The Florida Keys offer some of the best and most exciting snorkeling destinations in the country. With stunning underwater topography and an abundance of exotic marine flora and fauna, snorkeling in the Florida Keys is bound to be an unforgettable experience for all snorkelers. There are many popular snorkeling spots scattered around the Keys, and we have ten of the best spots listed below.
1. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most recommended snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys. It is located about 70 miles off Key West, and can only be accessed by ferry, a private boat, or a sea plane. It is also the site of the historic Fort Jefferson, and much of the snorkeling activities happen around the fort’s moat.
Along the moat walls, you’ll find a good number of both hard and soft corals which serve as home to a variety of small tropical fish. Venturing further out into the sea will reward you with more patch reefs to explore where you’ll see larger fish species like tarpons swimming about.
You can also snorkel along the wharf ruins situated in the southern and northern portions of the park. The old pilings or rusty metal poles are all that’s left of the wharves and you’d want to be careful when snorkeling swimming around them to avoid being cut by the jagged edges. There are tons of fish and corals thriving near these pilings so they’re really worth checking out.
2. Fort Zachary Taylor
Aside from being one of the busiest beaches in the whole of the Florida Keys, Fort Zachary Taylor is also considered as one of the better snorkeling spots in the area. The fort is located at the southernmost tip of Key West, and as you may have already realized, is home to the historic Civil War fort built sometime in the 1860s.
You can start snorkeling and exploring the reefs right off the beach. There are several species of tropical fish and living corals in the area, and if you’re lucky you may even spot large man-o-war jellyfish swimming about in the deeper sections of the beach. Do note that the beach can be rocky so be sure to wear a good pair of water shoes to protect your feet.
3. Looe Key
If you’re looking for a more thrilling snorkeling adventure, then you should definitely head to the Looe Key. The abundance of large fishes and tall corals in the area is bound to take your breath away. Snorkeling in Looe Key is an epic adventure you surely won’t forget.
Looe Key is one of the largest reefs in the Florida Keys, located about five miles offshore with varying degrees of depths and water conditions. Because Looe Key is deeper than most snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys and is constantly flushed with ocean currents, beginning snorkelers are advised to swim with a snorkeling buddy at all times.
When you snorkeling in the Looe Key, you are bound to run into some really large aquatic animals including great barracudas, nurse sharks, black-tipped reef sharks, and others. Even the parrotfish and groupers living in these waters are humongous. Aside from these, a variety of other fish species like angelfish, butterflyfish, jacks, grunts, and many others can be observed. Different types of corals also thrive in the area. There is an abundance of Elkhorn corals, fire corals, brain corals, and others.
4. Bahia Honda State Park
The Bahia Honda State Park is more suitable for beginners as advanced snorkelers may easily find snorkeling here quite boring. The warm turquoise waters and shallow beaches offer few opportunities to see some fish, and there are practically no corals to be seen underwater. If you’re looking for a spot to learn how to snorkel, then this would be a great spot to do so.
If you’re going snorkeling in Bahia Honda, start from the bayside and snorkel towards the bridge. There are rocks scattered along the area which are home to several small types of fish and other aquatic creatures like small skates, immature drums, spotted scorpionfish, and tiny lobsters. The wall at the end of the beach is also a nice place to snorkel and see some more of these marine creatures.
Despite the lack of colorful tropical fish and corals, the park is worth visiting because of its scenic beaches and relaxing hiking trails. The azure waters of the beach are also excellent for swimming.
5. Sombrero Reef
One of the best spots to go snorkeling in the Florida Keys is Sombrero Reef. For many snorkelers who have visited this fantastic area, they consider this as a snorkeler’s heaven. The crystal clear waters provide excellent visibility, allowing snorkelers a chance to admire the reef’s natural landscapes and inhabitants.
Located right on the edge of the barrier reef, Sombrero Reef has depths between eight to twenty feet which is perfect for the average snorkeler. There are several mini canyons to explore as well as sea cave arches that you can swim through. Thriving in this environment is an amazing collection of aquatic flora and fauna.
When snorkeling in Sombrero Reef, you are bound to encounter several varieties of snappers and hogfish. Even parrotfish are plenty in this area including rainbow, yellowtail, princess, and midnight parrotfish. Angelfish varieties like French angelfish, queen angelfish, and gray angelfish also thrive here.
The corals are definitely healthier here than in most of the other snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys. You’ll find tons of Elkhorn corals, fire corals, and pillar corals scattered in the area.
6. Coffins Patch
The Coffins Patch is composed of different patches of reefs and is located about three and a half miles offshore. The patches are close enough to the barrier reef which means that the waters are clearer and there are more species of aquatic flora and fauna to be seen.
Snorkeling in the Coffins Patch allows you to get up close and personal with some really pretty tropical fish like blue and gray angelfish, blue tangs, bicolor damselfish, four-eye butterflyfish, and schools of other fishes. Rainbow parrotfish, striped parrotfish, and yellowhead wrasse are also abundant in these reef patches. There are fair amounts of sea fans and lots of beautiful sponges on the seafloor, but not many corals.
7. Alligator Reef
Alligator Reef is another perfect spot for snorkeling when you find yourself vacationing in the Florida Keys. You’ll need to take a boat ride from Islamorada Island to reach this spot, but the boat ride is worth it considering a large number of fish you’ll see swimming in these waters.
The first snorkeling ground is located right under the lighthouse. The steel foundations of the lighthouse served as the home to thousands of tropical fish, making you feel like you’re swimming in fish instead of water.
The deeper snorkeling grounds located around the lighthouse offer more interesting marine creature sightings. When snorkeling in those areas, you are likely to come across tons of sergeant majors, groupers, and yellowtail snappers. Big schools of grunts and barracudas can also be observed hanging around the area.
8. Hen and Chickens
The name Hen and Chickens came from the shape of the reef, with a large single patch reef (the hen) surrounded by many other little reefs (the chickens). If you’re planning to snorkel in this area, plan on spending some time here since it is a pretty big place to explore.
Hen and Chickens have an interesting topography composed of several high and low areas, small channels, and rock shelves. Because of the changing landscapes, the reef is teeming with a diverse range of marine life.
Soft and hard corals are very much abundant in the Hen and Chickens, and unlike in some snorkeling areas, the corals here are in excellent and healthy conditions. On the seafloor, you’ll find mountainous star corals, lobed star corals, brain corals, and fire corals. Along with tons of sea rods and sea fans, sponges like a red boring sponge, branching vase sponge, and others can be seen here, too.
There aren’t a lot of large fish in this area, and most of the fish you’ll see range from small to medium sizes. Angelfish, grunts, trunkfish are common sights in the area, as well as damselfish, snappers, parrotfish, blue tangs, and sergeant majors. If you’re lucky, you may come across a hawksbill turtle swimming about.
9. Cheeca Rocks
A short boat rides away from Islamorada, the Cheeca Rocks are one of the favorite destinations of many snorkelers in the Florida Keys. This patch reef lies halfway between the keys and the barrier reef which means that various types of fish can be seen here. You’ll come face to face with huge parrotfish and schools of grunts, as well as different varieties of angelfish and wrasse. There are also green eels living in the area, as well as a solitary turtle or two.
The coral reefs are well and alive in this area, with large amounts of brain corals, star corals, and fire corals around. There is also a profusion of sea rods and sea fans which serve as a cover for various small reef fish.
10. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Located off the coast in Key Largo, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a favorite among snorkelers who visit the Florida Keys. It is one of the first undersea parks in the country and is also considered as one of the best snorkeling spots in Key Largo.
Snorkelers will definitely enjoy swimming among different types of marine creatures like angelfish, parrotfish, and other colorful reef fishes. Some turtles can also be seen swimming in the area. There are brain corals, star corals, sea fingers, and sea fans all over the sea floor, providing shelter for the different small reef fish thriving in this underwater park.
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Snorkelers love the Florida Keys because of the rich and diverse marine flora and fauna thriving in the area. There are shallow and protected snorkeling spots which are great for those who are still beginning in the sport, and there are also deeper and more challenging spots for the seasoned snorkeler. Whatever your skill level may be, you will definitely find snorkeling in the Florida Keys an absolute treat.