Key Largo Snorkeling: Our Top Reefs, Beaches and Marine Life

snorkel in key largo florida


This article is part of our Top 9 Snorkel Spots In Florida.

Key Largo is first in line within the Florida Keys. In addition, it’s home to the third longest reef in the world. Even though you’ll be tempted to join a variety of water activities, snorkeling is definitely worth it. 

Just like Key West, the best snorkel spots are found out on the reefs. However, that requires you to join a boat tour (which actually can be a lot of fun). Snorkeling directly off the beach is possible at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. They have two beaches to explore.

Our Summary Video of this article

How to get there

Miami International Airport is the nearest airport to Key Largo. From there you could either hire a car, grab a taxi or use public transportation.

We always use Skyscanner, especially because there’s an option to combine your flight with some great deals on airport car hire. If you don’t have specific travel dates in mind, try their “Flexible dates” function (you’ll get this option once you select your departure date). That’s where we often find some great deals!


Key Largo Boat Tours For Snorkelers

In our opinion its definitely worth it to join one of the available boat tours. If you don’t want to join a group, consider a private boat that includes a captain and maybe even an instructor. They’re more than happy to show you the reef and all its beauty. Boats depart from various locations, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park being one of them. Popular snorkel tours can be found on Viator.

Tip: If you easily experience motion sickness, taking a boat charter could have a major impact on your excursion. Learn tips and tricks from our article about snorkeling and seasickness.

White Banks Dry Rocks And Christ Of The Abyss

Dry Rocks is located seaward of White Banks within the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. It has two patches of shallow reefs that are perfect for snorkelers. The reefs are connected by a sandy channel. This location is pretty close to the shore, currents are low and you’ll be sheltered from the wind. The water ranges from shallow to 15 feet deep. Anyone from beginner to expert level will probably enjoy this spot.

Dry Rocks gets its name from surfacing reefs during low tide. Nearby, the underwater statue Christ of the Abyss is a huge attraction. Even though it’s more suited for divers, snorkelers certainly can see it from above. Often these two locations are combined in one excursion.


Christ of the Abyss Key Largo Florida
Snorkelers are only allowed to touch the left hand of the Christ of the Abyss

Grecian Rocks

Located one mile south of Dry Rocks, Grecian Rocks is another very popular spot for snorkeling in Key Largo. You’ll find a shallow reef, even though parts of it are up to 25 feet deep. This location is great for both beginners and experienced snorkelers. Expect rays, sergeant major fish, parrotfish, goatfish, barracuda, blueheads, blue tang and brain coral. The ocean floor consists of sea grass and Queen conch shells.

blue tang fish
Blue tang can measure up to 15 inches in length

Molasses Reef

Many people consider this reef to be the most beautiful because of its spur and groove coral formations. Some even say that Molasses Reef is the most visited reef in the entire world. We’re curious to know if that’s really the case.

Molasses Reef is located about 6 miles off the shore and sits on the edge of the reef. The weather and ocean conditions must be calm in order to snorkel. But of course, we all know to never take any risks and to never snorkel alone. That’s why these boat trips are our way to go.

Expect to observe sea turtles, parrotfish, eels and a few others. Molasses reef is further out, so there are larger species of fish like Goliath grouper for example. Who knows you’ll even get a glimpse at some nurse sharks. Corals include elkhorn and brain. Underwater visibility is usually good but you need to be an experienced snorkeler.

nurse shark
Nurse sharks can sometimes grow 100 inches in length

The Elbow

This reef has an angular shape, which explains the elbow name. It consists of long spurs and grooves. The fingers of coral are distinct with sandy passages. In addition to a diverse marine life you’ll find remains of a Civil War wreck. In 1866, a 752-ton steamer sunk in this location. The remains of two other wrecks can be observed as well. There are fingers of elkhorn coral throughout the wreck. The recommended level for this location is experienced as well.


elbow reef ship wreck


Snapper Ledge

This location gets it’s name from the numerous schools of Yellowtail snapper swimming though the reef. It’s a shallow area. There are many different fish, as well as an abundance of other marine life. Species include moray eels, goatfish, rays, octopus, spider and arrow crabs, sea urchins, hawk fish, nurse sharks, lobster, corkscrew anemone and numerous others. Some snorkel experience is recommended.

yellowtail snapper
Yellowtail snappers can grow up to 30 inches in length

Sea Gardens

Also called Mosquito Bank, you’ll find healthy hard and soft corals on this patch reef. Anyone from beginner to advanced experience levels can enjoy the area. 

Sea Gardens is one of the lesser visited reefs by tour companies. As a result, these reefs are healthier. You’ll find colorful sponges, finger coral, lobed star coral and fans. There are fewer fish, but the collection of corals makes up for it. Fish species include parrotfish, yellowtail snapper, blueheads, trumpetfish, pufferfish, blue tangs and angelfish.

Tip: If you love underwater photography, this could be a great spot to consider. Our article about snorkeling with a GoPro could help you out.

key largo marine life pictures


Here’s a link to my Top 20 reef fish of Florida.


Snorkeling Off The Beach In Key Largo

There are two beaches within the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park that allow you to snorkel directly off the beach. These two beaches are really the only choices besides going out on a boat. The park is surrounded by mangroves. There are different kinds of fish and other marine life to observe. However, there is no coral off the beach. A Spanish shipwreck is located about 100 feet off the coast. 


If the ocean is calm and not very cold, snorkeling directly off the beach could be a fun way for kids to give it a try. If you’re interested, make sure to read our giant guide for snorkeling with kids.

john pennekamp snorkel beach


Key Largo Climate

Key Largo usually provides a warm and comfortable climate to snorkel. The average annual temperatures range between 70°F and 84°F. Summer months are the warmest. Maximum temperatures in June, July, August and September could exceed 90°F. The minimum temperatures in these months are somewhere around 75°F. Winter months are a little cooler, but still enjoyable. Average temperatures within these months range between 60°F and 75°F.

From June until October the water temperature is the warmest. This could be important for us snorkelers, especially if you prefer to swim in comfortable circumstances. These 5 months will provide average water temperatures of around 82°F. Winter months show a lower average water temperature of around 75°F. This could be the case in January, February and March.

The rainy season lasts from May until October. September often provides the most amount of rain, whereas January seems to be the driest month. More information about the climate in Key Largo can be found here.

Final Thoughts

We hope that by now you understand that joining a boat tour is your best bet. Key Largo is one of the most popular snorkel locations in Florida, but you won’t experience that right off the shore. The ocean water is clear turquoise and warm all year round, and the reefs are usually very healthy.

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