Snorkeling enthusiasts know that there aren’t many places in the world that can compete for the best snorkeling spots with the Florida Keys. The mesmerizing turquoise waters are home to the United State’s only tropical coral reefs and the world’s third-longest barrier reef. It doesn’t matter whether you are a veteran snorkeler or trying snorkeling for the first time; you will witness some of the most colorful tropical fishes, soft corals, and hundreds of marine life. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the best snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys.
1. Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas
There is no better place to start your snorkeling experience than heading down to the Dry Tortugas. Located just 70 nautical miles from Key West, the Yankee Freedom III serves as Dry Tortugas’s official ferry. It transports you to the secluded eco treasure for the most thrilling snorkeling experience ever. The Fort Jefferson National Park and Yankee Freedom III offer you an educational tour about their humongous Civil War fortification. They stand right in the middle of the sandy beach and turquoise waters.
Start with the shallow waters near the beach if you are snorkeling for the first time. Even feet deep or knee-deep water contains colorful fishes that welcome you to their sea life adventures. This area is ideal for snorkelers of all levels and ages. Once you get your feet wet in snorkeling, you can dive into waist-deep water to check out the vibrant sea life and thriving corals. Make sure you keep your eyes open for queen conchs and sea stars, and other marine animals. Many tourists also say that they often ran into bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles while snorkeling here. The Yankee Freedom III provides complimentary masks, fins, and snorkels. That means you don’t need to bring your snorkeling gear here.
Veteran snorkelers consider Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas the most beautiful snorkeling destination in the Florida Keys and Florida. They say that you won’t find marine life like this in any other place in the United States. The crystal clear waters along the historic Fort Jefferson look stunning both from sea level and above. It’s as if someone is painting the water’s color every second with a brush and blue color.
In fact, Fort Jefferson also allows unique underwater adventures, such as night snorkeling. This gives you an experience of what sea life looks like after sunset. Even veteran snorkelers feel surprised when they participate in night snorkeling. But it’s ideal for professionals and experienced snorkelers. You shouldn’t participate in this underwater activity at night if you don’t know anything about snorkeling.
However, there are snorkeling day trips where you can take a guide and learn snorkeling. The aquamarine waters surround the historic fort with queen conch, living corals, starfishes, and many more. And everything is accessible from the white sand beach. All you need to do is hire a boat from the Florida Keys and head towards Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park. The warm water also makes it suitable for you to dive right in instead of shivering in the cold water like in some of the other snorkeling destinations.
2. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to Key Largo snorkeling spread over 70 square miles of coastlines and marine life. This is the only place in the United States where you can snorkel in an underwater park. This coral reef state park also has an old shipwreck where you can get guided tours and learn about how the shipwreck took place and the history of the first underwater park.
Key Largo at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of the must-visit snorkeling spots in the continental United States. You will find the only living coral reef here. Snorkelers can expect to see various sea turtles, shipwrecks, bottlenose dolphins, and tropical fishes here. It is the perfect place for people to learn snorkeling for the first time. Everyone is cooperative and ensures your safety first before taking you to the water. You and your family, including small kids, can experience breathtaking underwater life.
According to veterans, snorkeling the Florida Keys is an experience of a lifetime. You don’t need to know the basics of snorkeling when you visit the Florida Keys. There are enough guides to teach you the basics on the spot and encourage you to dive into the aquamarine waters. Even kids and children can safely snorkel when at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Key Largo is located at a 102.5-mile marker and holds the record for the US’s first undersea park. It has the largest area with abundant living coral reefs and marine life, making the sea life look stunning. Snorkelers find plenty of coral species, such as star corals, brain corals, sea fingers, sea fans, and sea whips. The abundance of angelfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, and turtles is a delight to watch. Every year, thousands of tourists visit the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to see the colorful marine life. Various companies offer guided tours throughout the year. They take you to the best snorkeling spots where you can enjoy deep-sea diving and snorkeling.
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a haven for water lovers. Locals in the Florida Keys say that you shouldn’t miss visiting this gem of a snorkeling destination when in Florida. The 70-square feet underwater park is so addictive that your kids may not want to come out of it anytime soon. The Cannon Beach is the easiest way to reach the nearby shipwreck. Apart from snorkeling, you can also go on offshore fishing tours. The vibrant sea life and hundreds of coral reefs will make your tour well worth every penny.
3. Bahia Honda State Park
First of all, the Bahia Honda State Park is widely popular for snorkeling and camping. You can do many things here, such as fishing, boating, bicycling, paddling, wildlife viewing, swimming, picnicking, geo-seeing, birding, scuba diving, hiking, camping boat, boat tours, walking, and running. You can now get an idea why people rate the Bahia Honda State Park so highly as a snorkeling destination in the Florida Keys.
Snorkeling the Florida Keys isn’t just about hitting the waters as soon as you reach your destination; it is also about exploring other areas and enjoying every part of the state park or island. Fortunately, the Bahia Honda State Park offers exceptional amenities to make your tour comfortable. Some of the most common facilities available here are boat ramps, cabins, white sand beaches, restrooms, parking, restaurants, RV, pets, historic sites, campgrounds, shower stations, picnic pavilion, interpretive exhibit, and canoe-kayak launch. The locals also recommend visiting the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Indian Key Historic State Park, and Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.
The Bahia Honda State Park has an award-winning beach and a historic bridge 37 nautical miles towards Key West. It is now the favorite destination for tourists as they call it an island paradise. The park traverses over 500 acres and consists of an offshore island, popular for beachcombing and snorkeling.
One of the reasons why the Bahia Honda State Park is popular is because beginners and children can learn snorkeling within a few hours. The guides take you to 4 to 6 feet deep water initially. This is the ideal height for snorkeling the Florida Keys. You will see lots of soft corals, tropical fishes, small coral heads, stone crabs, spiny lobsters, and sponges in these shallow waters. That means you can enjoy diverse marine life even without going into the deep waters. You should take a boat tour if you wish to see bottlenose dolphins and big turtles. The shallow water is also advantageous for swimming if you don’t know snorkeling.
Although these are the three most sought-after snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys, you can also try a few other places if you have enough time in hand. Here are some additional names that make snorkeling the Florida Keys enjoyable during your stay:
- Fort Zachary Taylor, Key West
- Coffins Patch, Key Colony Beach
- Elliot Key, Biscayne National Park
- Alligator Reef Lighthouse, Islamorada
- Sombrero Reef, Marathon
- Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary
- Key Lardo Dry Rocks, Key Largo
- Long Key State Park
- Cheeca Rocks, Islamorada
It is surprising to see so many top-notch snorkeling destinations located in a small place like the Florida Keys. You can understand why people consider Florida as the world’s snorkeling capital. It is best to take a vacation of at least 15 to 20 days if you want to cover all these hotspots during your visit to the Florida Keys. Otherwise, a 5 to 7-day holiday is enough to cover the three must-see places mentioned above. Snorkeling here isn’t as expensive as in the other states. This is another reason why people come every year with their families.