at any of the major Keys, including Key Largo, and head southward on foot for some stunning views.
When you spot something interesting, veer off onto one of the other Keys or one of the many stops along the way to explore the natural — or sometimes man-made — beauty of this paradise. Just be sure to download the PDF map and informational brochure beforehand so you don’t get lost.
Looking for more hidden gems in the Florida Keys? Check out these hidden gems in Key West.
8. Go Lobstering Off The Coast
A variety of charter companies will take you out on the water during the two-day lobstering season in July or pretty much any time during the main lobstering season that starts up in August and runs through March.
If you’re familiar with boats and want to participate in the lobster madness on your own or with friends, you can check out the Florida Keys Lobster Spots page to find the locations where the lobsters are biting — since Florida spiny lobsters don’t have those big pincers — with your GPS.
Be aware of the types of gear you’ll need and any licensing required. Otherwise, charter a boat or tour with a company that will make arrangements for you.