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Key West, Florida Keys

Whether you’re a brand-new diver or an old salt, traveling solo or with the whole family, if you’re ready for a dive vacation with a Caribbean twist, you’ll find your perfect match in this island city.
By Patricia Wuest | Created On December 6, 2023
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Key West, Florida Keys

A couple snorkeling in the water

Whether you're a seasoned diver or a beginner, Key West offers dive sites catering to all skill levels.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Key West Is a Perfect Match For ...

Experienced divers who want to add one of the world’s most impressive artificial reefs, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, to their logbooks.

Families who love everything about being on the water — there’s so much choice here, including spectacular snorkeling, serene kayaking and thrilling parasailing.

New divers seeking shallow depths with lots of corals and tropical fish — Key West dives such as Cannonball Cut in the Sambos reef system deliver the goods.

A person and person sitting at a table on a porch

Savor the flavors of the Keys with fresh seafood, conch fritters, and Key lime pie.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

One of the most iconic places to stage an Instagram-worthy photo of you on vacation in Key West is in front of the Mile Marker 0 sign. A selfie here is proof that you have arrived at the end of the Overseas Highway, ready to shrug off the stress of your everyday life back home and indulge in the pleasures of paradise. It’s a feeling that countless visitors before you have experienced, including the late singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who came here in 1971 and promptly made Key West his home. His tropical-rock-infused lyrics are synonymous with Key West, and it’s clear that Buffett — who was a diver — fell in love with Key West and its seductive charms. After one dive vacation here, you will be in love, too.

Key West: Offbeat, Unique and Free-Spirited

Yes, there are bars playing lively music, a rainbow of slushy cocktails on offer, and a bohemian, beachy vibe, but Key West is more than a party town. First, there’s the timeless appeal of the pastel-colored houses, turquoise water and glorious sunset views. But for divers, there’s a host of marine marvels to discover in the waters at the southernmost end of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Scuba divers on a shipwreck

The waters around Key West are home to several shipwrecks, including the Vandenberg, a former military vessel intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Diving in Key West

If you’re a diver with an advanced open-water C-card, you’ll most definitely want to take a dip — and probably more than one — on the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. This legendary former Air Force missile-tracking ship was intentionally sunk in 2009 as an artificial reef, the 524-foot-long artificial reef shares marquee status with the Spiegel Grove, Eagle and other wrecks featured on the Florida Keys Wreck Trek. There’s a reason you need advanced-diving credentials — the “Vandy” sits in roughly 150 feet of water and is subject to currents, which can be quite gusty at times. But the location and conditions have combined to create a thriving underwater metropolis for big fish like goliath grouper, African pompano, barracuda, blackfin tuna, mackerel and bonita.

New divers will find equal thrills on the Sambos reef system, consisting of three parallel lines of reef: Eastern, Middle and Western. The three reef sections are separated by large sandy areas, and each one attracts different marine life. Spiny lobster walk around like they own the place at Western Sambo’s Cannonball Cut channel, and divers will love poking around the Haystack dive site, which gets its name from the numerous coral formations shaped like a farmer’s packed piles of hay. Sites on the eastern Sambos reef tend to be deeper, and is a place where sea turtles and nurse sharks can be found. Look for tarpon that cruise through Middle Sambo. Tropical fish thrive in all three reef communities.

Two men sitting on a chair by a pool

In Key West, diversity and inclusion aren't just principles; they are part of the island's DNA.

Courtesy of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Topside Fun in Key West

The official motto for Key West is “One Human Family,” a motto that was created by a local artist, J.T. Thompson. It is meant to unite people regardless of their race, nationality, sexuality and other differences. It is a perspective that has been embraced by local residents and businesses, so that every person who lives or visits here can find inspiration to grow together beyond their differences. You’ll definitely understand the sentiment after your first sunset celebration on Mallory Square, the spot to watch the sun melt into the sea at day’s end at least once during your stay. A cast of street performers and artisans, locals and tourists, young and old alike salute the setting sun.

Tour guides and interpretive panels explain the historical events that occurred at Fort Zachary Taylor, a national historic site, during both the Civil War and Spanish-American War. Local re-enactors conduct demonstrations on the third weekend of each month. After immersing yourself in history, you can head to the beach at the park’s southern end for a day of picnicking, swimming, snorkeling, paddling or fishing at the beach located at the park’s southern end.

Key West has a number of restaurants and bars where you can truly soak in the fun-loving atmosphere. There’s also a vibrant arts, historical and cultural scene here — from museums and historic houses to galleries and music, your biggest vacation dilemma will be squeezing in everything on your wish list.

Just as Jimmy Buffett brought happiness to millions of people through his music and concerts, Key West will deliver a memorable dive vacation — one that will captivate you with its underwater bounty anddelightful tropical vibe.

At a Glance: Key West

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 An extra bag — it’s impossible to leave Key West without doing some boutique shopping or souvenir hunting