There is not a year that goes by where friends coming down for a short vacation to escape from the wicked, evil northern winters don’t ask the question what beaches in the Florida Keys are the best for snorkeling. My short but concise reply is almost always, “there aren’t any!” Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any great snorkeling spots in the Florida Keys, but to find that crystal clear water and the best coral reefs that the Keys are known for, well, if you are not on a boat you may as well forget about it!
The best snorkeling in the Florida Keys is found on the coral reefs that lie a few miles offshore, accessible only by boat. The good news is that the overseas highway, that is the road known as A1A is lined with dive shops that run daily trips out to these reefs. If you have your own boat you can definitely find many of these on your own using GPS or apps found on your smart phone, but if you are new to the area or want to maximize your time investigating these beautiful reefs than these charter boats are the way to go. The cost is reasonable and Captains and Crew are very accommodating.
The water just a few miles offshore of the Florida Keys, such as Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and all the way down to Key West is generally very clear, although currents and weather can have a lot to do with this, but if you are just wanting to jump in the water to get wet and see some interesting creatures, there are some great spots just a few yards from wherever you can park your car!
A mask, snorkel and fins is all you need to either snorkel off some of the beach areas of a few state parks located in the Florida Keys, or pull over where you see others finding some access to the water. Almost any structure such as a dock, pilings or bridge will definitely have some fish around it, but if be extremely careful near bridges as the current can be very severe and boat traffic on weekends can also be dangerous as the bridges in the Florida Keys are the only reasonable access from the bay to the ocean. Unless experienced, I would strongly suggest areas near rock walls and pilings that have easy access and several ways out. Many rock walls along the shore in just a few feet of water often will hold several species of fish as well as small Florida Lobster.
Anne’s Beach is a local spot that many tourists like to take a quick jump in the water at. It is located at mile marker 73 in the southern area of Islamorada. It is very shallow, basically no more than waist deep for several hundred yards in any direction. For this reason and because it is almost always flat calm, it is a great place to take smaller children with minimal effort and equipment. There are sandy channels cut out of the turtle grass that make access to snorkeling the grassy areas quite simple and there are always some creatures around to make it an enjoyable stop to get wet or picnic.
Long Key state park is located at mile marker 63 and also has some patches of shallow clear water to investigate, but the state parks require an entry fee. Throughout the keys you will see areas that have water clear enough to see the bottom and fish to keep you interested, but to get the real feel of the fabulous reefs of the Florida Keys you really need to get on one of the daily dive or snorkel charters.
People often ask me when is the best time of the year to snorkel in the Florida Keys, and my answer is generally, “anytime you can get down there.” The water can get a bit on the chilly side in the winter but it is still better than the water temperature of most northern states in the summer! At least that’s how I see it.
This little bit of information is written for those friends who pretty much want to drive through the Florida Keys and say they did it. But if you really want to enjoy the beauty of the reefs and see fish by the thousands, perhaps meet up with a turtle or shark or any other creature that inhabits the clear waters of the Florida Keys, then doing it by boat is a must. Charters are readily available everywhere and a quick check on your smart phone or tablet can direct you to a reputable operator. These charters last just a few hours and are very reasonably priced.
You can snorkel from pretty much any beach in Florida but again, if you must snorkel near bridges or pilings, please take all precautions including a snorkeling vest and dive flag as this is the Florida Keys and boat traffic is a way of life down here. Buddy system rules always apply! As always, a local dive shop is your best source of information and safety! Enjoy the Fabulous Florida Keys as well as fruity frozen drinks and amazing appetizers!