The state of Florida is a hot vacation spot for travelers of all ages due to its warm temperatures and endless activities both on land and by sea. Snorkeling in the Florida Keys is one of the most popular activities, especially in south Florida, from Key Biscayne all the way south past Key West. The water temperatures are warmest during the summer months, which is a popular time for tourists to visit the keys.

The best snorkeling sites can only be accessed by boat, and the highest-rated is located in what is called the “middle keys.” Many boat tour companies provide snorkeling gear, but you can also bring your own. The keys are in close proximity to one another, so visiting multiple snorkeling sites is possible during a weekend or week-long vacation.

Depending on the location, snorkelers can interact with sharks, sea turtles, manatees, lobsters, and hundreds of tropical marine fish species. Some snorkeling destinations are built on historic forts, protected marine parks, lighthouses, and shipwrecks.

DIFFICULTY

Beginner

DEPTH

10ft to 60ft (3m to 18m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 60ft (18m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Sea turtles, manatees, tarpon

RENOWNED FOR

Marine nurseries, bird watching, snorkeling, landmarks

florida keys snorkeling sites

At the northernmost part of the Florida Keys is Biscayne National Park. Elliot Key is an undeveloped island located inside Biscayne National Park showcasing the Heritage Maritime Trail housing the remains of six shipwrecks, a true snorkelers paradise. Elliot Key can only be accessed by boat, and the newest addition to the Heritage Maritime Trail is the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, also known as the Eye of Miami. Mooring buoys are situated around the park area so that snorkelers can explore the base of the lighthouse and the shipwrecks of various shapes and sizes.

islamorada snorkeling

DIFFICULTY

Beginner

DEPTH

5ft to 15ft (1.5m to 4.5m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 15ft (1.5m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Nurse sharks, Stingrays, Crabs

RENOWNED FOR

Animal interaction, sandy beaches, bird watching

snorkeling marathon fl

Bahia Honda State Park is located at mile marker 37 in the Florida Keys, near Big Pine Key, and a popular snorkeling spot for beginners and beach lovers. Bahia Honda State Park is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and snorkelers can either explore from the sandy beaches or hop on a boat to visit nearby Looe Key. Visitors can also visit the gift shop, concessions area, or rent kayaks to explore the warm turquoise waters. The sea life is abundant at Bahia Honda State Park, and there are campsites available for those who want to spend a night or a weekend taking in the scenery.

Which of the Florida Keys is best for snorkeling?

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

5ft to 20ft (1.5m to 6m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 20ft (6m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Damselfish, Parrotfish

RENOWNED FOR

Landmarks, animal interaction, bird watching

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is located at the southernmost tip of Key West and is one of the busiest beaches in the Florida Keys. The historic Civil War fort, built in the 1860s, is a popular tourist attraction in the area. The reefs at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park can be accessed right from the shore; the beach can be rocky, so wearing water shoes is recommended. The shallow reef is home to various tropical fish species and different types of corals perfect for beginners or more experienced snorkelers. The park also has a cafe, hiking trails, and guided fort tours.

snorkeling islamorada

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

1ft to 25ft (0.3m to 7m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 25ft (7m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Angelfish, sea turtles, nurse sharks

RENOWNED FOR

Landmarks, animal interaction, cave-like swim-throughs

best snorkeling in florida keys

Home of the famous Christ of the Abyss statue, which was sunk in 1965, the Key Largo Dry Rocks is a popular snorkeling destination in the Florida Keys. To access the Dry Rocks and the nine-foot-tall bronze statue, snorkelers must hop on a boat and head east from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This shallow reef starts in as shallow as one foot and gets as deep as twenty-five feet, where the statue sits along with loads of tropical reef fish and other marine life. The Key Largo Dry Rocks are located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

best places to snorkel in the keys

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

8ft to 40ft (2.5m to 12m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 25ft (7.6m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Parrotfish, Bermuda Chub, Angelfish

RENOWNED FOR

Landmarks, animal interaction

How much does it cost to go snorkeling in Islamorada, Florida Keys?

A short boat ride and the best snorkeling in Islamorada, Alligator Reef Lighthouse is a perfect place to dive in and swim with hundreds of tropical fish species. Snorkelers can swim around the base of the lighthouse structure to be surrounded by schools of fish and other marine life. When snorkeling a little further away from the lighthouse, larger fish like barracuda and grouper can be seen swimming by. Stingrays and sea turtles also frequent this historic lighthouse snorkeling destination just three miles from shore.

What is the best Key West beach for snorkeling from the shore?

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

6ft to 25ft (2m to 8m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 25ft (8m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Loggerhead sea turtles, parrotfish, snappers

RENOWNED FOR

Landmarks, animal interaction, cave arches

Sombrero Beach in Marathon is a nesting ground for loggerhead turtles; the reef just offshore is also a popular spot for snorkeling. The corals in this area are some of the healthiest in the Florida Keys, and snorkelers can enjoy swimming through coral formations and mini cave arches. Sombrero beach snorkeling is home to many types of snappers, parrotfish, angelfish, and hogfish, and the shallow depths make it perfect for beginners or more advanced snorkelers.

snorkel in florida keys

DIFFICULTY

Beginner

DEPTH

5ft to 30ft (1.5m to 9m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 30ft (9m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Barracuda, parrotfish

RENOWNED FOR

Landmarks, animal interaction, activities

snorkel in florida keys

Pigeon Key, which is located under the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, is a short boat ride from Marathon. Pigeon Key has a lot of history and even more marine life to see underwater. Snorkelers can find schools of tropical fish and corals growing on old railroad materials. The most marine life can be seen around the dock at Pigeon Kay, so be sure to bring your snorkeling gear, or stay on land and take a historical tour of the Pigeon Key island.

snorkeling keys

DIFFICULTY

Beginner

DEPTH

6ft to 12ft (2m to 4m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 12ft (4m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry, shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Lobster, sharks, sea turtles

RENOWNED FOR

Landmarks, animal interaction, activities

snorkeling in the keys

Located 70 miles off Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is home to the historic Fort Jefferson, the most highly recommended snorkeling destination in the Florida Keys. Due to its distance from land, visitors will need to take a ferry, charter boat, or seaplane to get to Dry Tortugas National Park. Snorkelers can explore the sea life around the fort’s moat or the wharf ruins, both located in clear and shallow waters. Snorkelers can also venture out a bit further onto the patch reef to see tarpons and larger fish species swimming around. Camping is also popular around Fort Jefferson.

islamorada snorkeling from shore

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

16ft to 100ft (5m to 30m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 180ft (55m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry, shore entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Manatees, sea turtles, nudibranchs

RENOWNED FOR

Landmarks, animal interaction, activities

snorkeling in florida

The country’s first underwater park, which spans seventy nautical square miles, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, is one of the few snorkeling destinations that can be explored from shore. Cannon Beach, located inside the park, has a shipwreck that is visible and can be easily swam to. Offshore snorkeling tours are also available in the park that includes experienced guides for those who need it. The park itself is home to sea turtles, parrotfish, and other species of tropical reef fish. Snorkelers can also see various types of hard and soft corals in the protected marine area.

DIFFICULTY

Beginner/Intermediate

DEPTH

6ft to 25ft (2m to 8m)

VISIBILITY

Up to 25ft (8m)

ACCESSIBILITY

Boat entry

NOTABLE SEALIFE

Stingrays, nurse sharks, grouper

RENOWNED FOR

Round boulder coral, pillar coral, animal interaction

Key Largo vs Key West

Coffins Patch is located about four nautical miles off Key Colony Beach. This area is a Sanctuary Preservation Area and is known for some of the best snorkeling in the middle keys. Coffins Patch is home to stingrays, jacks, nurse sharks, grouper, and other types of marine species. There is also a Spanish shipwreck in the area that snorkelers can explore. At the west end of Coffins Patch, there are areas of large pillar coral and round boulder coral.

best snorkeling in the florida keys

RAINFALL

The Florida Keys have a tropical savanna climate, which is also known as a wet and dry tropical climate. This means there are distinct wet and dry seasons of relatively the same duration. The hot and wet season in the Florida Keys lasts from June through October. The cold and dry season lasts from November through April.

The most rainfall in the Florida Keys is usually recorded between June and October. But the highest average rainfall comes in August and September during the hotter summer months. The driest months are January, February, March, and April, with February being the driest.

The average yearly rainfall in the Florida Keys is around 40 inches (1,016 mm).

TEMPERATURE

The sea temperature in the Florida Keys is warm from May to October, making it a great place to snorkel during the summer months. Between the months of November through April, the average water temperature is not quite as warm. Between the months of May and October, the average water temperature is 83°F (28°C) and an average of 72°F (22°C) between the months of November through April.

The tropical savanna climate in the Florida Keys produces warm temperatures year-round with cool evenings in the winter months. January and February are the coldest months of the year with average maximum temperatures ranging between 74 to 76 °F (23 to 24 °C) and average minimum temperatures of 64 to 66 °F (17 to 19 °C).

July and August are considered the warmest months in the Florida Keys. The average maximum temperature is 89 °F (31 °C), and the average minimum temperature of 80 °F (26 °C).

BEST SNORKELING MONTHS

The best time to snorkel in the Florida Keys is in the month of May. During the month of May, the water is warm, calm, and the air temperatures are warm, but not unbearably hot like other summer months. Visiting the Florida Keys for snorkeling is a popular activity, especially during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, so traveling prior to that weekend is recommended to avoid higher accommodation and flight costs.

During the hottest months of the year, the humidity can be very high, and there is a higher chance of hurricanes during September and October. The air temperatures between November to April are much more pleasant, but the sea can be quite rough due to the strong winds from the cold fronts in Canada. These high winds can significantly reduce visibility for snorkelers. January and February are usually the windiest and coldest months with the highest surf from the winter winds.

Here are a few snorkeling safety tips to consider before diving in:

  • Relax and be confident in the water. Being comfortable in the water is always essential. If you are new to snorkeling, wearing a mask and breathing through a snorkel can be a learning process. So, make sure you are a confident swimmer or have someone who can help you in the water.
  • Watch the weather conditions. Wind and weather conditions can affect your snorkeling trip. So, if the waves are too big or the conditions are unfavorable, it may be a good idea to reschedule your trip for another day.
  • Stay Hydrated. Don’t drink too much alcohol before snorkeling or participating in water activities; this can be dangerous. It is crucial always to drink water and stay hydrated before being in the sun and the sea.
  • Familiarize yourself with the gear in advance. If you have your own snorkeling equipment, you should be comfortable with it. If the snorkel vest, mask, and fins are rentals, make sure you learn how to use them before jumping in.
  • Be active and stay in shape. When you are in good physical condition, snorkeling is much more comfortable.
  • Snorkel with a buddy. Having a buddy to snorkel with is always a plus. Make sure to talk about your plan before you go into the water so you can keep an eye on each other.
  • Use SPF protection for your skin. The sun in the Florida Keys is hot even on a windy day, and being in the water, you may not realize how much sun you are getting. Always apply sunscreen, reef-friendly preferred.
  • Don’t touch the marine life. You can frighten or injure marine animals or injure yourself. So, it is best to look and not touch.
  • Stay close to the boat or shore. If you are snorkeling from shore, be on the lookout for rip currents and try to stay close to the beach. If you are snorkeling from a boat, keep your eyes on the boat to be sure you are not drifting too far away.
  • Don’t overeat before snorkeling. If you have a big lunch, you may feel more tired and can get into trouble more quickly in the water.

Due to the landfall is Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, some snorkeling areas and marine parks may be under repair or temporarily closed. Visit the marine park websites before your snorkeling visit for more details.

TIME ZONE: Eastern Standard Time (EST-5)

CURRENCY: United States Dollar (USD) $1

CALLING CODE: +1

ELECTRIC VOLT: 110-220 V

PLUG TYPE: A and B

MAIN AIRPORT: Miami International Airport (MIA)

best snorkling in florida keys

1. Key Largo vs. Key West.

Key Largo and Key West are both hot spots for vacationers of all ages in Florida. Key West is famous for its nightlife, history, a beach city feel. Key Largo has more of a laid back beach vibe and is peppered with dive shops and activities for the outdoorsy travelers. Both Key Largo and Key West have boat tours for fishing, diving, and snorkeling, as well as jet ski and kayak rentals for those who want to explore the destination by sea. The accommodation prices are very similar in both destinations, while Key West has higher-end restaurants and bars. When staying in Key West, it is easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. If you are visiting Key Largo, you may need a car to make exploring a little easier.

2. What is the best Key West beach for snorkeling from the shore?

Many of the snorkeling tours in Key West are done by boat; however, there are a few beaches that are popular for snorkeling from shore. On the southwest tip of the island, Fort Zachary Taylor State Beach Park can be visited for a small entry fee. There is a human-made breakwater that is a popular spot for various types of fish species or other sea life. There can be strong currents in this area due to its location at the southern tip of the island. Another shore snorkeling location is Higgs Beach, which is free to enter, and located inside the Key West Marine Park. When swimming from shore, be sure to visit the remains of the old dock, which has the most sea life around it. Both areas have a mix of rocky areas with sand, so wearing shoes is recommended.

3. How much does it cost to go snorkeling in Islamorada, Florida Keys?

Islamorada is one of the best places to snorkel in the Florida Keys. Various companies provide shared for private boat tours daily. Most tours last from two to four hours, depending on the boat, and some companies offer sunset snorkeling tours as well. A two and a half hour shared charter is $35-50USD on average for adults and $30-50 for children. For a more intimate private snorkeling charter, rates can be around $125-150USD per hour for one to 6 people. Some of these snorkeling tours include snorkeling gear, and other companies charge a small fee of between $5-10USD for equipment rentals. A safety lesson before entering the water is standard for all snorkeling tours. The Alligator Reef Lighthouse and Cheeca Rocks are popular destinations for snorkeling tours leaving from Islamorada.

4. Which of the Florida Keys is best for snorkeling?

Key West and Key Largo are the most highly advertised locations for snorkeling companies in the Florida Keys, but the middle keys have been rated and reviewed as the best area for snorkeling. The best Florida Keys snorkeling spots, middle keys included, must be accessed by boat. Alligator Reef, a few miles offshore of Islamorada, is a frequently visited destination for both snorkeling and scuba diving. Bahia Honda State Park located in Big Pine Key near Marathon snorkeling is also known for its beautiful beaches and snorkeling. Coffins Patch, just offshore from Key Colony Beach, is a shallow patch reef area teeming with sea life and fish species. Another one of the best snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys is the Dry Tortugas National Park. The Dry Tortugas must be accessed by ferry, seaplane, or by chartering a boat, but is a site to see if you love snorkeling. Because of its distance from Key West, this is a full day trip.

florida keys snorkeling spots

If you are a Floridian fanatic, we have put together some great content on the best scuba diving locations in Florida. We also have another similar review to this one, but dealing with the snorkeling spots within Florida as a whole.

As always, we create our content with you – our fellow divers – in mind. So, how’d we do? Was this informative? Do you think our rankings are out of whack? Or perhaps you just have a few golden nugget tips you’d like to share with our happy ocean-loving community? We’d love to hear from you below.

Thanks for reading and we hope your next adventure is a great one – Keep Diving Blue!

Heather Wyatt

Heather is a product expert, a degreed communications and business professional, and an adventurous, entrepreneurial travel writing enthusiast originally from Raleigh, North Carolina. Heather is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT) and holds a Silver Advanced Open Water Instructor certification from SSI, having logged more than 300 training classes over the last four years. Heather is a certified Travel Specialist and also holds a Day Captain's license qualifying her to skipper a boat up to 72 feet. She has extensive experience in specialty dive training, navigation, and booking travel accommodations. Her interests include writing, social media marketing, and serving her Virtual Assistant and Travel Clients from around the globe.

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