Is It Better to Stay in Key Largo or Islamorada (For Vacation)

A vacation to the Florida Keys is unforgettable, but how do you choose between Key Largo and Islamorada? Is it better to stay in Key Largo or Islamorada on vacation?

The Florida Keys is fantastic for watersports, relaxing, and a tropical, Caribbean-style vacation. Key Largo and Islamorada are both popular vacation destinations with magnificent marine life. However, while the two areas seem similar, distinct characteristics determine your best choice.

If you are partial to the Keys, this guide may narrow down the location and help you decide on the best tropical vacation destination.

Is Key Largo Or Islamorada Better For Vacation?

Key Largo is a bustling snorkeling and diving hotspot. At the same time, Islamorada has a more laid-back island feel unique to the Florida Keys. As Key Largo attracts visitors from all over the world, it is a vibrant area and much busier than Islamodara. However, there is only so much to do in Key Largo other than watersports. Islamorada offers sightseeing, many activities on land, and the most breathtaking purple sunsets.

Key Largo Atmosphere

The northernmost area in the Florida Keys, Key largo is closer to Miami and busier than Islamorada.

The highlight of Key Largo is the ocean and mangroves, with little happening on land. As such, Key Largo is less aesthetic than Islamorada. The buildings could be more attractive, and there are fewer resorts.

While Key Largo has a more vibrant, energetic atmosphere, you may find it more relaxing.

Islamorada Atmosphere

If it’s your first time visiting the Florida Keys or you want to experience that authentic “Keys vibe,” you should see Islamorada.

The village of Islamorada consists of six small islands along the archipelago. Here you’ll be greeted with a laid-back vibe, colorful buildings, breathtaking sunsets, and an authentic tropical island atmosphere.

Islamorada is considerably more picturesque than Key Largo, with the charm of a small coastal village. There’s an abundance of quirky little gift shops and eateries.

Sunsets in the Florida Keys are magical, and Islamorada has the most beautiful, purple-hued sunsets. It’s the type of destination that you want to capture on film.

Although the nightlife in key largo and Islamorada are almost nonexistent, Islamorada has slightly more to offer in terms of bars and nightlife.

Things To Do In Key Largo

Key Largo is situated near the largest coral reef in North America and is known as the “diving capital of the world.”

If you want to see Key Largo’s magic, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is an absolute must. This otherworldly underwater park is home to the world-famous underwater statue of Jesus, the Christ of the Abyss.

Scuba diving in Key Largo is a heavenly adventure. Be sure to explore the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail or any of these underwater sights:

  • Spiegel Grove
  • Molasses Reef – one of the best sites for diving!
  • Christ of the Deep

If you prefer snorkeling instead, Grecian Rocks is an excellent snorkeling spot. The waters have fantastic visibility, and you’ll see many tropical fish, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and other marine wildlife.

Prefer their heads safely above water? Rent a kayak and explore the mangroves. If you are lucky, you may find yourself accompanied by manatees.

Other attractions include the African Queen boat tour and the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, about halfway between Key Largo and Islamorada.

Things To Do In Islamorada

Islamorada has much more to offer on land than Key Largo, making it a fantastic family vacation destination.

Fishing, particularly fly fishing, is one of the top activities in Islamorada. After all, the village is known as the world’s “Sportfishing capital.”

A visit to Robbie’s Marina is a must for anyone visiting Islamorada or the Florida Keys. The highlight of Robbies is feeding the tarpons. These gigantic fish visit the marina daily for a feast and will rise out of the water to grab bait right out of your hand!

You can easily spend a day exploring Robbie’s Marina. The open-air market’s unique shops are great for souvenirs and include a quirky antique store. You can book watersport activities here, although nothing beats ending the day with a sunset cruise.

The History of Diving Museum is a private museum with an outstanding collection of historical diving gear. Learning about the history of diving is fascinating for divers, families, and tourists alike.

Beer lovers should take advantage of a trip to Islamorada’s microbrewery. Florida Keys Brewing Company offers tours and beer tasting and boasts one of the neatest beer gardens you’ll ever see!

Other must-see attractions in Islamorada include:

  • Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
  • Founders Park
  • Snorkeling at Alligator Reef Light House
  • A selfie at Rain Barrel Village next to a giant lobster
  • Anne’s beach

Top Hotels In Key Largo

While Key Largo doesn’t have the tropical island atmosphere of Islamorada, two luxury resorts stand out.

Playa Largo Resort & Spa is a 4-star Marriott resort with a private beach and gorgeous rooms. Facilities include a spa, swimming pool, and fitness center. Besides its beauty, the benefit of staying here is that hotel reward members can earn or use their rewards.

The other 4-star resort is the Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton. Another hotel for reward members, Baker’s Cay, is a modern haven with light, inviting interiors. In addition, the resorts’ many kid-friendly activities and areas are perfect for family vacationers.

Are you traveling with your pet? What you’re looking for is Reefhouse Resort & Marina. This 4-star resort welcomes furry friends at a small additional fee. The resort features a pool bar, spa, and a games area with ping pong and other fun games.

The following places are also worth consideration:

  • Hampton Inn Key Largo (also a Hilton hotel)
  • Mariner’s Club Key Largo
  • Sunset Cove Beach Resort

Top Hotels In Islamorada

Although smaller than Key Largo, Islamorada has abundant accommodations, from luxury resorts to charming seaside cottages. With so many options, one prettier than the next, decision fatigue can quickly set in. Here are the best of the best:

Cheeca Lodge & Spa
Cheeca Lodge & Spa is the epitome of a luxury island stay. Luxury suites have private balconies with soaking tubs. With elegant coastal interiors and ocean-view suites, what more can you want?

The Moorings Village
What used to be a coconut plantation is now a hidden gem of a retreat. The Moorings Village boasts a gorgeous tropical garden, charming cottages, and a white, sandy beach. Best of all, there’s a 25-meter lap pool!

Islander Resort
Islander Resort is one of the most Instagrammable resorts in the village! This beachfront resort has all the luxuries you associate with a tropical island escape. You can book watersports and boating tours conveniently from the front desk and rent kayaks, bicycles, and snorkel gear at the resort.

Verdict: Key Largo Vs. Islamorada

While Islamorada is more laid-back, there’s more to do than in Key Largo. On the one hand, you may find a vacation in Islamorada more relaxing. But, on the other hand, there are fewer crowds and more of an island vibe.

If you want a relaxing vacation but get carried away with sightseeing, or trying to do-it-all, then Key Largo will be more rejuvenating. As there’s not much to do besides water activities, you can spend the rest of your time relaxing at your hotel or the beach.

However, if you prefer an exciting, fun-filled vacation, you will be happy going to Islamorada. Likewise, watersport enthusiasts will be delighted in Key Largo.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.