They say that there's a first for everything - but we never would have thought to put a park underwater. Under the sea, The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo Florida is the first ever undersea park in the U.S. and offers some one-of-a-kind discoveries.
Florida's oceans are swimming with a vast array of aquatic wildlife and tropical vegetation, which you can see at the historic first-ever undersea park. To explore the park in its entirety, you'll need to be an exceptional swimmer ready to snorkel and dive deep into the depths to find all this unique spot has to offer.
The park is next to the Florida Key's Natural Marine Sanctuary - covering approximately 178 nautical square miles, featuring coral reefs, beds of seagrass, mangrove swamps, and plenty of Florida wildlife.
Beneath the ocean's surface, you'll find a treasure trove of color and wildlife swimming amongst the coral. The vibrant colors popping against the turquoise hue of the ocean behind. If you dive deep enough, you can also see something that you won't see almost anywhere else - a statue known as Jesus of the Abyss, or Jesus of the Deep. Check out this awesome video of the dive down to the statue:
The Jesus of the Abyss statue is located at the Key Largo Dry Rocks Reef and will require a snorkeling tour to see. The boat takes you out into the ocean where you can then take the dive of a lifetime to this rare sight. The statue is only 1 of 3 ever made and was cast from the original Italian mold; It rests 25 ft below the surface on the bottom of the ocean - a once in a lifetime sight. The original makes a home on the ocean floor in Italy.
Not only can you see tropical fish and a super rare statue, but you can also observe giant sea turtles, sharks, and spotted manta rays cruising throughout the ocean blue with you. You can see a video of the manta rays below, as well as a gorgeous sea turtle and shark captured swimming here:
The park was founded in 1963, with the profits serving as a means of protecting the coral reef from death and decay. Coral reefs are a vital part of Florida's aquatic ecosystems and are currently in danger of rotting away due to overfishing and pollution in Florida oceans. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places to further protect the essential reef beds.
The John Pennekamp State Park also offers snorkeling tours, diving tours, glass bottom boat tours as well as kayak and paddleboard rentals for various ways to explore. Their tours range in price from $24 per adult for a glass bottom boat tour up to $75 for their scuba tours. They also offer scuba instruction and certification courses if you're looking to add a new hobby.
The park is open from 8 am to sunset daily, and their visitor's center is open 8 am to 5 pm. All visitors are required to pay an entrance fee depending on your mode of transport, plus a .50 cent Monroe County surcharge. For a vehicle seating 2-8 people, entry to the park will cost $8, plus the surcharge of course. If you're alone, it will only cost you $4.50. Those who are on foot or cycling-in will only need to have $2.50 in their pocket to enter.
If you're ready to explore the first underwater park in the U.S., the John Pennekamp State Park is located at 102601 Overseas Highway (mm102.5) Key Largo, FL 33037.
For more information regarding overall cost, equipment rentals, tours, reservations or the history of the park, check out their website here.
Disclaimer: We strongly advise that before you go swimming or visit a potentially hazardous location, you check for the most recent updates on potential hazards, security, water quality, and closures. If you do plan to visit a location, respect the environment.