This post was written by Nicole Edwards, a solo-sailing freelance writer for BMTM.
Key Largo is the first of the Florida Keys, and at 33 miles long, it is also the largest. The self-proclaimed “diving capital of the world,” it is home to beautiful wildlife refuges and beaches, plus unique excursions and tours, like spearfishing and the African Queen Canal Cruise.
Unlike Key West, Key Largo’s attractions are more spread out. It is not convenient to explore on foot, which makes it important to pick a centrally located place to stay, like Mid Island or Tavernier, and have access to a car or bike. Here’s what I found about the best places to stay:
Mid Island – solo-traveler’s headquarters
Mid Island is a somewhat unofficial term for the section of Key Largo that begins where the historic Overseas Highway starts and ends just north of Tavernier. It’s an ideal spot to stay in if you want to focus on snorkeling or exploring most attractions; you’re less than a ten-minute ride from all of Key Largo’s best beaches, parks, as well as the popular African Queen Canal cruise. You can also easily dart back up to Miami to catch your flight back home.
Within Mid Island, you’ll find several other neighborhoods, like Angler’s Park, Thompson, Newport, and Rock Harbor. When I visited, I got the sense that these divisions were primarily for government purposes (census and voting). Because Key Largo is pretty inaccessible by foot and the neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive of each other, you can rest assured you’re in a central location no matter which you choose.
So, aside from picking a hotel based on its amenities, reviews, and rates, the biggest deciding factor is whether it’s on the bay side or ocean side.
Most of the top-rated hotels in Mid Island are located on the bay side, because they can capitalize on the still waters surrounded by mangroves. This is where you’ll find a lot of private beaches and complimentary kayak rentals.
Hotels on the ocean side of Key Largo are situated on the canals and typically do not have clear views of the ocean. They are also more centered around excursions.
Bay Side Hotels – mini resorts
- ($) Rock Reef Resort: This is a family-run hotel, located closer to the northern part of Key Largo. Less than five miles from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, it is highly rated among solo travelers. Included in your stay is a private beach, a temperature-regulated swimming pool, kayaks, and a peddle boat! Rooms are non-smoking, and all have air conditioning (surprisingly uncommon in the Florida Keys!). Rates start at $159/night. Book a stay here.
- ($) Amoray Dive Resort: This is a wonderful place for a solo traveler because of its central mission to get people out on the water, including its own snorkeling and sunset tours and excursions. If you want to get scuba certified, you can do that here, too. Guests have access to a private beach, a dock, free kayaks and bikes, a heated pool, and snorkel gear. You could easily bike to Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, and if you didn’t opt for an excursion with the resort, John Pennekamp is just a few miles further south. Rooms start at $181/night. You can book a room here.
- ($$) Sunset Cove Beach Resort: This cozy small resort is nestled along the coastline. There’s a private beach with straw-roofed gazebos and beach chairs, providing the perfect setting for a personal yoga practice or to watch the sun rise or set. Your stay includes complimentary kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, and a continental breakfast. You can walk out on the pier, and if you’ve done any deep-sea fishing while in Key Largo, you can cook your catch on the complimentary grills. Rooms start at $208/night. Book a stay here.
- ($$$) Bay Harbor & Coconut Bay Resort: Bay Harbor & Coconut Bay Resort: This hotel includes a private beach with chairs and complimentary use of paddleboards, peddle boats, and kayaks. There’s also an outdoor heated pool, a garden, a library, and barbecue grills, as well as free parking. The property is located just a few minutes’ drive from John Pennekamp, a little further south from the heart of Mid Island. Rooms start at $255/night. You can book a stay here.
- ($$$) Gilbert’s Resort: Established in 1903, this is one of the oldest spots in the Florida Keys. It is a little off the beaten path, but still just a few minutes from John Pennekamp and Dagny Johnson. What sets it apart is its nightly live entertainment and fresh seafood at the waterfront Tiki Grill & Bar. Locals dock at the marina to enjoy the live music, which makes this a great place to meet new people. There is also a pool, and parking is free. You can book a room, starting at $279/night, here.
Ocean Side – excursion-oriented
- John Pennekamp camping: If you’re feeling adventurous, you can camp in your own tent (or RV, no longer than 62 feet) at this campsite, which has electricity and water. There’s a picnic table and grill at each of the 47 sites, as well as several bathrooms with hot showers and coin-operated laundry machines. The park store has food (including prepared breakfast and lunch options), plus snorkeling and beach equipment rentals. Make a reservation here at least three months in advance, and then register at the park’s entrance when you arrive. Rates start at $36/night.
- ($$) Waterside Suites and Marina: These are two-story townhouses located on one of the canals right where many of Key Largo’s snorkeling excursions and canal cruises occur. The townhouses come with a kitchen and a second-floor balcony. There is also an outdoor pool, free parking, bike rentals, and watersports activities, such as rentals for Jet Skiing, kayaking, and paddleboarding, plus parasailing and adventure tours. Rates start at $209/night. You can book a room here.
Located a little further south and right on the border of Islamorada, Tavernier is a convenient place to stay if you want to explore the rest of the Florida Keys. Plus, you are no further away than a 20-minute drive from even Dagny Johnson Hammock Botanical Park, which is the northernmost popular attraction that Key Largo has to offer.
Within walking or biking distance to Tavernier are other top destinations, like Harry Harris Beach and Park, Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, and the Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory. Tavernier also has a bunch of cute backroads to explore, making it feel more like a residential part of Key Largo. As with Mid Island, you have a choice between the bay side and the Atlantic side.
If the south end seems better for you and your travel plans, here are four places that I recommend staying:
Bay Side – peaceful getaways
- ($) Atlantic Bay Resort: This is only 1.5 miles from Harry Harris Park, which has excellent swimming and ocean views, but it also has its own private beach and bay access. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are complimentary, as are bikes. (Biking is a great way to get around Key Largo. You could easily peddle over to the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, about three miles away.) The hotel also has a freshwater swimming pool and private docks, as well as fishing facilities in case you like to do that. Rooms start at $263/night. Book your stay here.
- ($$) Drift Hotel: This property has a private beach with sun decks and complimentary kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. There is also a small pier that extends out into the bay and is protected by mangroves, making it easy to snorkel (gear is available to rent). It is located just north of Tavernier, putting it almost halfway to Mid Island. Parking is free. Rooms start at $280/night. Book your stay here.
- ($$$) Coconut Palm Inn: This boutique hotel with stunning waterfront views, which you can enjoy from the private beach or dock, offers complimentary paddleboards and kayaks, and features a pool and cabana. It is nestled in the middle of a coconut grove, so it truly does feel like you’re in Florida. Parking is also included in your stay, and if you decide to rent your own boat, there are private docks where you can tie up. Rooms start at $327/night. You can book a stay here.
Ocean Side – glittering views
- ($) Oceanfront Paradise: This is a third-floor apartment with beautiful ocean views, though you do have to be at least 28 years old in order to book it. Included in your stay is a washer, dryer, kitchen, gym, pool, and spa. Kayaks are available for rent. Being on the ocean side with water access is pretty amazing. The water is very clear, and there are usually other boaters enjoying the submerged sandbar (shoal). This location is also prime for visiting the small mangrove island of Tavernier Key. On a calm day, you could even kayak out and explore the mangroves or go snorkeling. The apartment averages $250/night. Book your stay here.
- ($) Aqua Vista: This is more of a family-friendly vacation property (no minimum stay) with access to a private beach (with a beautiful dock that ends in a gazebo) at Ocean Pointe Suites. Some rooms have balconies with ocean views. There is also a shared pool, a hot tub, a snack bar, tennis courts, and an elevated waterfront restaurant and bar with views of the Atlantic. The rental, which comes with a full kitchen, starts at $226/night. Book your stay here.
I adored Tavernier for the quieter environment that allowed me to explore the surrounding areas at my own pace. It also aligned well with my mission of exploring the rest of the Florida Keys. If I were to visit Key Largo again, however, I would probably stay in Mid Island so that I could be closer to the best Key Largo snorkeling sites, which is what Key Largo is known for! I really enjoyed the snorkeling, so the idea of getting SCUBA certified in the diving capital of the world is very tempting.
Where do you think you’d like to stay? Let us know in the comments!
About the author: Nicole Edwards is a solo sailor who is currently cruising around the world on her 1968 Columbia 26, the S/V Arta. She has visited Costa Rica, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, and about half of the United States, including Alaska. Her favorite part about traveling is making connections with locals who share inside knowledge, in addition to being introduced to another part of her home on planet earth and adding it all to her heart.