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A day spent underwater is the perfect antidote to the late summer doldrums. Key Largo is a short half-day’s drive away, and is home to some of the best reefs in the nation. Molasses Reef, in particular, is one of the most popular sites in the United States for both snorkeling and scuba diving. The water off the coast of Key Largo is famously clear, and the reef is as shallow as 20 feet in some places. It’s home to more than 600 species of aquatic flora and fauna, including sea turtles, stingrays, nurse sharks, Goliath groupers and tropical fish. Plus, the reef’s spur and groove system makes for good exploring.


Most sources trace the name of Molasses Reef to the 1944 wreck of the Vitric, a 165-foot barge carrying drums of molasses. The Vitric sank in 300 feet of water, 12 miles offshore from Key Largo and just southeast of the reef.

The Vitric may have given Molasses Reef its name, but it’s not the most famous wreck to have foundered here. In 1887, an Austrian ship loaded with cotton out of New Orleans crashed into the shallow-water coral formations. As the schooner took on water, the bales of cotton expanded until the pressure caused the ship to break apart. Today, most of the boat has disintegrated except for its windlass, which sits at roughly 25 feet below water, and has become a popular destination for divers and snorkelers. The metal winch makes for spectacular viewing underwater and fantastic dive photos.

Getting there

A number of good dive and snorkel operations are based in Key Largo, and many of them tie up to the buoys at Molasses Reef. Rainbow Reef Dive Center (100 Ocean Drive, Key Largo; 305.451.7171; rainbowreef.com) is a favorite with out-of-towners. Of course, when it comes to choosing a reef for the day, a lot depends on weather, wind and tide conditions. Most dive and snorkel operations won’t announce their destination until the boat is already headed out. To ensure that a trip makes it to Molasses Reef, it’s best to hire a private charter. Quiescence (103680 Overseas Highway, Key Largo; 305.451.2440; keylargodiving.com) offers half-day and full-day options on private charter boats that hold up to six passengers.

Back on dry land

The luxurious and beautifully styled Baker’s Cay Resort (97000 Overseas Highway, Key Largo; 305.852.5553; bakerscay.com)—part of the Curio Collection by Hilton—is a sumptuous place to spend the night after a long day on the water. The rooms are tastefully appointed with modern decor, and the hotel’s elegant restaurant serves Caribbean-inspired cuisine with an emphasis on fresh local seafood. It has both al fresco and indoor dining options. The hotel’s tiki bar, set on its own private beach, is the perfect place to enjoy a frozen cocktail as the sun sets.

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