When you start looking for your perfect Key West Snorkeling trip you may start to feel a bit overwhelmed with all the options. I know that I did when I realized how many different trips to different reef locations there were. Let me help you out and show you the best ways to visit the only living coral barrier reef in the United States.
Key West Reef Snorkeling Tours
When it comes to picking your perfect snorkeling excursion you really have two options. Do you want to take a private snorkeling tour or would a group snorkel tour be better?
Group Snorkeling Tours
If unlimited draft beer, soft drinks, and fresh juices on the return trip back to the harbor are your idea of a good time then one of the larger group snorkeling tours might be the perfect choice for you. These Snorkel trips generally leave from the Key West Harbor with anywhere from 30-100 passengers bound for the coral reefs just to the south.
Once aboard one of these large catamarans you will be given professional instruction and briefed on what to expect once you arrive at the coral reefs. Whether you choose a reef morning snorkel or a beautiful late afternoon cruise the ride out and back from the reef will be an amazing time.
These snorkeling tours generally last about three hours and will cost you about $50 per person.
Private Snorkeling Tours
If your idea of the perfect Key West Vacation is experiencing the crystal clear waters at your own pace or finding some hidden gems then a private snorkeling adventure is what’s right for you. The star of these tours is the ability to do some dolphin watching, take a refreshing dip, or visit a mangrove island along the way.
These charters for you and five of your guests allow you the most flexibility when it comes to snorkeling locations and time spent in the water. You will board a boat with only your group and the captain, who’s local knowledge of all the best reef locations and current conditions, will determine the best snorkeling spots that particular day.
These private charters will run you somewhere between $600 and $1000 for your group of six.
Key West Reef Snorkel Locations
Much of the snorkeling in key west lies quite a ways off shore. To get to the reef locations you will need a boat, and joining a snorkeling tour is going to be the easiest way to get out there comfortably and safely. When you leave the Historic Key West Harbor you will have two options, The Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.
Atlantic Snorkeling Locations in Key West
To get out to the only Living Coral Reef in the USA you will want to head south to the Atlantic side of the island. This nearly 350 mile long reef stretches all the way from Dry Tortugas National Park to the St. Lucie inlet on Florida’s East coast. At times this reef lies 20-30 feet beneath the surface and at other times it is just below the surface or even exposed.
Sand Key Lighthouse
About 6 miles to the South of Key West lies Sand Key Sanctuary Preservation Area. This spot is very popular with Key West snorkeling tours and locals alike. The local marine life is plentiful and you will often find Yellowtail, Parrotfish, Sharks, colorful fish and many different species of corals on this reef.
Eastern Dry Rocks
Just to the East of Sand Key Light lies the Eastern Dry Rocks Reef Location. This shallow patch reef is just 5 feet deep in parts. Among the many tropical fish and other marine life you will often find sea turtles at this location.
On the western edge of Key West lies the Western Sambo Ecological Reserve. This Key West Snorkel spot varies in depth between 3 feet and over 35 feet. Being one of the less trafficked reef locations it has an abundance of Elkhorn Corals, Anemones, Starfish, Sand Dollars and other tropical fish varieties.
Gulf Side Snorkel Trip Locations
Depending on the weather on the day of you snorkeling adventure your captain may want to head out to the gulf side patch reefs in search of calmer waters. In South and South East wind directions the Atlantic side Reefs can get quite rough and visibility will be poor. The best options for snorkeling in Key West on days without optimal weather is to head out to the Gulf of Mexico.
Heading up the North West Channel you will find Cottrell Key. This shallow patch reef sits just a few feet below the surface of the water. The sandy bottom is home to some of the most beautiful fan corals and sponge gardens and also allows snorkelers the ability to see Goliath Groupers, and the occasional shark passing through.
This is a beautiful location to snorkel the sponge gardens that sit just 4-5 feet beneath the surface. This is an area that lies inside of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge and just to the West of Key West. It is home to many species of tropical fish and you can often spot Yellowtail, Angel Fish, Snappers, Lobster, and others amongst the nearby mangrove islands.
Is it worth snorkeling in Key West?
Key West is a world-class snorkeling destination located in the midst of a coral barrier reef which is the only one in the continental United States. You will not find any other snorkeling like this without leaving the United States.
Where can I go snorkeling in Key West for free?
Although you can only visit North America’s living reefs via boat, there are options to get in the water and snorkel from the beaches in Key West. Higgs Beach is a great option if you want to wade in from the shore and experience the underwater world.
Where can I snorkel from shore in Key West?
Higgs Beach Snorkel Higgs Beach provides the finest snorkeling from shore in Key West. A second great option is to head over to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and swim out to the rocks off the beach.
Where is the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys?
This is a question that is always debated amongst locals. The answer to this question is often based on visibility, wind and waves for the particular day. However undoubtably Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas National Park may take this one for me. These seven small islands lie about 70 miles west of Key West and are only accessible by Boat or Sea Plane. If you cant get out to the National Park, Fort Zachary Taylor, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and Bahia Honda State Park take a close second.
Can you snorkel in Key West without a tour?
Yes! You can snorkel in Key West without a tour or a guide! There are several shore snorkel spots in Key West.
How much does it cost to snorkel in the Keys?
Private snorkel tours for up to 6 passengers usually start somewhere around $700 for 4 hours. If you don’t mind the crowds the group snorkel trip catamarans may be a great option if you’re looking for value. These group trips start around $50 per person for the 3 hour snorkel adventure. Last but not least, you can always stop by the local dive shop, pick up some snorkeling equipment, and wade in from the beaches for free.