If you make sure one stop in Key Largo, make sure it’s at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (305-451-1202; MM 102/5 Oceanside, Key Largo; 1/2 people $3.50/6, per extra person 50 cents; 8 am-sunset), the first underwater park in the USA. Its amazing geography covers 75 sq miles of ocean with living coral reef, plus 170 acres of land with walking trails that include the Wild Tamarind Nature Trail. The area is home to air plants, gumbo-limbo, wild bamboo, Jamaica dogwood, crabwood, and wild tamarind.
The best feature, though, is the full program of ranger-led activities, though, is the full program of ranger-led activities, with a great range of options when it comes to exploring the Florida reef. You can take a glass-bottomed boat or snorkel-sailing tour; go on straight-up snorkeling trips or diving excursions, or rent canoes or kayaks (305-451-1621) to journey through a 3-mile network of canoe trails. Power-boat rentals are available, too.
Besides the swirl of natural coral life below, interested divers can catch a glimpse of the Christ of the Abyss, an 8 1/2 ft. 4000-pounce bronze sculpture of Jesus – a copy of a similar sculpture off the coast of Genoa, Italy, in the Mediterranean Sea. And if getting on or in the water is not for you, get a taste of what’s out there at the visitor center, which has an excellent 30,000-gallon aquarium showcasing living coral and tropical fish and plant life, plus a theater showing continuous nature videos.
The park offers a great ranger-led program including nature walks through mangrove and hardwood hammocks, a campfire program, and a lecture series. Plus, you don’t even have to leave at closing time if you opt for tent or RV camping (800,326,3521), but be sure to make a reservation, as the 47 sites fill up fast.