Things to do / Travel Guide
Florida is surrounded on three sides by water, making northeast Florida and the Panhandle that much more an excellent region in which to dive. In this region you get an excellent selection of freshwater diving inland, as well as excellent saltwater diving in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
The region's caves, caverns, and sinkholes are unique, the schools of fish off the Panhandle are sites to behold, and there are also plenty of reefs and wrecks to enjoy. Diving off and around Amelia Island on the Atlantic Coast offers excellent experiences as well.
Regarding the caves, caverns, and sinkholes, the main draw for these dives is the opportunity to see stalactites and stalagmites, sea creatures and plants you would otherwise not see, and the thrill of being underground. The area is just inundated with water - water, water everywhere, and plenty of spots to sink. The caves and caverns are usually connected to underground springs, while sinkholes are due to a collapse of a cave roof. All three of these formations are for very experienced divers only - but if you've got the experience, northeast Florida and the Panhandle has some of the best in the world.
From Daytona Beach around through the Panhandle, all kinds of dive sites abound.
Northwest Florida Diving Areas
- Daytona Beach, with its long beach and barrier island, has both inland and off-shore diving, with many locations for each. There are over 40 reefs, both natural and artificial, plus two sunken TB-M torpedo bombers to explore.
- Located smack in the middle of the region, Gainesville has some freshwater diving sites that are considered among the best in the state. The Santa Fe River, and springs such as Ginnie Spring, are the clearest around. The attraction is cave diving, and because the water is so clear it's one of the only places that inexperienced divers are allowed to cave-dive. The rock formations are dazzling, owing to the special limestone, and haunting as well.
- If you want to go cave diving, two great places are Devil's Den and Blue Grotto, both close to Williston off I-75 northwest of Ocala. In the former the maximum depth is 50 feet, while in the latter you can dive up to 100 feet. A good thing about Blue Grotto is that it is open to divers of all skill levels, and it features a compressed air-supplied bell up to 30 feet deep.
- Crystal River - Dive in this clear river and swim with the manatees. There are lots of springs in the area, and if there are too many divers and snorkelers carousing with the manatees in one spring, just make your way to some of the less populated ones. There is good cave diving in the area as well.
Jacksonville Diving Areas
- With visibility up to 120 feet in the summertime, Jacksonville has excellent off-shore scuba. The natural limestone reef ledges and manifold reef-building projects make the city a great location for dives. The city's waters are located right at the demarcation between non-tropical, and tropical fish, so in addition to a splendid selection of more northerly fish such as jacks, groupers, and snappers, you'll also see pockets of butterflyfish, hogfish, and angelfish.
- Diving off and around Amelia Island, you can explore shipwrecks and reefs and see lots of marine animals, like sea turtles, dolphins, grouper, moray eels, stingrays, and barracuda.
Panhandle Diving Areas
As you may have picked up, virtually every location on the Emerald Coast has something to offer every diver. Rentals can also be had at any of the diving locations, and if you also need a charter boat to get to where you're going for the dive, it can cost up to $200 a day. Without the boat it can cost as little as $50.
- In Panama City, the scuba activity is based around the elaborate artificial reefs growing since the 1970s. Add a ship here, an old bridge there, a dab of airplane - and you've got a fascinating man-made underwater jungle.
- Destin, to the west of Panama City on the coast, has a number of good wrecks to explore, and natural limestone ledges. Travel inland from Destin for spring diving, at Crestview and Valparaiso.
- Pensacola has it all: sea life, natural ledges and artificial reefs, and wrecks. About 22 miles from the shore lies the watery grave of the USS Oriskany, which, at 888 feet, is the habitat of the world's largest artificial reef.
Scuba Diving Spots in Jacksonville, Destin, Daytona Beach, Pensacola, St. Augustine, Northeast Florida