Where to go snorkelling in Key West

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:

  • Barracuda, Cobia, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Bonefish, Bonnethead Sharks, Goliath Groupers, Ladyfish, Lemon Sharks, Lizard Fish, Lion Fish, Mangrove Snappers, Mutton Snappers, Red Groupers, Yellowtail Snappers, Tarpons, and more.

Corals in Key West:

  • Branching Fire Corals, Elkhorn Corals, Finger Coral, Fire Coral, Lobed Star Corals, Sea Fans, Sea Rods, and more.

Best places to snorkel 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.

Information:

  • More advanced snorkellers can swim out to the small patch reefs where larger fish are waiting. This page has a good guide to help you find the patch reefs at Dry Tortugas National Park,
  • You have to book a specific boat tour to get here. The boat ride itself is quite long but well worth the trip (and expense!) For the more luxurious travels, why not head out by seaplane?

Facilities:

  • Bathrooms are available on-site, but no other facilities.

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.

Information:

  • The coral and sea life is a few minutes’ swim from shore, so only explore this area if you’re a confident swimmer.
  • Visibility here can really vary depending on the weather, try not to come on a windy day when waves are stronger and visibility less,
  • There is a park entrance fee of $2.50 per person with additional charges for driving in.

Facilities:

  • Chairs, beach umbrellas, and snorkeling equipment available for hire,
  • Food available on-site,
  • Bathrooms and showers on-site.

Rock Key

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.

Information:

  • Rock Key is filled with crevasses which makes it beautiful to explore, but keep in mind that the depths can vary from being 4.5 up to 10 metres deep.

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!

Information:

  • You have to go with a boat charter to reach Sand Key Lighthouse.
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