If you are in the Florida area some of the best snorkeling is right in your backyard. You do not have to go far to take in all of the beauty of the underwater world. Heading to the south of the state offers the best snorkeling, specifically in the Keys. Key Largo is one of the most desirable areas for some quality snorkeling in the state. Be sure to have your snorkeling gear ready to go as you won’t want to miss out on any of these spots.
Many avid snorkelers prefer the waters in Key Largo over that of the Key West area. Home to healthy reefs and a rich amount of aquatic life. When snorkeling in this area, there are many go-to top snorkeling spots. With plenty to see, we talk about the best snorkeling spots below. The snorkeling in Key Largo is sure to not disappoint, be sure to have your underwater camera with you before heading out to the many quality snorkel spots.
Where To Find The Best Snorkeling
The best reefs are found a distance off the coast so you will likely need to jump on a boat for the best spots. There is a state park where you can go for some shore snorkeling but this will come at a price. Expect an entrance fee when going here as well as less impressive coral formations.
1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
This is the most popular snorkeling spot in the area due to its ease of access. This is a great spot for families to visit with as much to do and see above water as there is below. This is the only area where you can snorkel from the shore rather than charter a boat which makes it ideal for those with children.
The snorkeling areas in this area are accessed from the two beaches at Pennekamp Park. Surrounded by mangroves this area has a sea grass bottom where many fish like to hide. While there are no corals to spot in this area it is still a great place for beginner snorkelers and young kids to enjoy their day. About 100 feet off the coast of the beach you will find some remains from a Spanish shipwreck which is really fun to explore.
2. Sea Gardens
When you charter a snorkel boat or go for a tour you will want to make sure you hit this area. Full of some of the healthiest and best soft corals you will see this area is great for both beginner and advanced snorkelers. You have the potential to see many different species of fish in this area. This can be a hard place to get to since some captains like to keep places secret so they don’t get overcrowded. The sea gardens are also referred to the Mosquito Bank area in case your boat’s crew has never heard of the Sea Gardens. If you can find this place it will put a smile on your face.
3. Molasses Reef
This reef is one of the most talked about in Florida, if not the world. The waters range from 10 to 70 feet (3 to 21 meters) which makes it great for snorkeling and scuba diving alike. What makes this stand out from other sites is it is made up of many reefs you can choose from. In fact, there are 30 places ships can hook up to.
Some of the best spots are the Winch Hole and the shipwreck of Wellwood. You can expect to see entire schools of fish swimming around these reefs including parrot fish, eels, turtles and even Nurse Sharks (if you’re lucky). There are also unique coral formations that will keep your interest. These include spur and groove coral and also a sloped bottom that allows the larger marine life to enter the reef area.
4. Dry Rocks & Christ of the Abyss
Even though the names of these places can be intimidating they are both excellent for people who are just getting into snorkeling. Depths here can vary from quite shallow to upwards of 25 feet (7.6 meters). Christ of the Abyss is a large 9 foot bronze statue of Christ which sits on the ocean floor. You don’t have to be religious to be amazed by this site.
The Dry Rocks have a great reef and snorkeling area as well. If you are planning a guided snorkel trip to this area they will more than likely combine these two locations for a well rounded trip. Like almost every other spot in Florida, we recommend heading here during the morning hours as it can get choppy and windy later in the day.
5. Snapper Ledge
If you have never seen a yellowtail snapper this is the place you’ll want to be. There is a ledge that creates the perfect habitat for schools upon schools of these fish. In fact, there are so many that at times you can’t even see through the school. Water here can vary between 12 and 35 feet (3.6 meters to 10.6 meters) which is ideal for many of the larger fish.
On any given day you should be able to see many bucket list marine animals at Snapper Ledge. There are some nurse sharks that frequent the area as well as moray eels. Goat fish, hog snappers, crabs, lobster, rays and even octopus call this area home. It should be near the top of your list if you are heading to Key Largo.
6. Grecian Rocks
This is one of the more popular places when it comes to snorkel tours. It has some great underwater sights but tends to be windy most days. There is also quite a strong current that you should be aware of. But there is a reason this is such a popular destination.
Pro Tip: If the winds are particularly bad you may want to skip this place. The windier it gets the worse the visibility becomes.
There are some coral spots here, but don’t be surprised if you run into some that are dead. With that being said, there are lots of fish and marine life here. Expect to see lots of large parrot fish, trunkfish and even some barracuda.
7. White Banks
The White Banks got its name from the white sand along its shore. There are actually two reefs that have a sandbar in between them that you are able to sunbathe on. Water here is relatively shallow at around 15 feet (4.7 meters) which means you are able to see the bottom and dive if you’re comfortable.
Since it takes a catamaran to get to this location the reef is healthy with more fish than we could count. The boat runs three times during the day and costs around $27 for adults ($22 for children). With that being said, this is definitely worth the cost of admission.
8. The Elbow
This reef got its name due to the shape of it (it looks like an elbow). Waters here can range from around 12 feet to 35 feet which makes this an ideal location. It may be on the deep side for some people, but that just means it has a wide variety of marine life.
It features spectacular coral. In fact, it has some of the healthiest coral fingers in the area. What you won’t expect to see is a shipwreck. You’ll have to look closely but there is a Civil War ship that was sunk here in 1866. It sits at a depth of around 12 feet and has become a home for large finger coral and many species of fish. There is also at least two more ships that sunk in this area including a tub boat and a barge.
9. Boat Tour Options
If you only have a short amount of time to spend in this area you may want to book a boat tour to make the most of the time you have. They will be able to show you around places depending on what you want to see.
Best Time To Snorkel
Nearly ever snorkel and scuba destination have an ideal time to dive. In Key Largo that time is during the summer months between August and October. The water will be as warm as a bathtub and have the highest visibility. As a bonus, most tourists come to Florida in the winter to escape the cold temperatures at home. This means that you’ll be swimming in areas that have barely anyone around. Just be sure to pack high SPF sunscreen as it can reach high temperatures.
10. Pennekamp Park
If you are looking for the best place to start your day look no further than Pennekamp Park. Even if you don’t spend the money on a guided boat tour you can still have access to a lot of great snorkeling spots from this location. Just keep in mind that you will have to pay an entrance fee if you are not using a tour guide company. These aren’t that expensive ($8 for a car, $2 for pedestrians).
Once you get inside the park you will have access to the beaches and other amenities. There is a full 47 site campsite that can cater tents and RVs alike. You will have to call and reserve a spot as this is quite a popular destination. There are also stands where you can rent kayaks and snorkel gear. We recommend you bring your own, but if you happen to forget you don’t have to worry.
11. From Key Largo
Key Largo has many docks and ports where boats leave regularly. If we can give you one piece of advice it would be to choose a company that only takes snorkelers out on the water. Some companies like to mix snorkelers with scuba divers but we wouldn’t recommend this. Scuba diving sites are generally much deeper than snorkeling spots and you may lose out on some of the better dedicated snorkeling sites.
Rent A Private Charter
If you have the money to spend a private charter will be the best way to get around. You can stay away from the busy areas the tour companies typically take people to while staying however long you want. These boats will leave from the Key Largo area which is one of the best places to start your day. Just keep in mind that most of these boats can only bring up to 6 or 7 people per trip.
Things To Keep In Mind
If you decide to book a boat to get you to your snorkeling make sure you agree on a place before getting in the boat. Some shops are weird and will take you to different places depending on how the captain of the boat feels that day. Make sure they take you to the places you want to see, after all, you paid for them based on the location. If they don’t lay out where you’ll be snorkeling you may want to choose a different company.
Globo Surf Overview
Key Largo is one of the most visited parts of the Florida Keys. Located at the top of the keys this is an area that almost everyone passes through. An area full of beauty, we recommend stopping to explore this area before you travel south to the rest of the keys.
The snorkeling in Key Largo is some of the best in the state. With a rich tourism sector, many locals travel to this area to explore the waters. With only one snorkeling destination accessible by land we recommend hiring a boat for the day in order to fully explore all this area has to offer.
With warm tropical waters sitting at almost 80℉ there is no need for a wetsuit when snorkeling. The stunning turquoise waters sit in the Gulf of Mexico which allows you to enjoy the exceptional visibility.
Have you been snorkeling in Key Largo? What were your favorite spots to explore the water? Talk to us about it in the comment section below.