Florida Keys is one of the Sunshine State’s most popular snorkeling destinations. There are dozens of superb snorkeling spots dotted across the region, and generally speaking, you can snorkel all year round here too. But which to choose? From a remote cluster of islands to a pre-Civil War fort, we’ve cherry-picked seven of the best places for snorkeling in Florida Keys if you need a little inspiration.
The best places for snorkeling in Florida Keys
1. Dry Tortugas National Park (Key West)
Key West’s snorkeling scene is hardly a well-kept secret, but Dry Tortugas National Park is one of its most unusual offerings. Located 70 miles off the coast, it’s a remote group of islands, accessible only by boat or seaplane. Of all the islands, Garden Key is one of the best. At 14 acres, it’s the second-largest island and it’s also particularly popular with the local sea turtles. You’ll also find kaleidoscopic corals, colourful fish, starfish and queen conches.
Back on dry land, you can explore the historic Fort Jefferson, which was built to protect one of the most strategic deepwater anchorages in North America. If you’re after something even more remote you can charter your boat and snorkel off to Windjammer Wreck, an iron-hulled ship-rigged sailing vessel known as the Avanti. The best time of year to snorkel here is from April to November when the waters are calmer.
Located in the crystal clear waters of Key Largo, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers underwater adventures aplenty. It’s the United States’ first-ever underwater park, offering 70 nautical square miles of spectacular snorkeling fun. The sandy-bottom beaches are ideal for advanced snorkelers, though for reef snorkeling you’ll need to take a short boat ride offshore. As well as colourful fish, corals and mangroves, you can swim around the iconic Christ of the Abyss statue – a replica of “Il Cristo degli Abissi” in Liguria, Italy. Tours, half-day and full-day trips are easy to organise online and in person.
This secluded white-sand park boasts three beaches, just 12 miles south of Marathon. Sprawling across 400 acres, it offers some of the best snorkeling and beachcombing in Florida.
It’s also the starting point for the boat trip to Looe Key Marine Sanctuary, a sprawling groove and spur reef. It got its name from the HMS Looe, which sunk here in 1744 while towing a captured French ship. The sanctuary is home to over 150 species, including yellowtail, angelfish, parrotfish and barracuda. There are around 50 species of coral here too, as well as an artificial reef called the Adolphus Busch.
It’s only five miles from the coast, but you’ll still need to take a boat to Alligator Reef. You’ll be able to spot it by the 136 ft lighthouse jutting from the water just north of the spot. It’s home to amberjack, parrotfish, angelfish, barracuda, and nurse sharks. If you’re lucky, you might get to spot sea turtles and spotted eagles too. Book your tour through a reputable local operator for the best chance to see dolphins playing too.
Just south of Pigeon Key, Sombrero Reef is part of the wider Sombrero Key Sanctuary Preservation Area (sadly, it has nothing to do with sombreros). The coral formations here are phenomenal, with branching and boulder corals rising to 10 ft. from the ocean floor. To get there, you’ll need to hop on a boat with a local tour company. Starfish Marathon Snorkeling Tours is one of the best.
Around six miles from Key Largo is Molasses Reef, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This vibrant underwater reef system is one of the most popular sites in the world, for good reason. The water here is crystal clear and the area is rich in marine life. Boats tend to moor up along the length of the reef, and there are shallower starting points closer to the Molasses Reef Tower. Head here for critters, corals and colourful snappers, angelfish, spadefish, parrotfish and smaller tropical fish.
Snorkeling might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you hear about this pre-Civil War fort, but it will be now. The waters here are clear and warm, home to lobsters, yellow snapper, parrotfish, and a variety of coral. Unlike most Florida Keys snorkeling destinations, you don’t need to hop on a boat to enjoy the best of it either. You can rent gear from the park too.