John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Key Largo boasts  the best diving and snorkling areas in Florida and it also boasts the first underwater State Park in the United States. It is truly unique. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a marvel, ajacent the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. You’ll have nearly 80 square miles of coral reefs to play in, and it extends 3 miles out to sea. This is a protected preserve.

John D. Pennekamp was a Miami newspaper editor in the 1960’s, who played a huge role in establishing the Everglades National Park and in the preservation of the natural wonders in the Florida Keys.  Here you’ll find an environment unlike anywhere else in the United States. The mangrove swamps are very unusual, but what lays beyond them is the big draw to the park – the  coral reefs.

Living within the reef community are  sponges, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and turtles. Enjoy the colors of the coral as it has a wide variety of species – 40 of the 52 coral species found in the Atlantic. There are 600 fish varieties to make your dive memorable. Reefs are born in shallow warm sea water and this particular reef is estimated to be close to 7000 years old, which makes it a treasure to be treated with care. It’s a mistical dive, famous throughout the world.

If you don’t yet have your certification for open water diving, you can take a diving class in a day at the dive shop within the park. The cost is $150. It won’t give you full certification, but it will let you in the water. The open water certification classes last up to 4 days and cost $425. It will allow you to dive anywhere in the world, so it’s a one-time fee.

If snorkling and diving aren’t your thing, visit the 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium in the visitor’s center or take a trip on a glass-bottomed boat to view the reef. You don’t have to get wet to see it. The park has a lot to offer, including nature trails, beaches, camping and canoing. Take a boat trip out to see the Christ of the Deep.  It’s a 9 foot tall statue of Jesus in the Marine Sanctuary.

There are numerous programs within the park, offering natural and cultural experiences. Take a guided nature trek along the mangrove trail. One trek will take you through tropical vegetation, home to small mammals and birds. The other will take you the mangrove swamp where you’ll see all sorts of water birds, including cormorants, egrets, herons and others.

If you want to bring your own boat to the park, there is a ramp with rented moorings in the marina. Otherwise, you can rent a canoe or kayak for $12 per hour or a powerboat for $200 or more for the day.

Enjoy the park and all it has to offer. The wonders of the reef will amaze you. Follow the rules of the park and help preserve this natural oasis.