Where to go snorkelling in The Keys

by Mihai Pinzariu on September 25, 2019

The famous Florida Keys are home to the world’s 3rd largest barrier reef and North America’s only tropical reefs. Here you’ll find sprawling white sands, pristine blue waters with amazing visibility, and lots of tropical sea and coral life. The Florida Keys offer some exceptional snorkelling with lots to discover.

Keep in mind there are next to no free snorkel sites in the Florida Keys. If you’re hitting up this destination then make sure you’ve got the budget to have a good time!

In this section we’ll cover the areas known as the Middle Keys – Islamorada, Marathon, and the Big Pine area. For snorkelling information on Key Largo and Key West, you can read their more detailed pages below.

Fish in The Keys:

  • Angelfish, Bar Jacks, Butterflyfish, French Angelfish, Green Eels, Parrotfish, Porkfish, Sergeant Majors, and more.

Corals in The Keys:

  • Brain Corals, Christmas Tree Coral, Finger Corals, Purple Coral, Sea Fans, Star Corals, and more.

Florida Keys snorkelling map

Alligator Reef Lighthouse

Where: Islamorada
Details: Perfect for snorkellers wanting to get away from shore, this snorkel spot has crystal clear aqua waters and thousands of fish in its waters. Alligator Reef Lighthouse is a tall structure with a beautiful barrier reef below, crawling with fish attracted to its shade. Visibility is excellent here, and you can explore shallow patches swarming with small fish, sea sponges, and fans, or go deeper under the lighthouse where huge schools of fish of snappers, barracuda, and just about all types of fish await.


  • If you’re on a boat tour, ask them to take you East to a third snorkel site with more fish species to discover.

Cheeca Rocks

Where: Islamorada
Details: A short boat ride away from Islamorada area is this green-tinged reef. You’ll be surrounded by fish from the moment you step into the water, from green eels to huge parrotfish, angelfish, and butterflyfish. If you’re lucky you might even spot a few turtles and eels! There’s also a variety of colourful coral life to discover here with enormous brain corals, star corals, and fire corals as well as your usual urchins, sponges, fans, and rods.

Coffins Patch

Where: Vaca Key, Marathon
Details: This snorkel spot is made up of six different reef patches, but the most popular sites to explore are The Stake and The Donut. Closer to the barrier reef with crystal clear waters, you’ll find more species varieties here than elsewhere. The Stake is a shallow spot that takes you up close to a huge range of fish, from puddingwife parrotfish to foureye butterflyfish and porkfish. The Donut has less species but a huge variety of beautiful and colourful sponges to discover.


  • The Donut is quite a deep snorkel site, about 4.5 – 6 metres in depth. There’s still a lot to enjoy as a snorkeller but it might not be suitable for newbies or young children,
  • The water in this reef is tinted green, so if you’re after the blue waters The Keys are famous for, skip this one,
  • You’ll find plenty of snorkelling operators and boat tours to take you down to this spot and provide equipment hire.

Hen and Chickens Reef

Where: 3km southeast of Plantation Key
Details: For all you coral enthusiasts, this reef maze will not disappoint! Crawling with colourful corals with lots of changing topography, channels, and shelves to explore, it’s easy to see why this spot is so popular. Perfect for both snorkelling newbies as well as advanced divers, here you’ll find an abundance of coral as well as huge schools of tropical fish. Filled with sea life and colour everywhere you look, there’ll be plenty to discover even if you’re only in the water for a short time.


  • Water here is shallow, about 1.5 metres deep, making it the perfect snorkel site for children and beginners,
  • Why Hen and Chickens? That’s what the reef looks like from above.

Looe Key Reef

Where: Big Pine Key
Details: Deep and adventurous, this snorkel site is perfect for advanced snorkelers who want to get the good stuff. For others, it might be too scary! Looe Key is right on the edge of the barrier reef, meaning you can really feel you are almost in the middle of the ocean. Here you’ll be snorkeling amongst bigger creatures like sharks, colossal groupers, tarpon, rays, and lots of ocean swells. There are different spots to check out here, from shallower waters to deeper dives with bigger fish.


  • The daring should check out Shark Alley, a deeper part of the reef with a trench known for Spotted Eagle rays, sharks, and other colossal fish and huge coral,
  • There are so many fish to discover in this area, and almost all are bigger than elsewhere in The Keys. An absolute must-visit if you feel confident enough.

Sombrero Reef

Where: Vaca Key, Marathon
Details: It’s been described as snorkeler’s heaven, so what else is there to say! Sparkling blue waters, excellent visibility, unique topography, and a huge variety of different fish, corals, and other sea life to discover. It’s a fun spot to snorkel with lots of varying depths, mini canyons, and even cave arches to swim through. Famous for the Elkhorn coral, the range of sea and coral life here is too huge to list, but there’s everything including the occasional sighting of nurse sharks and sea turtles.


  • This snorkel spot is extremely popular, so if you’re wanting to snorkel in peace & quiet you might want to head elsewhere. These waters are crawling with boats.

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