Snorkeling in Key West : Top 10 Best Spots - Snorkeling Abroad (2023)

Key West in Florida is one of the best spots for underwater activities such as snorkeling and diving if you’re looking for a fun get away from your busy jobs. It’s located in the southernmost part of Florida and is host to a wide range of coral reefs, marine life, and even shipwrecks to bring you the excitement you need on your next adventure. In this article, we’re here to help you find the best snorkeling spots in the stunning turquoise waters of Key West that are teeming with a lot of marine life that you simply wouldn’t want to miss.

Best snorkeling spots in Key West

For first-time snorkelers and seasoned beach goers, Key West is home to a lot of snorkeling spots that we highly recommend you check out such as the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Sombrero Reef, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Cottrell Key, Bahia Honda State Park, Higgs Beach, Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson, the Sand Key Lighthouse, and more. Snorkeling in Key West is divided into three separate locations, namely, Upper Keys, Middle Keys, and Lower Keys. Read further to find the best snorkeling spots in Key West you should check out.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Upper Keys)

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For seasoned and first-time snorkelers, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of the best snorkeling spots in the Upper Keys for all ages. The coral reef state park covers over 70 nautical miles of coral reefs as well as a multitude of vibrant sea life. It’s also the first underwater park in Key West, and one of the highlights of the snorkeling experience is going up close and personal with the famous Christ of the Abyss Statue by sculptor Guido Galletti.

Aside from finding Sea Stars, Brain Corals, and other marine life, the Christ of the Abyss bronze statue is submerged under 25 feet of water and weighs approximately 260kg, with a concrete base that weighs about 9 tons to keep it in place. The statue is a replica of Jesus Christ in the Mediterranean Sea and was placed underwater on August 25, 1965 by the Underwater Society of America. It’s best to book a guided boat tour in the state park so that you’ll be taken to the protected shallow reefs to bring you face-to-face with undersea creatures as well as the famous Christ of the Abyss statue.

Molasses Reef (Upper Keys)

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Six miles from Key Largo, Molasses Reef is another snorkeling spot in Key West with diverse marine life to see. The reef is home to a wide range of creatures like colorful tropical fish, goliath groupers, elkhorn, sea stars, brain corals, and more. The Molasses Reef snorkeling spot is one of the easier places to access which is why the location is highly popular with first-time snorkelers and even seasoned beach goers. The place has a lot of dive shops if you want to scuba dive aside from the usual snorkeling activity.

(Video) Snorkeling In Key West: Reefs and Marine Life - All You Need To Know In 4 Minutes

Alligator Reef (Middle Keys)

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The Alligator Reef, located within the middle part of Key West, is easily accessible by boat and you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding it yourself because it’s home to a 136-foot tall lighthouse standing on the north side of the reef. Despite misconceptions, there are actually no alligators within the reef and the lighthouse. It was named after the U.S Navy Schooner USS Alligator, which ran aground on the reef and sank in 1822. The reef has an average depth of 20 feet making it one of the ideal destinations for snorkelers and divers to explore the beauty of Florida’s Caribbean coast.

You’ll find a variety of marine life within Alligator Reef’s designated snorkeling areas such as barracudas, parrot fish, angel fish, and more. Chances are you’ll also be able to spot dolphins, moray eels, sea turtles, and maybe even a lobster from the cracks and outcrops that surround the reef.

Sombrero Reef (Middle Keys)

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The Sombrero Reef is over 30 acres in size and is home to a thriving reef system filled with all sorts of colorful tropical fish and other marine life to observe and marvel at. Like the Alligator Reef, Sombrero Reef has depths between 2-30 feet making it an attractive spot for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts from the area. The reef is just south of Pigeon Key and is within the Sombrero Key Sanctuary Preservation Area with a lot of coral formations to see and enjoy.

It’s pretty common to spot a dolphin swimming within the area during the boat journey to Sombrero Reef, so you can enjoy your refreshments on board while observing in awe as the majestic creatures travel along with your friends and loved ones.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (Lower Keys)

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While Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is considered an off-shore snorkeling spot in Key West, it’s still one of the best locations if you’re into underwater activities and historical destinations in the U.S. The state park is located towards the end of Southard Street on Truman Annex and boasts one of the most historic Civil War-era forts in the country. The fort was built in 1866 and still proudly stands today making it a top destination for history buffs and snorkeling aficionados worldwide.

(Video) Snorkeling | Key West, Florida (World's Third Largest Coral Reef)

What makes the state park an ideal spot for people on a budget is going to the snorkeling sites doesn’t require a boat as you can walk directly into the crystal clear waters within the state park. There are a lot of rental stores within the state park if you don’t have your own snorkeling gear with you which are a plus.

Cottrell Key (Lower Keys)

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Cottrell Key is one of the top destinations for snorkeling under calm waters if you’re finding the currents from the Atlantic Ocean to be a bit rough. It’s located 9 miles northwest of Key West on the Gulf side of the region and is only accessible by boat. The place was named after a lightship captain that anchored in the area during the early 19th century. It is home to the famous sponge garden as well as enormous coral reefs located within safe distances making it suitable for families with children to snorkel. Aside from the beautiful sights, it’s also an ideal place to spot other marine creatures such as stingrays, sharks, goliath groupers, and dolphins.

Bahia Honda State Park (Lower Keys)

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The Bahia Honda State Park is another must-see for snorkelers, divers, and beach goers in general due to its picturesque vibe. The sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and magnificent sunsets are what the park is famous for as well as the calm sea breeze that caresses the shores of the state park all year round. The state park was developed in the early 19th century and has become one of the top tropical destinations around the U.S for kayaking, snorkeling, boat trips, as well as a place to observe birds, and other wildlife such as plants and animals.

Aside from the kayaking and snorkeling at the state park, there is a wide range of other activities to do such as fishing, cycling, boating, and many more underwater activities. The Bahia Honda State Park is perfect for beginners as well as seasoned snorkelers as the area is filled with a lot of beautiful creatures such as numerous tropical fish, lobsters, sponges, sea stars, and other marine species.

Higgs Beach

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The Higgs beach is a great alternative for vacationers who don’t have a boat during their stay in Key West. Higgs Beach is a highly popular destination for a lot of tourists and locals because it’s one of the only shore-accessible underwater marine parks in the U.S., which means, you don’t have to book an expensive boat tour to enjoy snorkeling under Florida’s pristine beaches. The beach is located on the south shore, just along Atlantic boulevard and is filled with a wide range of marine life, coral reefs, other underwater species, and more.

(Video) Here’s A Florida Keys State Park Where You Can Snorkel From The Shore | Bahia Honda

Snorkeling with your family is highly recommended here as it’s a great first-time experience for your children to see plenty of coral reefs, underwater marine life, and other treasures waiting to be discovered. They will surely make your children’s day memorable.

Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson

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The Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson National Park is one of the most impressive snorkeling spots in Key West because you’ll be greeted with a thriving ecosystem of stunning sea life underneath the corals of the shallow waters. The national park also has access to much deeper depths for experienced divers and snorkelers if you’re up to the task. The National Park is only accessible by plane or by boat, which is part of the overall vacation experience.

The National Park provides complimentary snorkels, masks, and fins for everyone that visits the location as you get transported to secluded areas for the ultimate snorkeling experience in Key West. The place is a great choice for an outing with your family or friends as you have everything you need to relax and spend quality time with your loved ones. There are sandy beaches, warm and shallow waters, perfectly blue skies, as well as vibrant sea life when it’s time to do some snorkeling fun.

Sand Key Lighthouse Reef

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Last on our list of the best snorkeling spots in Key West is the Sand Key Lighthouse, located just 7 miles south of Key West. It’s one of the most famous snorkeling spots in the whole of the U.S because the remote location is protected by law, which means there is absolutely no fishing, spearfishing, or catching of lobsters within the perimeter. The Sand Key Lighthouse Reef was built in 1853 and boasts one of the healthiest collections of coral reefs and marine life in Florida and is host to a wide range of tropical fish, sea turtles, sea stars, sharks, dolphins, and more.

The waters in Sand Key Lighthouse Reef are often calm all year round, creating the best snorkeling experience at any time of the year. The waters range between 1 to 15 feet in depth and are a great spot to experience snorkeling for the first time, especially for beginners. Visiting Sand Key is very easy as you can easily spot the lighthouse on this small island from a distance.

(Video) Key West Snorkeling Tour | Key West Florida

What’s the best time to snorkel in Key West?

The hurricane season in Florida usually runs from June to the end of November, and the state experiences the best weather between December and May. It’s between the said months where it’s the best time to book a vacation in Key West if you want your stay to have the best conditions possible.

While Key West still has ideal weather conditions between June to November, there can be frequent and sudden thunderstorms you should take note of when booking your vacation between these months. The risk of a tropical storm occurring is high so it’s recommended to study the weather forecast of the area and keep your travel itinerary flexible if you plan to visit during the hurricane season.

What are other tips I should know when snorkeling in Key West?

Wearing water shoes is always essential when visiting beaches and shallow waters to protect your feet from rocky areas when you’re treading the water. It’s also a nice idea to pack your own food and drinks to save money during your vacation with your friends and loved ones. Another tip you shouldn’t forget is to bring sunscreen and other important beach items, such as a beach umbrella, beach towel, and others.

For parents bringing along children for their first snorkeling experience, you should watch your children at all times especially when they’re in actual waters as the current can sometimes be unpredictable due to sudden weather changes. Lastly, finding natural areas for snorkeling in Key West is fun all year round so prepare yourself to have an awesome time once you decide to pick Key West as your next destination.

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(Video) BEST SNORKELING IN THE WORLD: Top 10 Destinations


Which island in the Keys has the best snorkeling? ›

Snorkeling Florida Keys – Middle Keys – Islamorada, Marathon, and Big Pine. And now, the best for last. By far and away the Middle Keys offer the best snorkeling grounds.

Is it worth snorkeling in Key West? ›

Crystal-clear, azure waters and warm year-round temperatures make Key West one of the top destinations for snorkeling in the U.S. Just 5 miles offshore, you'll find a living coral barrier reef (the only one in the continental U.S.).

Where do people snorkel in Key West? ›

The common Key West snorkeling destinations of this type of tour are: Sand Key Lighthouse, Eastern Dry Rocks, Western Dry Rocks, and Cottrell Key. The first three locations are near each other out on the edge of the barrier reef about eight miles southwest of Key West.

Where is the clearest water in the Keys? ›

Fort Zachary Taylor Park Beach, Key West

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is a National Historic Landmark that offers some of the clearest blue waters for snorkeling and diving in Key West.

What is the best month to snorkel in Key West? ›

The best time to visit the snorkeling spots in Key West is between December and May. Florida experiences optimal weather during these months which provides breezy, sunny days and ideal conditions for water activities. The hurricane season in Florida runs from June to the end of November.

Where is the clearest water to snorkel? ›

The Best Snorkeling in the World: Top 10 Places
  • Ilha Grande, Brazil. ...
  • Great Barrier Reef, Australia. ...
  • Komodo Island, Indonesia. ...
  • The Big Island, Hawaii. ...
  • Kadhdoo Island, Maldives. ...
  • Great Blue Hole, Belize. ...
  • Palawan, Philippines. ...
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Dec 13, 2022

Where is the best shore snorkeling? ›

Best Snorkeling And Swimming Beaches
  • Ambergris Caye, Belize. Nickolay Stanev/Shutterstock. ...
  • Bohol Island, Philippines. Rolf E. ...
  • Bonaire. byvalet/Shutterstock. ...
  • Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. ...
  • Catalina Island, California. ...
  • Champagne Reef, Dominica. ...
  • Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica. ...
  • Corn Islands, Nicaragua.
Mar 31, 2020

What is the prettiest beach in Key West? ›

The Best Beaches In Key West
  • 1) Dry Tortugas & Fort Jefferson. To many, this secluded cluster of islands 70 miles west of Key West is home to the most beautiful beach in the Florida Keys. ...
  • 2) Fort Zachary Taylor. ...
  • 3) Smathers Beach. ...
  • 4) Higgs Beach. ...
  • 5) Bahia Honda State Park.

What beach is best for snorkeling in Key West? ›

Considered by many to be the best beach in Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor is also a one of the top spots for snorkeling in Key West. The park is located at the southernmost tip of Key West at the end of Southard Street on Truman Annex and is home to the historic civil war Fort built in 1866.

What is the clearest beach in Key West? ›

For The Clearest Beaches Visit Fort Zachary Taylor Beach

For you beach purists out there, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is one of the only natural beaches in the Keys. At Fort Zach, you won't find the same soft white sand that other beaches brought in from the Caribbean.

Where are sea turtles in Key West? ›

Sea turtles have many regular nesting spots throughout the Keys, including Smathers Beach in Key West and Bahia State Park. Here in the Middle Keys, nests are found at Coco Plum and Sombrero beaches, Sunset Park in Key Colony Beach, and at Long Key State Park.

Where can I snorkel for free in Key West? ›

Although you need to pay to go to North America's only living coral reef by doing a snorkeling tour, there is a free snorkeling spot in Key West. At the Higgs Beach snorkeling spot in the Key West Marine Park, the beach entry is free and the beach parking is free!

Can you see sea turtles in Key West? ›

Sea turtle nesting season is from March 1 to October 31 (Atlantic) or May 1 to October 31 (Gulf). During this time, Key West residents and visitors may enjoy the beauty of watching baby sea turtle hatchlings in their natural habitat.

Does Key West have turquoise water? ›

Smathers Beach

Craving a white sand beach and turquoise water? You have to visit Key West's longest beach lined with coconut palms. From volleyball to kayaking to paddle boarding to snorkeling and more, activities abound at Smathers Beach.

Where is the bluest water in Florida? ›

If you're looking for stunning clear and blue water, the Keys in Southern Florida is a great place to go. However, the beaches in the Keys aren't the best. If you don't care about feeling the sand between your toes but prefer a lively environment and blue water in Florida, the Keys are a great place to visit.

Will I see sharks snorkeling in Key West? ›

Yes, of course there are sharks in Key West. We're situated on a small island surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico–shark's natural habitat. What kind of sharks can I see at the reef? The most common shark to see at the Key West reef is the docile nurse shark.

What time of year is cheapest to go to Key West? ›

The fall (September–November) is the low season in Key West, and room rates can drop by 50 percent or more. The hot, storm-prone summer months also see lower prices, and you'll find decent discounts in April and May after the winter crowds thin out.

What is hurricane season in Key West? ›

Hurricane season in Key West technically lasts from June 15 through November 30, but the worst storms tend to hit between August 15 and October 1.

Where is the bluest water in the world? ›

13 Places Where You Can See the Bluest Water in the World (Video)
  • Egremnoi, Greece. ...
  • Crater Lake, Oregon. ...
  • Devil's Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. ...
  • Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. ...
  • Ambergris Caye, Belize. ...
  • Five-Flower Lake, Jiuzhaigou National Park, China. ...
  • Swaraj Dweep, India. ...
  • Islas de Rosario, Colombia.
Sep 4, 2022

Where can I snorkel for Megalodon teeth? ›

The most Megalodon teeth findings are reported around Manasota Key and usually happen while diving near the coast, but nothing is impossible in nature and lucky ones find them while walking on the beach too especially after bigger storms!

Where is the safest snorkeling in Florida? ›

  • Ginnie Springs, HIgh Springs.
  • John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, North Palm Beach.
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo.
  • Phil Foster Park and Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach.
  • Silver Glen, Ocala National Forest.
Nov 25, 2020

Where is the best snorkeling in the United States? ›

Top 10 Snorkeling Destinations in the US
  • Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys. ...
  • Sand Key Lighthouse, Key West. ...
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo. ...
  • Crystal River Preserve State Park, Florida. ...
  • Catalina Island, California. ...
  • La Jolla, California. ...
  • Crystal Cove State Park, California. ...
  • Papalaua Wayside Park, Maui.
Apr 11, 2019

How do you avoid shark attacks when snorkeling? ›

In case you detect this dangerous fish approaching you, do the following to prevent an attack:
  1. Go For A Nearest Safety. ...
  2. Swim Rhythmically. ...
  3. Seabed Movement. ...
  4. Defend Yourself. ...
  5. Attack The Eyes. ...
  6. Avoid Swimming Near Fishing Boats. ...
  7. Don't Swim Near Dolphins And Seals. ...
  8. Reflective Or Shiny Items.
Jul 1, 2021

What happens if you see a shark while snorkeling? ›

Leave the water as soon as possible

If you have spotted a shark around you that is a lot bigger in size than common reef sharks or seems to be aggressive, get out of the water as soon as possible. Return to the shore or back on the boat.

Where is the best sea turtle snorkeling? ›

Best Places to Swim and Dive with Sea Turtles
  1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia. ...
  2. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. ...
  3. Maui Island, Hawaii. ...
  4. Sipadan, Malaysia. ...
  5. Ari Atoll, Maldives. ...
  6. Akumal, Playa del Carmen, México. ...
  7. Cook Island Marine Reserve, Australia. ...
  8. Marsa Alam, Egypt.
Jun 12, 2022

What is the most popular part of Key West? ›

Perhaps one of the most popular destinations on the island of Key West, Duval Street is the main drag of downtown, running north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

What is the most private beach in Key West? ›

The Higgs Memorial Beach Park is adjacent to the Casa Marina Resort and its beach. Consider a visit there — or even better, a stay for a night or longer. It's a Waldorf Astoria resort that features the only private beach on Key West.

Why are there no waves at Key West? ›

You see, Key West and the rest of the Florida Keys are coral islands – former reefs, created when the ocean was deeper and the region was submerged below the sea. Today, the ocean is shallower and the living coral reefs are six miles offshore, providing a barrier to waves and swells.

Is there a coral reef in Key West? ›

Key West's largest protected coral reef is Western Sambos, part of an ecological reserve created in 1997. Several other extensive shallow reefs off Key West including Eastern Dry Rocks, Rock Key and Sand Key are abundant in corals, gorgonians and fish, and range from 5 to 45 feet in depth.

Can you snorkel for lobster in Key West? ›

Getting more and more popular catching lobsters is a fun way to spend the day snorkeling with a purpose. These super tasty creatures sure make a nice addition to a Key West sunset dinner followed by a rum front truly helping you "Live The Dream" here in Key West.

Can you snorkel on your own at John Pennekamp? ›

You can snorkel on your own in John Pennekamp State Park without a tour, but it is not the best snorkeling that the state park offers. That said, the shore snorkeling in John Pennekamp State Park from the beach can be perfect for beginners.

Does Key West have clear blue water? ›

Yes, Key West has several swimmable beaches. The island is located in the Florida Keys, which is known for its clear blue waters. Some of the best beaches for swimming include Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach, and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

Which Florida key has the prettiest water? ›

The best beaches for swimming in the Keys are in the middle Keys (midway between Key Largo and Key West) Bahia Honda State Park between Marathon and Big Pine Key has the largest sandy beach areas with several good locations for swimming; those areas are some of the only smooth, sandy bottom swimming beach areas in the ...

Is there a beach without seaweed in Key West? ›

Nearly any beach you go to in Key West will have seaweed. There's a good chance you won't find a public beach in Key West without seaweed. So you will more than likely see seaweed on the shoreline of Key West beaches, and that includes Smathers Beach.

Where are crocodiles in Key West? ›

Occasionally, Key West gets American Crocodiles. Croc's feel more at-home in our saltwater canals than 'gators. However, if you drive about 45 minutes up the Keys to an island called Big Pine, which has the largest freshwater lense in the Lower Keys, and head to the “Blue Hole,” you'll probably see American alligators.

Can you see dolphins in Key West? ›

The water around Key West is teeming with dolphins. Often mistaken for porpoises, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are by far the most common species found in the area.

Where can I see manatees in Key West? ›

If you are staying in Key West, head to Cow Key Marina for a chance to spot the resident manatees. The marina is located on Stock Island, about five miles north of the Southernmost Point. Locals and visitors report almost daily sightings of the gentle giants who call this area home.

Do I need a wetsuit to snorkel in Key West? ›

Most people don't even need wetsuits for snorkeling or diving since your bodies can adjust to the cooler waters surprisingly fast. (But wetsuits definitely are available close to the various Key West diving and snorkeling trips).

Where can you see sharks in Key West? ›

Enjoy a shark and wildlife eco-tour in Key West aboard the custom built eco-adventure vessel 'Tiger Cat'. You'll cruise to the pristine backcountry waters for two hours of shark and wildlife viewing. A scent is deployed to attract these apex predators right next to the boat.

How do you carry keys while snorkeling? ›

When we go snorkeling we wrap our keys in a paper towel (more about that later) then put them into a ziplock bag, forcing the air out. We then put that bag into another ziplock bag, again forcing the air out, then into one more bag. I have a weight belt with pouches so I put my keys into one of those.

Can you swim with manatees in Key West? ›

There's only one place in North America where you legally swim with manatees, and that's in the Crystal River area— located about 90 minutes north of Tampa, on the west coast of Florida. The headwaters of Crystal River are known as Kings Bay, where the water temperature is a consistent 72 degrees year-round.

What wild animals live in Key West Florida? ›

Many of these animals are found nowhere else and include the Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Key Largo cotton mouse, silver rice rat, Key deer, Key ringneck snake, Florida Keys mole skink, Lower Keys striped mud turtle, Stock Island tree snail, Bartram's hairstreak and Schaus swallowtail butterfly.

What month do sea turtles hatch in Florida? ›

The eggs incubate for about 60 days, depending on conditions, before hatching. Sea turtles hatch in the late summer and fall months in Florida. This means you might see a swarm of infant turtles fighting their way to the sea between August and October.

Which Florida Key has the best beaches for snorkeling? ›

The best Florida keys for snorkeling from shore are Bahia Honda Key and Key West! There are snorkeling beaches at both of these Florida keys where you have a chance to see colorful fish!

Is snorkeling better in Key Largo or Islamorada? ›

So you can expect to experience better snorkeling in Islamorada. Diving charters and snorkeling tours can take you to spots such as the Alligator Reef Lighthouse, Cheeca Rocks, and Crocker Wall.

Does Key West or Key Largo have better snorkeling? ›

When it comes to snorkeling and diving, Key West has some great diving, but the snorkeling and diving around Key Largo surpass the opportunities around the southernmost Key by far. The reefs around both islands are incredibly healthy, beautiful, and mostly easy to access.

Is Islamorada good for snorkeling? ›

Snorkeling in the Florida Keys is at the top of the list for many visitors, and it should be! Islamorada has some of the clearest water and most vibrant reefs in the world. Our unforgettable snorkeling adventures bring you up close and personal to the third largest coral reef on Earth.

Can you snorkel in Key West without a tour? ›

Yes, it's possible to go snorkeling in Key West without a tour. There are a couple of shore snorkeling spots in Key West that you can get to by swimming from the beach.

Which is nicer Key Largo or Key West? ›

Both islands are beautiful, but Key Largo has more natural beauty whereas Key West has more tourist attractions and historical sites. Key West is a small island city with a bustling nightlife and plenty of activity. Key Largo is a larger, less developed island with a more relaxed and laid-back vibe.

Which Florida Key is the prettiest? ›

While Key Largo is undoubtedly the prettiest of all the Florida Keys, it's also one that's home to plenty of activities for the avid beachgoer. With scenic views like this, it would be tough not to fall in love with such a beachside beauty!

Are there coral reefs in Key West? ›

Key West's largest protected coral reef is Western Sambos, part of an ecological reserve created in 1997. Several other extensive shallow reefs off Key West including Eastern Dry Rocks, Rock Key and Sand Key are abundant in corals, gorgonians and fish, and range from 5 to 45 feet in depth.


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