by | Feb 21, 2019 | Top List, Travel

Drifting a few feet above a coral reef, swimming alongside sharks, exploring a shipwreck, or even navigating through a cavern or cave. Every scuba diver had a challenge like that in mind when they began their Open Water training. Florida is one of the most popular places to dive in the world thanks to the extremely diverse and plentiful dive sites, one can find almost any challenge here. It is extremely important for a diver to know if they are up to this challenge. As a longtime local diver, and current instructor, I have created my “Must Do” dives for every skill level of diver in the Sunshine State.
Just Certified

Lake Denton, Highlands County

For divers who just finished their Open Water checkouts, Lake Denton is the perfect spot get your first few dives under your belt. The dive site is on a camp between Avon Park and Sebring Florida. The conditions are mostly warm and stable, camp volunteers/staff are on site, and many dive professionals train their students here. I consider Lake Denton the safest dive site in the state, making it the perfect spot to bring your dive buddy and hone your skills here.

Instructors Teaching a Class at Lake Denton
Instructors Teaching a Class at Lake Denton, Photo by Jeff Curtis (www.shorediving.com)
Beginner

Molasses Reef, Key Largo

One of the most beautiful dive sites in Florida, Molasses Reef is teeming with ocean life. It is accessible only through boat and dive charters, and Its average depth is between 10-40 ft. deep, making it a perfect for beginners. Being an extremely popular dive site as well it is diligently patrolled by local authorities, making it one of the more controlled and monitored open water dive sites. Overall, it is great place for a new diver to experience nature and not push them past their comfort zone and limits of their training.

Diver Exploring Molasses Reef
Diver Exploring Molasses Reef (Photo by Tim Grollimund)
Intermediate

Crystal River, Gulf Coast

About an hour drive north of Tampa, Crystal River offers divers an opportunity to experience amazing, visibility, calm diving conditions, and is also home to the manatee. The slow gentle river current is perfect spot for a scuba diver to expand their horizon and branch out into free-diving. Due to environmental protections, there are rules and restrictions on how and when to dive here, local dive shops will provide you with all information and training needed. The average year-round temperature is about 70 degrees, so a 3mm wetsuit should be added to your dive gear for this trip.

Manatee Tour in Crystal River
Manatee Tour in Crystal River (www.riveradventures.com)

Devil’s Den, Willingston, FL

You don’t have to exclude the non-divers in your adventure here. Devil’s Den is a spring inside a dry cave reaching almost 60 ft. deep for scuba divers, but offers great scenery at the surface for snorkelers to enjoy as well. Snorkeling requires no special training besides being a competent basic swimmer. The water temperature averages around 70 degrees with limited natural light, and is not an open water setting dive so warm water and claustrophobic divers may struggle here. Lodging is also offered here and well worth arranging a weekend stay.

Entrance to Devil's Den
Entrance to Devils Den (www.devilsden.com)
Diver Deep in Devil's Den
Photo By Ollie J. Braun (www.devilsden.com)
Expert

The Duane, Key Largo

For experienced divers looking for a challenge, the Duane in Key Largo is the perfect option. The US Coast Guard cutter William J. Duane was intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef. This ship sits perfectly upright, is home to all the best marine life the Keys has to offer, and a very expansive structure to explore… One Dive Will Not Be Enough!!! Sitting at over 120 ft. deep with strong currents on the way down, the Duane is only for skilled divers with specialized equipment and training especially if you plan on exploring inside the ship. If you are interested in wreck diving, the Duane is a must.

U.S.C.G.C Duane
U.S.C.G.C. Duane, Photo by Jozef Koppelman (www.shipwreckexpo.com)
Diver Entering The Duane
Diver Entering the Duane (www.seadwellers.com)
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