When you visit the Florida Keys, plan to spend time on the water. It’s a must. Now, this can be done in various forms. On a boat fishing, or enjoying sunset cruises, or kayaking, or snorkeling, or other water sports. Sometimes, a day poolside or even on a beach counts as a water activity for me. But, If you are in Islamorada, plan to go snorkeling.
Just 90 miles south of Miami, this is the perfect place to enjoy the waters around the Florida Keys. Known as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World” it hosts the largest fishing fleet per square mile in the world. There is so much to do here plan a few days to take in all of the activities. This is my favorite stop to or from Key West for sure.
Let’s explore all of the best spots you can snorkel around Islamorada.
If you are planning to drive down (or up) the Keys, be sure to check out our epic list of best places you must check out.
Cheeca Rocks Sanctuary
This preservation area is the only one in the Upper Keys designated to protect inshore patch reefs. It is also small, only covering .05 square nautical miles, and is located southeast of Upper Matecumbe Key. Snorkeling Cheeca Rocks is a real treat. The depths range from 8 feet to 20 feet down which makes this a shallow reef also known as a patch reef. This is a short boat ride from Islamorada. Plan to see Hogfish, Green Eels, Grunts, Jacks, Parrotfish, and if you are lucky maybe you will see a turtle. Plan to see Brain and Star corals.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
This Florida state park is located on Key Largo. Depending on traffic, this is about a 30-minute drive from Islamorada. Great day trip location. The park is approximately 70 nautical miles next to Atlantic Ocean waters. Fun fact, this is the first undersea park in the United States. Here you can take a glass-bottom boat tour or get a closer look by scuba diving or snorkeling. Check out the tours offered here.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Located in the Gulf of Mexico this place offers some of the best snorkeling around. The shallow water (only 5 to 15 feet of water) makes it fun for everyone. Plan to head to Key West (about a 2-hour drive) to board the ferry or take the seaplane over to the Park. Upon arrival, you can tour Fort Jefferson or head over to explore the waters. There are designated snorkel areas and, according to the Ferry’s website, the most popular is 75 yards from the western edge of the moat wall. Here you will see a lot of marine life like tropical fish, large coral heads, seagrass, and more.
Bahia Honda State Park
About an hour’s drive south is Bahia Honda State Park. Plan to spend a day exploring the waters around this park. Swim, snorkel, or rent a kayak. Have lunch and take a nap on the beach. This is one of my favorite parks in the Keys. This is one of the best nearshore snorkeling in the Florida Keys. Just a few hundred feet from shore you will see soft corals, small coral heads, tropical fish, queen conchs, and spiny lobster… always something new and different to see. The waters are pretty shallow, ranging from 4 to 6 feet, so it’s perfect for beginners.
Biscayne National Park
About an hour north of Islamorada is Biscayne National Park. You can book a guided eco-tour through the Biscayne National Park Institute. Within sight of downtown Miami, this park preserves aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and vibrant coral reefs. You can explore a coral reef, a shipwreck, or even a mangrove while on a snorkeling adventure in the park.
Fort Zachary Taylor
This park, located in Key West, centers around a Civil War fort. They proclaim to have Key West’s best beach that allows them to offer great swimming and snorkeling. Word of caution, wear beach shoes. The shore/beach can be rocky and can hurt bare feet. Explore the fort and plan to stay for sunset. The sunset views from here are spectacular. They do offer equipment rentals, like a lof the other parks in the area,
40 minutes south of Islamorada is Marathon. Here you can hop on a charter to head out to the Sombrero Reef. This is a spur and groove coral reef with large fingers of coral separated by narrow sandbeds off of Vaca Key. The reef is marked by a large lighthouse. The clear waters around here make this an amazing place to snorkel and explore.
This has become a major destination for snorkeling enthusiasts throughout the world. Located on Big Pine Key, you can book with a captain or plan a snorkel trip while visiting Bahia Honda. Either option offers you the ability to explore Looe Key. You will see Elkhorn and Star coral, plus a multitude of other marine life.
Long Key State Park
This state park offers 965 acres to explore on Long Key. Just a quick drive from Islamorada, you can snorkel the shallow waters and see the beautiful marine life in the seagrass covered bottom along this Florida reef.
Alligator Reef Lighthouse
The lighthouse is 4 nautical miles east of Indian Key and Islamorada. The reef offers snorkelers the opportunity to see more than 500 species of marine life. You will snorkel around and under the lighthouse in beautiful clear water.
Located north in Key Largo, this spot is more known for diving. But, there is snorkel only charters available. When the weather allows, this is a great place to snorkel. It is considered to be one of the most visited coral reefs in the world. Just six miles offshore, it sits on the edge of the barrier reef.
Indian Key State Park
Only accessible by boat, you can head over from Islamorada. You can head over to this historic spot, and take a snorkel tour with one of the many local charters that run eco-tours to the park. Fun fact, this was the first county seat of Dade County. The local charters offer many options for boat tours in and around Indian Key.
Hen and Chickens
This protected reef is extremely popular and a great place for beginners to snorkel. The reef is filled with purple coral, Christmas tree coral, star, brain, sea fans, and many more species. While snorkeling plan to see brightly colored tropical fish. Located off of Plantation Key, this is a quick 10 minute drive north of Islamorada.
Located in Islamorada, this park is a great place to have a picnic and play on the beach. Swim out and see all kinds of marine life. This 40-acre park is the center of all community events in Islamorada. Located bayside at mile marker 87.
The shallow portion of Davis Reef is a great place to snorkel. An easy boat trip over from Tavernier, you will see all kinds of marine life, soft and hard coral, and a ledge filled to the brim with tropical fish. Just 15 minutes north of Islamorada, this location is a must see spot. The famous Buddha statue is found here as well as moray eels and sea turtles.
Located near Davis Reef, this is another spot to check out while visiting Islamorada. Here you will see beautiful coral formations and a small canyon and turtles, barrel sponges and eagle rays have been spotted here.