Driving from mainland Florida, visitors to the Florida Keys enter the 125-mile-long subtropical island chain at Key Largo, the longest island in the Keys.
Key Largo is bordered on the west by Florida Bay and the Everglades National Park backcountry, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, home to the clear waters of the Gulf Stream. Visitors can enjoy Key Largo's ties to the sea including scuba diving, snorkeling, an underwater hotel, sportfishing, eco-tours, beaches and dolphin encounter programs.
The island also offers numerous shoreside activities including nature trails and a rehabilitation center for wild birds.
Key Largo is best known for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, mile marker (MM) 102.5, the first underwater preserve in the United States.
Pennekamp is incorporated in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Sanctuary covers about 2,800 square nautical miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamp, on both sides of the Keys island chain, throughout waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. There's an indigenous population composed of more than 600 species of fish and 55 varieties of coral, along with 27 species of gorgonians, or flexible corals. The living reefs off Key Largo are acclaimed as some of the most fascinating scuba diving sites in the world.
Back on land, environmental trails at Pennekamp Park wind through tropical hammocks of gumbo limbo, strangler fig, tamarind, wild coffee and mahogany trees. The Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Route 905 at MM 106 bayside, offers opportunities to view rare tree snails, Schaus swallowtail butterflies, white crowned pigeons, mangrove cuckoos, lignumvitae trees, butterfly orchids and wild cotton.
The island is about an hour's drive from Miami International Airport.
For more information, visit the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce Website , call (800) 822-1088 or (305) 451-1414, or stop by the Florida Keys Visitor Center at MM 106 bayside. Information also can be obtained by writing the chamber at 106000 Overseas Highway, Key Largo FL 33037.
Information & Photo Provided "Courtesy of the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council"