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Islamorada, Florida Keys

Whether you’re a brand-new diver or an old salt, traveling solo or with the whole family, if you love outdoor adventure on a laidback schedule, you’ll find your perfect match in “the Village of Islands.”
By Patricia Wuest | Created On November 28, 2023
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Islamorada, Florida Keys

A lighthouse in the water

The combination of diving and the natural beauty of the Florida Keys makes it a popular destination for those seeking an immersive marine experience.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Islamorada Is a Perfect Match For ...

Experienced divers who are underwater photographers — you’ll love the Eagle for its wide-angle drama, color and mobs of fish.

Families who love being outdoors together — pack your vacation with adventures and activities, including watersports, bicycling and hiking.

New divers who prefer sun-filled excursions on shallow reefs packed with colorful corals and tropical fish.

A person and person fishing on a boat

Apart from diving, Islamorada offers a range of outdoor activities. You can enjoy snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing in the crystal-clear waters.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Known as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World,” the keys making up Islamorada, the area just south of Key Largo — Plantation, Windley, Upper and Lower Matecumbe, Lignumvitae and Indian — could also be dubbed “The Playground of the Florida Keys.” There’s so much to do, from sportfishing to watersports to biking and hiking, that adventure-seeking divers will never run out of surface-interval excitement in this sun-kissed stretch of islands. Best of all, you can hit “pause” on the play button and find laid-back and carefree activities, too, like enjoying a cocktail while viewing a spectacular sunset.

A Thriving Community in Islamorada

The official slogan of the community known collectively as Islamorada is “the Village of Islands.” The area began blossoming in and around Upper Matecumbe Key, and in 1997, the region was incorporated as a municipality. Like the rest of the Florida Keys, the waters surrounding this region include tidal wetlands, mangrove forests and seagrass beds. These habitats are a nursery for the juvenile stage of the fish and crustaceans that divers find on the Keys’ offshore coral reefs. This section of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a diver’s dream, and if you’ve come to play, you’ll find a host of activities besides diving, from viewing historic 19th-century ruins to kayaking, fishing and biking. Best of all, when you stay in this region, you choose where to set the “vacation-vibe dial” — spend your time here enjoying high-octane fun or kick-back-and-unwind relaxation, or a little of both.

A group of fish swimming in the ocean

Divers can encounter a variety of marine life, including colorful coral formations, tropical fish, sea turtles, and even larger species such as nurse sharks and rays.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Diving in Islamorada

Divers with an advanced open water C-card will find endless thrills on the Eagle, a beautifully encrusted former freighter that was intentionally scuttled and is arguably the crown jewel of Islamorada diving. It is one of nine wrecks in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Shipwreck Trail. Though Hurricane Georges split the Eagle’s hull in two in 1998, the wreck is still an amazing dive, with tarpon, goliath groupers, schools of grunts and jacks swirling the vessels that’s more reef than it is sunken ship. Nearly every inch of real estate on the structure is festooned in a forest of colorful sea feathers, sponges and corals. Bring a dive light to bring out all the color, and if you’re an underwater shooter, make sure to photograph the crow’s nest and four-blade propeller — they are guaranteed Instagram-worthy photo opps. For experienced divers seeking to complete a wreck diver course, the Eagle offers several small swim-throughs and some wreck penetration opportunities.

There’s plenty of beginner-friendly reefs, too, including Alligator, Crocker and Davis reefs. You’ll find grunts and goatfish galore on the shallow reefs, where the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary managers have worked hard to protect the marine life, such as sea rods, sea whips, sea feathers, sea fans, and many species of corals, including brain and star corals. The sandy channels found at the spur-and-grove coral sites often play host to stingrays and large green morays out and about in search of tasty crustaceans, and the mounding coral heads and barrel sponges offer hiding spots for many creatures, such as shrimp, flamingo tongue snails and crabs.

A group of people looking at scuba diving equipment

History of Diving Museum

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Topside Fun in Islamorada

If you like fishing, Islamorada is an angler’s paradise. The Keys’ largest fleet of offshore charter and shallow-water backcountry boats can put you on the best spots for sticking a pole in the water.

It’s worth visiting the History of Diving Museum, which has exhibits dedicated to preserving the history of the sport, with an emphasis on the contributions of the Keys. Check the museum’s calendar when you’re visiting; each month, speakers, special presentations and events are planned.

You can also book a walking tour led by a guide who will share the remarkable stories of the people and events that had a lasting impact on this historic community. Fans of the Netflix series Bloodline can visit some of the bars, pubs and restaurants that served as the setting for many memorable scenes in the show. Islamorada boasts a vibrant arts and cultural district, too.

If you’re looking for a dive destination that offers something for everyone in your group, plan a stay in the Islamorada area, a place that’s packed with diverse adventure experiences.

At a Glance: Islamorada

Average water temp 69°F to 88ºF >> What to wear 3 mm in summer; 7 mm in winter >> Average viz 60 feet or more >> When to go Year-round >> What to pack besides dive gear Sturdy shoes — you’ll love hiking on any of the numerous trails here