Snorkeling cruises off the coast of the Florida Keys are an absolute necessity for anyone who takes pleasure in the sea and the natural world. These trips cover a distance of around 120 miles and include more than 1700 islands. The coral reefs in the Florida Keys are home to an abundance of marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, rays, and even sharks. It is a unique and wonderful experience to observe them in the natural setting in which they live.
The Keys are divided into 5 regions: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine, the Lower Keys, and Key West. Key Largo is referred to as the Dive Capital of the World and is home to the amazing John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and Christ of the Abyss. The Florida reef system is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.
Is It Safe To Go Snorkeling In The Florida Keys?
Any water sport comes with some level of danger, and snorkeling is no different. The coral reefs are living, and house dangerous sea creatures, as well as other dangers that can be in that environment. But overall, snorkeling while in the Florida Keys is fairly safe. Here are some dangers to be aware of when Florida Keys reef snorkeling.
Fire coral is common on and around the reefs and is sharp enough to cause small cuts. They are yellow or brown and attach themselves to rocks, seaweed, and other coral.
When you brush up against fire coral it can cause mild stinging and can develop into a rash. You can find suggested treatment here if you happen to come in contact with fire coral during your snorkeling adventure.
Jellyfish can sting – when I was growing up we often went waterskiing. And I usually fell off – and usually always got a jellyfish sting or three. But there are two varieties of jellyfish that are dangerous – the box jellyfish and the Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish.
Both the box jellyfish and the Portuguese man-of-war can be fatal to humans, however, if stung multiple times by a Portuguese man-of-war it can be fatal.
I love to snorkel, but I am truly petrified of sharks. When snorkeling Dry Rocks in John Pennekamp I came face to face with that fear and overcame it. There are lots of sharks in the Keys, but shark attacks are rare.
The most common sharks in the Keys are nurse sharks. They are docile, harmless sharks that spend time close to the sea floor. You're more than likely to spot them while snorkeling many feet above in the coral reefs.
Caribbean reef sharks are everywhere in the Keys, but they are relatively harmless. However, the bull shark is a very aggressive shark, and it can also be found in the waters of the Florida Keys. If you keep your distance and don't mess with them they will rarely mess with you.
Other Sea Life
While snorkeling you'll see many other forms of vibrant sea life, many not as dangerous as the marine animals listed above. Some examples of what you might see are:
Star and Brain corals
Snorkel & Dive with Professionals
Unless you intimately know the waters where you'll be snorkeling and have snorkeled there many times, our suggestion is to always go with a professional snorkel company.
If you want to learn to dive on your vacation, try a dive resort like Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort, or for a more luxury stay, Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key is fabulous. For an immersive experience, Looe Key Reef Resort is a great choice and is one of the most affordable motels in the Florida Keys.
All of these resorts offer snorkeling trips as well, giving you double the experience if you want to learn to dive while you're snorkeling in the Keys.
Where Is The Best Place To Snorkel In The Florida Keys?
Where isn't the best place to go snorkeling in the Florida Keys? Tropical Travel Girl, Debbra Dunning Brouillette has a special connection to Looe Key. Jim and I love Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and John Pennekamp State Park. So if you ask where the best place to go snorkeling (or diving) in the Keys is, you'll get a different answer every time.
Key West is regarded as the most popular place to snorkel as it is best known, however, there are plenty of other keys with amazing snorkeling spots just waiting to be explored!
Here are our top picks for the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys:
Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West
Key West is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Explore this breathtaking marine environment, and let yourself to get absorbed into it. Off the coast of the beach, you can go snorkeling and see a wide variety of tropical fish and marine life, including lobster, lobster schools, schools of yellowtail snapper, and many types of hard and soft corals.
Because the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor contains coral, you should wear water shoes when you visit. In the event that you forget to bring a pair with you, they are available for purchase in the gift shop.
Fort Jefferson At The Dry Tortugas National Park
A paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers, the Dry Tortugas are home to some of the healthiest and most colorful coral reefs in all of the United States. Located just 70 miles from Key West and the Florida Keys, the park is a great detour for snorkeling during your Florida Keys adventure.
Fort Jefferson offers an ideal location for snorkeling. At this underwater park, the waters are quite shallow, which means that almost anyone can safely snorkel there. There's also a sandy beach and picnic tables to lounge at when you aren't in the water.
Don't worry about snorkeling gear, staff will provide you with masks, fins, and a snorkel!
The Dry Tortugas National Park is definitely one of the best snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo
The park is home to a diverse collection of tropical flora and fauna, including shorebirds and marine life. The coral formations and the marine life that lives within them are what the majority of park visitors come to appreciate. The mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks also provide them a unique experience.
Key Largo snorkeling is definitely some of the best snorkeling in the Florida reef.
Coffins Patch, Key Colony Beach
Some of the best snorkeling in the Middle Keys may be found along the shallow patch reefs that are part of the Coffins Patch Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA), which is located around four nautical miles off of Key Colony Beach.
Coffins Patch is home to a wide variety of marine life, including tangs, tropical fish, jacks, stingrays, nurse sharks, grouper, lobster, butterflyfish, and the inquisitive moray eel. These animals navigate the gentle currents while swimming among soft corals, boulder coral measuring up to three feet in diameter, and some of the most beautiful patches of pillar coral in the region.
Elliott Key in Biscayne National Park
The park's main island was formerly home to a bustling colony of pioneers who pursued a variety of occupations, including wrecking, sponging, pineapple farming, and more. Camping, picnicking, watching animals, and hiking are just some of the activities that may be enjoyed on the island today.
Alligator Reef Lighthouse in Islamorada
The Alligator Reef Lighthouse is widely regarded as one of the most desirable spots in all of the Keys for scuba diving and snorkeling. The United States Ship Alligator went down in shallow water in 1825 when it was engaged in a mission to combat pirates off the coast of Islamorada.
The crew decided to blow up the ship, which resulted in it breaking in half and sinking to the bottom of the water. This was done to prevent the pirates from reclaiming the 86-foot-long vessel. This marked the birth of the massive coral reef that is now home to more than 500 different types of marine life.
Sombrero Reef in Marathon
In the vicinity of Marathon, Florida, Sombrero Reef is one of the most well-known spots for Florida Keys snorkeling and scuba diving, and it has been recognized as a Special Protected Area (SPA).
It is the largest reef in the Middle Keys and is home to a variety of fish, including snapper, grunt, and neon gobies.
Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key
Bahia Honda State Park, which covers over 500 acres and includes an offshore island, is home to some of the state of Florida's finest opportunities for beach combing and snorkeling.
If you're looking for a white sand beach while at Bahia Honda State Park, there are 3 to relax on before or after snorkeling.
Go enjoy this Florida Keys snorkeling at the most ideal, peaceful retreat for the whole family to experience together.
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Key Largo Dry Rocks in Key Largo
The “Christ of the Deep” monument is located in Key Largo Dry Rocks. It is a bronze figure that measures nine feet in height and lies in a sand channel on the offshore side of Key Largo Dry Rocks in water that is less than twenty-five feet deep. It is covered in coral species and definitely a sight to behold while snorkeling.
Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, Big Pine Key
Looe Key is a good SCUBA and snorkeling spot for visitors of all skill levels who are interested in visiting Florida Keys Parks. The key's rich history, as well as its distinctive form and changing depths, contribute to the key's appeal. The water clarity is incredible, and the waves are often of moderate intensity.
Thanks to the water's clarity, you'll be able to spot many colorful fish , brain coral , sea turtles, and other marine life.
When is the Best Time to Snorkel in the Florida Keys
The best time for snorkeling in Florida depends on what you are looking for. The best all-around month to visit the Florida Keys is May (prior to Memorial Day). The weather is warm, the waters are calm and clear, it is not as crowded, and the prices are reasonable- perfect for a visit to the tropical coral reefs.
September is also a good time to visit the Florida Keys, but it is hurricane season, which is a bit of a risk.
Summer in the Keys means great snorkeling but it also means gobs of people and higher prices. The conditions, however, mirror May – calm, clear water but oppressively hot. However, jumping into the cool water of the Keys is a great getaway from the hot sun!
How to Book a Florida Keys Snorkel Tour
Research is key here and reading the reviews of the various options for a snorkel tour. If you are taking young children you'll want to choose a tour that caters to families and doesn't take you way out.
If you are an adventurous sort, you may want to look for snorkel companies that head out to Sombrero Reef or Alligator Reef.
Call the companies that you've targeted and get more information on their tours. Once you arrive in the Keys, stop in, and visit them.
An Adventure of A Lifetime
Snorkeling in the Florida Keys can be the adventure of a lifetime and fun for the whole family. But you'll want to plan out your stay, your tours, and other activities. And once you are in the Keys, remember you are on “island time.” Take time to relax and enjoy the pace of life and all that the Florida Keys has to offer!
Keep these Packing Tips in mind for your vacation to the Florida Keys:
- Make sure to wear and pack sunscreen. There is no easier place to get a sunburn than on the water in the Keys.
- Bring a wide brimmed hat for more sun protection. If you plan on going on a snorkeling tour, or even just a nature tour, the likelihood that you'll be on a boat is high. Make sure you are protected from the suns rays while sailing over the reefs.
- A coverup will also come in handy for when you are waiting around, strolling on the beach, or going for lunch- basically anytime you aren't in the water.
- Of course, you can't forget your sunglasses! Polarized ones are the best to offer your eyes the most protection.
Snorkeling in the Florida Keys can be great fun, as well as the thrilling adventure you've always wanted. Get ready to see so many tropical fish, sea turtles, sea fingers, sea stars, and so much more. Don't forget to take a boat tour around the Keys, it's a great way to learn more about the ecosystem. Just remember to prepare well and take precautions from the natural elements.
Looking for more snorkeling spots to explore? Try these:
Snorkeling Dry Docks Florida Keys
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Have you ever been snorkeling in the Keys? Let us know in the comments below!
Florida is an excellent destination for me. My family and I love to go to beaches when we have birthdays. So we planned to vacation on my birthday and tried snorkeling and scuba diving this time. I am scared, yet I hope I can try to experience it.
I can’t wait to hear how your vacation went!!
Yes I snorkeled Look Key twice, about 10 years apart. Bahia Honda State Park runs a snorkel boat to Look Key twice a day. Great experience, and the 2nd trip was my first experience swimming with a shark nearby.