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Key West is the most popular snorkeling destination in the Florida Keys, and besides its beauty it boasts a great atmosphere with lots to see and do. That said, Key West’s popularity means the reef here isn’t as healthy as it is in Key Largo or the Middle Keys.
If you’re looking for a good time, fun boat tours, and aren’t too fussed about how pristine the reef is, then Key West is the perfect spot for a snorkeling holiday.
Keep in mind that because the reefs are mostly accessed by boat tours, you might not know where you’re going until the day. This is because the operators will take you to the best snorkel spot depending on the weather conditions. If you hire a private charter then you’ll be more likely to have a say in where to go.
Protip: Here’s a good article with advice and reviews of different snorkeling operators in Key West.
Fish in Key West:
Corals in Key West:
Dry Tortugas National Park
Where: 112km off the coast of Key West
Details: This national park is a huge fortress out in the open ocean with some of the best snorkeling in Key West. You’ll be snorkeling in white sand beaches with warm waters out in the open ocean. Perfect for beginner snorkelers as well as experts, most of the snorkeling itself happens around the fortress and in small surrounding patch reefs. The coral and sea life is here is so vibrant, you’ll find everything from hard and soft corals, to sponges and a variety of small fish species.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Where: 601 Howard England Way
Details: One of Key West’s few snorkel sites accessible from shore, you can swim to coral and tropical sea life from the beach at Fort Taylor. Right on the southern tip of Key West, this is a good spot for snorkelers who aren’t big fans of boat charters or are on a tight budget. The beach itself has white sands and clear waters, and you’ll still be able to swim with schools of beautiful bait fish, groupers, and tarpon.
Where: Key West National Wildlife Refuge
Details: Rock Key isn’t as popular with the boat charters, making it one of the least spoiled sections of the reef in Key West. A protected sanctuary preservation area, you’ll find some of the healthiest coral life in Key West here. The vibrant reef started as a shipwreck, but you can forget about underwater shipwreck photos as you can barely see the ship under all the coral. This is definitely an interesting spot to explore, with big schools of fish, sea turtles, and even small sharks spotted every now and then.
Sand Key Lighthouse
Where: 11km southwest of Key West
Details: One of the most popular Key West snorkel spots for boat charters, Sand Key is a small island with crystal clear waters. While the reef has been subject to bleaching and isn’t super healthy, there’s still a lot to enjoy at Sand Key. Visibility here is amazing, and although the water can be as deep as 20 metres, the reef shelf is shallow offering up-close views of coral life. Here you can find amazing Rainbow and Midnight Blue parrotfish, as well as stingrays, porpoises, and nurse sharks if you’re really lucky!
Loved the complete set. I even used the waterproof phone pouch to take photos and videos underwater. It made my Fiji experience so much better than using the free snorkel set that hurt your face after 2hours and leaving a sun/mask mark. The ninja leaves no marks and gives great vision under water in comparison. It did take some getting used to but it definitely paid off! Only frustration is that the tightening straps are quite basic; they should be much simpler to loosen and tighten both in and out of water.” – Jock