Photograph by Wes C. Skiles, National Geographic
Little known fact: Florida’s best diving isn’t in its saltwater. It’s hidden in the northwestern corner of the state, which is riddled with freshwater springs that flow through mazes of limestone passageways. Few people ever witness the strange sights of these underwater chambers—fossils, sunlight beaming in from holes in the cave ceilings, and even ancient mastodon tusks—because the only way to see it all is by donning a mask and flippers. Cave diving is rife with potential dangers. The good news is beyond good training, all it really necessitates is a little nerve.
Test the waters at Ginnie Springs Cavern, a beginner cave that Jacques Cousteau once described as “visibility forever.” It requires only an open-water diver certification. From an aquamarine, cypress-lined pool, descend and enter a chamber called the Ballroom, 130 feet (40 meters) long and 55 feet (17 meters) deep. There you can see water’s artwork in the limestone formations and feel the force of 30-plus million gallons of water per day pouring out of the inner cave entrance.
To graduate to the 6.5 miles (10 kilometers) of passageways in the Devil’s cave system, take a cavern or cave certification course at Ginnie Springs. Claustrophobes be forewarned: The tiniest swim-throughs require divers to take off their tanks to squeeze through. But the reward of these contortions is witnessing a vast watery underworld, some of which still remains unmapped.
Need to Know: Ginnie Springs Outdoors (www.ginniespringsoutdoors.com) is a certified PADI dive center and offers guided dives as well as cave-diving training. Diving Ginnie Springs itself doesn’t require a guide and costs $30 for open-water divers.