On the seabed around Key West there is the only living coral reef in the continental United States and the third-largest in the world, after Australia and Belize. Therefore, Key West is the ideal place for snorkeling!
Try the best snorkeling spots on the island of Key West or set sail on a catamaran to reach the open sea reef. You will find an incredible environment for snorkeling, with shallow waters and tropical fishes. Read our guide for all the information about snorkeling in Key West.
What are the best places to snorkel in Key West?
Snorkeling spots without a boat
If you're visiting Key West and want to snorkel without renting a boat or booking a boat tour, there are a few places you can do so, although the quality of snorkeling isn't as high as on the reefs off Key West.
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is located on the southwestern tip of Key West. This beach is considered by many to be the best in Key West and is certainly great for snorkeling on the island.
Higgs Beach is located in the south of Key West and offers the best environment to snorkel without a boat. You will see a small coral reef with lots of fish living in the area.
Bahia Honda State Park
If you have a car, you can try to reach Bahia Honda State Park, which is located about 35 miles from Key West on the island of Bahia Honda Key. That area is an excellent spot for snorkeling - you will find a living coral reef with corals, sponges and colorful fishes.
Snorkeling Spots with a boat
You can get the best snorkeling experience in Key West by going to the reefs off Key West with a boat. Here we report the best areas.
Key West National Wildlife Refuge
The Key West National Wildlife Refuge is a collection of islands located west of Key West. The seabed around the islands is shallow and home to the third-largest coral reef in the world. Most snorkel tours head to this area, where you can be sure you can see tropical fishes and coral-filled bottoms. The most famous islands are the Marquesas Keys and Boca Grande Key.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is an archipelago located approximately 68 miles from Key West. It is also part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Dry Tortugas is probably the finest snorkeling spot. You will be able to reach Fort Jefferson Island, where it is very easy to dive in search of tropical marine fauna and flora in the waters around the island.
Dry Tortugas is a restricted access park and can only be reached via a boat tour to the Dry Tortugas or by seaplane.
Sand Key Lighthouse
The Sand Key Lighthouse is built in the middle of the sea, approximately 7 miles southwest of Key West. The lighthouse is built on the coral reef to signal the presence of shallow water and the area is occasionally covered with sand forming a mini island. Depending on the tide and weather conditions, the island can be visible or submerged. However, the whole area around the lighthouse features coral reefs and is a great place to snorkel.
What are the best snorkeling tours from Key West?
Snorkeling Tour in 2 Points of the Coral Reef from Key West
Travel from Key West to the coral reef on this snorkeling-focused tour. You will be sailing on a catamaran, a very stable vessel and ideal for sailing in shallow water.
You will reach the first point of the reef where you would have time to snorkel. Snorkeling equipment is provided by the tour operator and includes a mask, fins and snorkel vest.
After this first dive, you will follow your catamaran trip to snorkel to another spot on the reef. The tour lasts about 3 hours, of which half of the time is dedicated to snorkeling and the other half includes travel and relaxation time on board.
Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park by Catamaran
Climb aboard the Yankee Freedom III, the only licensed catamaran to dock at Fort Jefferson, the largest island in Dry Tortugas National Park. You will travel pleasantly on the catamaran admiring the Florida Keys that you will see along the way.
Once in Fort Jefferson, there will be a short 45-minute tour of the fort before starting with the snorkeling activity that will last all day. Fort Jefferson Island is the best place to snorkel in the area. Try the areas of South Swim Beach or the Coaling Dock Ruins (North and South), which are the best snorkeling areas.
This Day trip to Dry Tortugas from Key West lasts a full day, approximately 10 hours, and includes catamaran transport, snorkeling equipment, Fort Jefferson guided tour, park entrance fee ($ 15), and breakfast and lunch served on the boat.
Sailing adventure with snorkeling and kayaking from Key West
This sailing tour combines three fantastic water activities: kayaking, snorkeling and sailing. Set sail from Key West on a sailing catamaran to the reef off the island. On the way, you can enjoy a breakfast of fruit, muffins, quiche and fruit juices. You can also try to spot marine animals such as dolphins, stingrays or sea turtles.
Once on the reef, you can join an optional kayaking excursion to T'ing Island, a small islet covered with mangroves that have created water channels that can be crossed by kayaking.
Back on the boat, you can start snorkeling on the reef and admire the wonderful underwater world. Over 600 types of fishes live on the reef. If you don't want to participate in snorkeling, you can stay on the boat to enjoy the sun or go for a good swim.
The tour also includes a buffet lunch, featuring shrimp, fried chicken, sandwiches and various types of salads, as well as water, wine, beer and sangria.
Full-Day Extreme Adventure in Key West: Sailing, Snorkeling and Water Sports
Set sail on a sailing catamaran on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for this adrenaline-filled day. You will be able to try different water sports in one boat trip.
Try snorkeling on the coral reef or take a kayak excursion through the mangroves. Or, for more exciting moments, you can try parasailing or get on a WaveRunner. All activities are included in the price of this tour.
The tour lasts a full day and includes breakfast and lunch served on the boat. Book this tour if you want to combine snorkeling with other water activities in a single day full of emotions!
Eco tour on a historic sailing ship: snorkeling and kayaking from Key West
If you want to experience the charm of sailing the tropical seas of Key West, take advantage of this tour to sail on a 22-meter (72 ft) wooden schooner. Join the crew to prepare the ship's sails and try to tack the ship from the captain's helm.
You will set sail on the Appledore Star at 10am to the mangrove islands off Key West. Here you can explore the water channels created by the dense mangroves by kayaking. Upon returning to the boat, a rich buffet lunch awaits you: cheeses, cold cuts, fried chicken and shrimps will be served by the crew.
In the afternoon, you will move to the coral reef where you can snorkel or enjoy the sun from the boat. Finally, take advantage of a glass of wine offered by the boat to enjoy the sail back to Key West.
Rum and Reggae: Snorkeling and Sunset Sea Tour
Combine two must-do activities in Key West: snorkeling and spectacular ocean sunset. Set off on an ultra-modern catamaran to the reef. Spend the afternoon snorkeling and observing the life of fish and other marine species in the seabed.
When the sun begins to set on the horizon, enjoy the show from the deck of the ship while sipping a glass of rum. Reggae music will accompany the sunset, which will ask for this beautiful afternoon on the boat.
Snorkeling and Dolphin Watching Tour from Key West
Climb aboard a catamaran to go in search of dolphins. Join the pods of dolphins that live off Key West and watch them swim and play with the boat. You will be able to see them up close!
Afterward, continue the boat tour to the Key West Wildlife Center, where you can snorkel in shallow water.
What types of snorkeling tours are available in Key West?
Group snorkeling tour
The cheapest way to snorkel in the sea off Key West is via a group tour. The snorkeling boat tours listed above are among the best. The boats are often medium-sized catamarans, and therefore the groups are never numerous. The limit for each tour is around 15-20 participants.
Private boat tours with snorkeling
If you want to have a premium experience, you can think about reserving a boat just for your group. This is an excellent solution if your group is already large enough, as the price is fixed per group. Take a look at the private boat tours. Most include snorkeling gears and the captain has the right knowledge to take you to the best reef spots for snorkeling.
How much do snorkeling tours from Key West cost?
Snorkeling tours from Key West are priced differently depending on the duration and other included activities:
What other water activities can I do in Key West?
Key West is the perfect location for year-round water activities. Besides snorkeling, the most popular activities are sailing excursions, sunset cruises, jet ski tours and kayak tours.
Where do snorkeling tours from Key West leave?
All snorkeling tours depart from the harbor area, some from the Cruise Piers (Front Street) while others from the Key West Bright Marina. Check the instructions carefully on the booking confirmation of your tour: you will find all the details on the departure point. Try to arrive half an hour early: the boats are very punctual.
What is the duration of a snorkeling tour from Key West?
Snorkeling tours have a variable duration depending on the other activities.
- Snorkeling-only tours last 2 to 3 hours. Keep in mind that the boat ride can take half the time.
- Snorkeling tours with kayak excursions last half a day from 4.5 to 6 hours.
- Boat tours with snorkeling and sunset or dolphin watching last approximately 3 hours.
- The excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park with snorkeling lasts approximately 10 hours.
When is the best time for a snorkeling tour from Key West?
Key West has a humid tropical climate with relatively constant temperatures all year round. The water temperature does not vary throughout the year and it is possible to snorkel in a bathing suit.
During the winter months, Key West becomes a trendy vacation spot in the United States and you can find quite a few people snorkeling. If you are looking for an uncrowded period, spring is definitely better. However, few tour operators offer snorkeling tours in Key West and therefore, you will never find masses of tourists snorkeling on the reef.
Here are some travel tips to make the most of your snorkeling tour.
- If you are on a multi-hour boat tour, remember to bring sunscreen.
- Arrive at the starting point of the snorkeling tour at least half an hour in advance.
- Book the snorkeling tour as soon as possible. Licensed boats are few and the number of passengers is limited. Snorkeling is among the most popular activities in Key West.
- While snorkeling, be careful not to damage the coral reef: it is a delicate and precious ecosystem!