John Pennekamp
State Park

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  World-famous Key Largo is only 42 miles south-southwest of Miami, but it's a world away in ambience and charm. The longest island of the Keys chain, Key Largo is the site where Humphrey Bogart battled Edward G. Robinson in the classic movie of the same name. Bogart's Key Largo connection is still alive today, as visitors can take a ride on the African Queen, the actual boat that was used in that classic movie.

But the star attraction down here is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in the US, and the adjacent Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. These two refuges feature 55 varieties of delicate corals and almost 500 different species of fish.

Vistas of the Keys are dominated by emerald-green lagoons, deep blue seas, nodding palms, rustling pines and a deep sense of peace. Sharing this paradise are white herons, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, ospreys and cormorants. All the Keys are linked by the Overseas Highway, started in the late 1930s, an incredible engineering feat with 113 miles of roadway and 42 oversea bridges.

There are many boats that go out to the various reefs in Pennekamp State Park, for snorkelers and scuba divers. Dive gear is available for sale or rent at dozens of dive shops littered along the highway, or you can rent from the dive boat operators. Down the road at Islamorada the are several sportfish boats for charter by the day or 1/2 day, going out into the deep blue waters of the Gulfstream for some of the world's best sportfishing. In the deepwaters are found sailfish, marlin, mahi-mahi, kingfish and snapper. In the shallows, which require a special boat, tarpon, bonefish and redfish abound. As you head south, the Atlantic Ocean is on your right, the more placid Gulf of Mexico is to the left. Also down the road from Key Largo is Long Key State Park, with nature trails leading to tropical hammocks remeniscent of the Keys of old, and Grassy Key is the site of the Dolphin Research Center, where you can swim and interact with these wonderful creatures (book early!)

Key Largo is a wonderful choice for anyone who wants peace and quiet, yet enjoy the thrills that nature has to offer under and on the waves of the beautiful azure Atlantic, which is very warm in the summer months (April-October) and cools to a still-pleasant high 70 degrees in the winter.