Key Largo Florida Snorkeling
Welcome to the enchanting underwater wonderland of Key Largo, Florida, where aquamarine waters beckon adventurers and coral gardens teem with vibrant marine life. Nestled in the heart of the Florida Keys, Key Largo is a snorkeler’s paradise, offering an immersive experience like no other.
In this comprehensive Key Largo Florida snorkeling guide, we’ll take you on an underwater journey through the island’s most captivating snorkeling spots, share insider tips on equipment rental and safety, and unveil the breathtaking biodiversity that lies beneath the waves.
So, pack your swimsuit, grab your snorkel gear, and get ready to explore the unparalleled beauty that awaits beneath the surface of Key Largo’s pristine waters. Let’s dive in!
Why Go Snorkeling in Key Largo?
Key Largo is the largest of all the islands in the Florida Keys. Part of this island is surrounded by the Everglades National Park. The Atlantic Ocean is to the east, and Florida Bay is to the west. This makes Key Largo Florida Snorkeling the perfect activity during your Florida Keys vacation.
Snorkeling is one of the best ways to see marine life in Key Largo and the rest of the Florida Keys. Key Largo is in the upper Florida Keys. So, it is the best location for those who want a quick vacation from the mainland.
However, if you have the time, you can easily drive along the Overseas Highway and check out the snorkeling options in Key West. I highly recommend this because it’s a great way to check out as much of the Florida Reef as possible.
In case you didn’t know, the Florida Reef is the only living coral reef within the continental US. This only living coral barrier reef follows along 360 linear miles from the St. Lucie Inlet all the way out to Dry Tortugas National Park. That park is on one of the remote islands in Florida.
You will also discover an artificial reef or two within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
All those reefs are why you should grab your snorkel gear, schedule a ride on one of the many tour boats, and head into the water in as many places as you can down in the Keys.
In Season and Off Season Snorkeling in Key Largo
You can easily go snorkeling all year long in Key Largo. The in-season is considered the months of April through August. You should expect crowds and warm water during those months.
The off-season in Key Largo is between September and March. The water will be cooler. Wetsuits may be necessary in addition to the rest of your snorkel gear. You can find wetsuits, a safety vest, and other necessary items in a local dive shop.
There won’t be as many people snorkeling during the off-season. That’s a good reason to book your trip for that time of year and enjoy more of the turquoise waters by yourself.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
One of the best Key Largo Florida snorkeling destinations is John Pennekamp State Park. You can snorkel near the shoreline or head out on one of the boat tours here.
This beautiful park is known for being the first undersea park in the country. It covers a space that encompasses 70 nautical square miles.
First-time snorkelers may prefer the two snorkeling beaches in the park. There aren’t any coral reefs near the beach. But there are plenty of fish near the ocean floor. You should spend at least a half day enjoying the ocean.
It is best to snorkel near the beach when it is not low tide. At that time, there may not be enough water to swim in. And marine life will venture further out from shore.
Strong swimmers may choose to swim the 100 feet to the 18th century Spanish shipwreck. There is quite a bit more to see out there in this underwater world. You will have a great time experiencing history while near the ship.
If you want to see the coral reefs at John Pennekamp Park, you must go out on boat trips. These boat tours are usually two and a half hours long.
Amongst the reef, it is possible to see parrotfish, spiny Caribbean lobsters, and other tropical fish during any of the private charters.
Sea Gardens offers some of the best snorkeling in Key Largo. However, it is not the most popular attraction. Therefore, you won’t find large groups of people out in the water during your visit. But that is what makes it one of the best places to go snorkeling in North America!
This snorkeling spot has shallow reefs. The reef is actually called Mosquito Bank. You will find this reef between Key Largo and Molasses Key.
Tropical fish are everywhere in this snorkeling destination. However, you will be more impressed with the soft coral. It bends with the flow of the tides.
Dry Rocks is part of the White Banks. This area is located within the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. This is one of the top choices for snorkeling in this Key Largo Florida Snorkeling guide.
The tops of the formations located at Dry Rocks can be seen during low tide. These formations create what is known as coral canyons.
While you can see some of the formations when they are dry, you will be interested in what stays wet even more.
Head down into the water of the Atlantic Ocean to see a statue called Christ of the Deep. This 9-foot statue is a replica of the Christ of the Abyss statue over in Portofino, Italy. That statue can be found in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Christ of the Deep statue was placed 25 feet down in the water here in 1965. Nowadays, you will see eagle rays and barracudas swimming around the statue.
This reef in Key Largo is not too far from the Dry Rocks area. You can swim amongst the elkhorn coral. As you are looking at all the trumpetfish, barracudas, Goliath groupers, and spotted drums.
Old coal bricks can be seen on the bottom of the ocean here. They are from all the ships that wrecked in the area.
One of the best spots for snorkeling amongst coral reefs is Molasses Reef. You will find this reef 6 miles offshore. The distance means you will need a boat to take you there.
It is usually simple to hire a boat captain for a few hours. But you will want to leave early in the morning if you can. There are only 32 spots for snorkel boats to moor at the buoys. You will want to get there before they are all taken for the day.
Once you have reached Molasses Reef, you will see brain coral, plenty of fauna, and sea turtles.
It is important to note that the water can become choppy here, depending on the weather conditions. So, not every boat captain will be willing to take you out to this reef. They will recommend a better place for snorkeling on days when that happens!
You will find Elbow Reef approximately six nautical miles to the southeast of Key Largo. Lots of ships have run onto this reef over the years.
One of those ships was the City of Washington. This ship ran aground before sinking in 1917. The ship is now an underwater ruin that is surrounded by debris.
The ruin site is only down approximately 25 feet. So, it is a perfect spot for snorkeling when you want to see a shipwreck. One of the best ways to see it up close though is by diving down with the appropriate gear.
The marine animals you will see the most here include sea turtles and nurse sharks.
This snorkeling destination is also perfect for scuba divers. The coral reef can be seen between 15 and 25 feet below the water’s surface. You will need to be prepared for scuba diving if you want to see some of the best coral reefs in the deeper waters.
If you haven’t been trained for Key Largo diving, you may want to learn. After all, Key Largo is considered the dive capital of the world. And there are plenty of Key Largo dive sites to choose from.
You will see plenty of yellowtail snapper in this area. It is also the best place to see brain coral, moray eels, and nurse sharks.
Turtle Reef can be found within the area of Turtle Rocks. This entire area is within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to the coral reefs, you can go through mangrove swamps in this area.
The clear waters do not get any deeper than 7 feet. This is perfect for beginner snorkelers or those who want to focus on marine life and not worry about water depths.
And that is how it should be since this is one of the few places where you can see seagrass beds while snorkeling.
Carysfort Reef Lighthouse
The Carysfort Reef is one of the most remote reefs in Key Largo. There is a 150-year-old lighthouse near the reef.
You cannot get too close to the lighthouse. However, you can snorkel in the shallow waters around the reef. Ridges and tunnels create a labyrinth effect amongst the star coral. Multiple sea dwellers make their home in that labyrinth.
You may spot cannons and anchors that have sunk to the bottom of the ocean. If you love lighthouses, check out The Ultimate List of Florida Lighthouses.
Grecian Rocks is an area that is protected from the wind. This makes it one of the best snorkeling locations in Key Largo.
One of the best things to see here are the conch shells. There are quite a few of them, which is why this area of the continental United States has earned the nickname Conch Republic.
Banana Reef is located at the very end of Grecian Rocks. This reef got its name from the fact it is curved like a banana.
The abundance of marine life isn’t the only reason people visit this snorkeling destination in Key Largo.
The crew from the James Bond movie Thunderball left some equipment underwater. You can still see some of it amongst the reef today.
Cannon Patch Reef
Beginner snorkelers will love entering the water around the Cannon Patch Reef. An adventure here will have everyone trying to find the two cannons that were sunk here many years ago.
The cannons are now covered with coral and sponges. So, it is like a little scavenger hunt in the water!
French Reef is considered part of the Key Largo Existing Management Area. The shallow sections of this reef are perfect for snorkeling. The deeper areas should only be used by experienced scuba divers.
I recommend taking a waterproof camera with you. The caves are perfect for grabbing pictures of the marine life you spot.
Key Largo Snorkeling Tours
There are numerous snorkel tour groups you can join when you want to go snorkeling in Key Largo. I recommend one of the private charters. They are not as crowded as the larger snorkeling tour trips.
During the private charters, you will be taken out to the snorkeling areas in a small group. You will find that a lot of the private Key Largo snorkeling tours are outside John Pennekamp Park. Don’t worry; these tour groups will still take you to the amazing sites I shared with you above!
Paradise Island Charters is a great option when you want a private tour to snorkel Key Largo. However, it is best to check with them to make sure they will take you to the snorkeling location you want to visit. Not every snorkeling trip offered by these groups will go to every site.
Many of the snorkel trips will offer free parking. So you won’t need to worry about that, as you are finalizing your snorkeling plans in Key Largo. Here are some of the best snorkeling tours in Key Largo:
- Key Largo Two Reef Snorkel Tour – All Snorkel Equipment Included!
- Key Largo Coral Reef Glass Bottom Boat Adventure
- Half Day Snorkel Trip on Reefs in the Florida Keys
Key Largo Florida Snorkeling Guide
I hope you enjoyed this Key Largo Florida snorkeling guide. Key Largo, with its azure seas, coral reefs, and diverse marine life, promises an unforgettable experience for snorkelers of all levels.