The Florida Keys are a beautiful island chain on the southernmost tip of Florida. Known for their beautiful beaches and turquoise waters, these islands have welcomed thousands of visitors every single year, and are a fantastic place to go snorkeling.
One of the most popular things to do in the Florida Keys is go snorkeling. After all, with stunning blue waters, thriving marine life, and warm weather, what more could you ask for?
The best snorkeling in the Florida Keys is often only accessible by boat. This makes sense, as these more distant reefs are less affected by the chemicals and pollution from the land. That said, there are still a few noteworthy snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys that don’t require a boat. Both options are available on this list.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is undoubtedly the place to go for the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys. Situated in the waters surrounding Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was actually the first undersea park in the United States!
The best snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park requires a boat. The coolest reefs are all five to 13 kilometres away from the shore. But you still have options! You can either take your own boat out on the water or book a snorkeling tour.
Regardless of how you get to the reefs, you’ll be amazed once you dive beneath the surface. Fish, sea urchins, starfish, lobsters, and anemones are just the start!
But if you don’t have a boat or don’t want to take a tour, you can still enjoy some of the marine beauty at Cannon Beach. About 30 metres from the shore lies a Spanish shipwreck. Over the years, this shipwreck has become a haven for marine life. Keep your eyes peeled for colourful fish, tiny shrimp, and scuttling crabs.
As if all of the amazing marine life weren’t enough, John Pennekamp State Park is also home to the famous Christ of the Abyss Statue. The Christ of the Abyss Statue is a sunken, nine-foot-tall bronze statue of Jesus. It was purposefully sunken in 1965, and it is actually one of three sunken Christ of the Abyss Statues in the world!
With all of these amazing underwater gems, it’s no wonder that over a million people visit this state park every single year. There’s simply so much to see!
Not far from the island of Islamorada lies Alligator Reef. And you’ll know exactly where the reef is, thanks to the 41-metre lighthouse soaring out of the water.
Despite the fact that you can see the lighthouse from the shore, it’s still eight kilometres away. In other words, you’ll need a boat to get out there. Luckily, there are quite a few tour companies that provide that service.
Once you reach the reef, you’ll be greeted by unbelievably clear water. And since the area is only eight metres deep, you’ll likely be able to see all the way to the bottom!
Alligator Reef is known for its many friendly fish, including parrotfish, amberjack, and angelfish. But if you’re lucky, you’ll spot other types of marine life as well, including dolphins, spotted eagle rays, and sea turtles. (And, no, despite its name, Alligator Reef is not home to any alligators.)
Sombrero Beach & Reef
Sombrero Beach and Sombrero Reef are two peas in a pod. If you want to snorkel from the shore, Sombrero Beach is a great spot. But if you’re willing to splurge a bit, you can take a boat out to the even-better Sombrero Reef. Either way, you’ll get to enjoy a spectacular snorkeling experience.
First, let’s talk about Sombrero Beach. This lovely strip of shoreline is where all of the locals go. With the golden sand and turquoise waters, it looks like a postcard! But that’s certainly not all. There are the ideal snorkeling conditions of course!
Sombrero Beach is filled with marine life. In the water, you’ll find brightly colored fish and spiny sea urchins. Then, there are the loggerhead turtles, who swim around in the water and lay their eggs on the shore. If you do happen to see a sea turtle nest, be sure to give it some space!
But like all of the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys, you’ll want to head away from the shoreline and towards the reefs for the coolest underwater experience. That’s where Sombrero Reef comes into play.
Located 13 kilometres offshore, Sombrero Reef is one of the largest barrier reefs in the world! You’ll be able to see mini coral canyons, unique sponge formations, schools of fish, and even a few sea turtles.
Indian Key Historic State Park
So far on this list of the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys, we’ve been saying that by boat is always the way to go. But Indian Key Historic State Park may be the exception.
There are loads of coral and rocks near the shore at Indian Key Historic State Park. That’s exactly what draws the fish and other marine life in, so you don’t have to take a boat out to see them. As you swim around, you’ll get to see many of the tropical fish that the Florida Keys are known for.
With all of the coral and rocks in the water, it can be difficult to find a good entry point. We recommend looking for the shell-covered bench near the dock and entering there.
Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park has some of the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys for beginners. With the relatively shallow and calm waters, just about everyone can get a glimpse under the surface of the water.
That glimpse under the water definitely won’t disappoint. As you snorkel around Bahia Honda State Park, you’ll be able to see tropical fish, large sponges, and colourful coral. If you’re extra lucky, you may get to see some rarer finds, including stone crabs and spiny lobster. Simply put, Bahia Honda State Park is the perfect place to spend the day.
Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary
Located 13 kilometres from the beautiful Bahia Honda State Park, Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is ideal for the most adventurous snorkelers out there. While most of the snorkeling spots on this list are relatively shallow, the waters at Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary reach up to 30 metres deep! That means that there’s a lot more to discover.
One of the things that Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is known for is its coral. While coral typically isn’t the first form of marine life that people think about, it’s really the centre of any marine habitat. So seeing the thriving elkhorn coral and lobed star coral of Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is quite a cool sight to see when you think about it.
Of course, with flourishing coral comes all sorts of other marine life. Giant parrotfish, great barracudas, spiky porcupine fish, and eye-catching butterfly fish are just the start. On top of the fish, you may also get to see sea turtles and stingrays!
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
If you’re looking for the best snorkeling in Key West specifically, look no further than Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park sets itself apart because you can just walk into the water and enjoy the best snorkeling in the area. No boat ride necessary! This is because this beach has a rocky floor that draws marine life in. You’ll get to see tropical fish, colourful coral, and maybe even a lobster or two!
*Pro Tip: As we mentioned earlier, the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park has a rocky floor. To avoid getting cuts and scrapes on your feet, you may want to invest in a pair of water shoes.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Many people don’t realise this, but Key West isn’t actually the last of the Florida Keys. Technically, Dry Tortugas National Park is.
Dry Tortugas National Park is a stunning natural oasis that is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Given that this national park is 113 kilometres from Key West, many people wonder if it’s worth the journey. But trust us, it definitely is.
While at Dry Tortugas National Park, you can visit the beaches, take a tour of Fort Jefferson, and watch the many birds. But the most popular activity is snorkeling!
The water at this national park is actually quite shallow at about two to five metres deep. This means that everyone can join in on the fun! You’ll all be able to keep an eye out for fantastic marine life. While you’ll be able to see the many fish and coral from the other snorkeling locations on this list, Dry Tortugas National Park also boasts starfish, conch shells, and even dolphins!
And there you have it. All of the places for the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys! As always, let us know if you have any questions in the comments. If you’re interested in a full itinerary for the Florida Keys, check ours out here.