Key Largo Snorkeling

Key Largo is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the entire US, let alone Florida. Many who come to this part of the Sunshine State want to snorkel the Christ statue in Key Largo or see the coral reefs close up during their visit.

There is more to snorkeling Key Largo than Christ of the Abyss and Dry Rocks, though. Some of the f from Key Largo is found elsewhere – if the weather conditions are right. The best spot of all is Molasses Reef, but Grecian Rocks makes a fair substitute if the weather isn’t quite as kind as it might be. 

Some of the Key Largo snorkeling spots are visited via the popular John Pennekamp snorkeling trips that depart from the state park, or you can take a private Key Largo snorkeling catamaran, sunset or ‘rum and reggae’ tour. 

If you want to snorkel in Key Largo, this guide takes you through all you need to know, including where to find the best snorkeling in Key Largo and all your options regarding organized Key Largo snorkeling trips.

Whether you’re planning one Key Largo snorkeling trip or want to explore underwater every day while at the Keys, read on for a complete guide to all the Key Largo, FL snorkeling options.

In this post:

KEY LARGO SNORKELING MAP

Key Largo snorkeling map

 

REEFS IN KEY LARGO

Covered in this section are the main areas most commonly visited. Each area is just a part of an overall reef system rather than being a separate entity. There are several patches to snorkel, depending on weather and mooring ball availability.  

Pennekamp is the name everyone is familiar with, so most people book tours through the park – but do bear in mind that these will be large group Key Largo snorkeling tours. There’s more detail on this further down the page. 

If you’d like to go as part of a smaller group, private local companies in Key Largo can take you to the same locations.  We find it’s always best to check both options before booking snorkeling tours in Key Largo. 

From snorkeling at Christ of the Abyss in Key Largo to a Key Largo snorkel tour at Molasses Reef or Grecian Rocks, here’s a little more about the main destinations. 

Key Largo Dry Rocks/Christ of the Abyss

Christ of the Abyss
Photo credit: Vito Palmisano, Getty Images

As the home of the famous Christ statue, the Dry Rocks and Christ of the Abyss area forms part of the Key Largo Existing Management area, formerly known as the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. The coral reef lies to the east of Key Largo and John Pennekamp State Park. 

For many visitors, seeing the Christ statue during a Key Largo snorkeling trip is a must. The statue is located on a concrete pedestal within a sand channel, where the water is under 25 feet deep. Cast in bronze, it’s around nine feet in size, so it’s pretty impressive. 

Around the bronze statue there is also a spur and groove patch reef. Here the depth ranges from zero to 30 feet, as some parts are exposed during low tide. It’s one of the most popular places for snorkel trips in Key Largo, and there is plenty of brain coral as well as sea rods and whips to see. 

There is a circle of buoys protecting the Dry Rocks area, so boats must carefully navigate outside these to avoid becoming grounded within. Local operators of Key Largo snorkeling excursions are of course well aware of this, and will navigate and advise accordingly. 

Grecian Rocks

Coral at Grecian Rocks

Grecian Rocks can be found around a mile south of the Key Largo Dry Rocks snorkeling area. It also falls within the Key Largo Existing Management area. 

The area comprises a shallow well protected reef system with several patches. It’s one of the best places to snorkel in Key Largo when the weather is windy and the sea is rough, as it’s better protected than other Key Largo reef snorkeling areas. 

Fish at Grecian Rocks, Key Largo FL
Coral and Fish at Grecian Rocks

You can access Grecian Rocks via Key Largo John Pennekamp snorkeling trips or Key Largo private snorkeling tours operated by local companies. Even with a wind speed of 15 to 20 knots, the area is often accessible, though it may take your captain a few attempts to anchor.

Even when the ocean isn’t too calm you should be able to see the likes of fire corals, purple fans and some sea sponges, as well as fish species such as parrotfish, barracuda, hogfish, blue tang, grunts and more. You might also spot a conch shell or two, though there aren’t a lot of live ones found in this area.  

Angel Fish at Grecian Rocks
Nurse Shark at Grecian Rocks

Some of the reef at Grecian Rocks isn’t in the best condition, as some coral is dead and there can be algae clouding the water. It’s a good option for those taking snorkeling Key Largo tours when the weather isn’t so kind, though. For that reason, it’s popular during those times when the best snorkeling in Key Largo isn’t so easy to reach. 

Molasses Reef

Though the Key Largo Pennekamp snorkeling tours don’t go to Molasses Reef, it’s considered one of the best spots in the Keys and is one of the most requested among snorkelers. It lies southeast of Key Largo, within the Existing Management Area and to the east of John Pennekamp State Park. 

This protected Key Largo state park snorkeling area is a great example of a spur and groove reef. Fishing and collecting are prohibited, meaning marine life remains relatively undisturbed. The reef is sometimes described as 2 distinct areas – Molasses Deep North and South. 

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate during our recent visit, so we couldn’t get to this area. If the weather is good and you can reach Molasses Reef, expect to see lots of corals plus various underwater flora and fauna – over 600 species can be found here. 

Turtle at Molasses Reef
Photo credit: Joe Quinn, Shutterstock

Molasses Reef is separate from the other reefs in the area, and is also pretty different. Larger sea life can often be seen at Molasses Deep North, including species such as reef sharks, sea turtles and eagle rays. You may also spot bigger sponges when snorkeling this part of Key Largo, like barrel and large vase sponges. 

Molasses Deep South is a continuation of Molasses Deep North, and again larger fish are often seen here. These may include Goliath grouper and tarpon in addition to eagle rays, reef sharks and loggerhead turtles. 

The depths at this Key Largo Florida snorkeling reef vary widely, ranging from a shallow 5 or 6 feet up to between 90 and 100 feet. Close to the ocean floor there are large coral heads that reach up to between 10 and 15 feet – a breathtaking sight.

It’s worth considering a private snorkeling Key Largo trip if you want to visit Molasses Reef, as it’s unmissable when the weather is calm enough. Arguably the best snorkeling tours in Key Largo are those taking visitors to see Molasses Reef during good weather. 

Molasses Reef is very deep in places and strong currents can be experienced here, so it’s best left to experienced divers and snorkelers, particularly when the weather may pose certain challenges. 

JOHN PENNEKAMP STATE PARK TOURS

Snorkel Boat at Pennekamp State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park occupies an area of about 70 square nautical miles, and is about 25 miles long. It was established in 1963 as the very first undersea park in the whole of the US. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its aim is to protect and maintain this living coral reef.  

While the tropical hammocks, shore birds and mangroves of the park also appeal to visitors, it’s the snorkeling here that attracts the most people. While you can see some ocean life via a glass bottom boat tour, there is no substitute for taking one of the Key Largo snorkeling trips that are available here. 

The tours operated by John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park tend to consist of larger groups. You can hire the equipment, but as this will cost extra it’s a good idea to bring your own if you have it. There is also the option of requesting a private or group in-water guide for up to 6 people, but of course an additional charge applies when you want to snorkel Key Largo with a guide. 

Alligator Warning Pennekamp Beach

When we were in Key Largo, the locations visited by these tours included Key Largo coral reef snorkeling at Key Largo Dry Rocks and Christ of the Abyss, White Banks, Dry Rocks, Banana Reef, Grecian Rocks, Horseshoe Reef, Cannon Patch and Garret’s Reef.

As with most snorkel tours taken anywhere, you won’t know where you are going until you get there on the day with Key Largo snorkel trips. This is because the destination depends on weather and ocean conditions, as well as mooring ball availability.

The tour we went on took us to Grecian Rocks. Throughout the booking and check in process, we were warned multiple times that we were not guaranteed to see the Christ of the Abyss Statue. It was therefore obvious that many ask about this – and are disappointed if they don’t end up going there. A snorkel at the Jesus statue in Key Largo is what people seem to imagine when booking snorkeling in Key Largo from John Pennekamp state park.  

If you want to access a specific location, the best way to get there is to book a private snorkel tour in Key Largo. Be warned though – even when you do this the weather and availability of mooring spots can play a significant role in determining where you’ll go. If there aren’t any mooring balls available, or the weather doesn’t cooperate, you certainly aren’t guaranteed to go to a specific spot. So it’s best to keep an open mind when going snorkeling near Key Largo.

KEY LARGO SNORKELING TOURS

Though so many people go snorkeling in Key Largo from the state park, it’s worth considering private Key Largo snorkeling charters as well – or instead of – the larger group trips.

These snorkel companies are based outside the John Pennington Key Largo snorkeling park, but they can visit the same locations. An advantage of this type of trip is that you won’t have to pay park entry fees as part of the cost.

The Key Largo snorkeling state park tours can also get very busy, and may run even when conditions mean you’re not likely to see a lot. Taking a private tour often gives you more of a chance to go where you want to, although weather conditions and the availability of  mooring balls will again affect where you’re taken on the actual day. 

Options open to visitors include companies like Sundiver in Key Largo and Paradise snorkeling Key Largo. You can also take a sunset snorkel in Key Largo with some operators, including Pirate’s Choice and Snorkel Key Largo as well as Sundiver snorkel tours of Key Largo. Some, like the Reef Roamer snorkel Key Largo trips, mean accessing the reef via catamaran. 

If when in the area taking a Key Largo Christ of the Abyss snorkeling tour really matters to you, do enquire when booking. Access to this area is never guaranteed, but the company should be able to give some indication regarding your chances.  

All the Key Largo snorkeling areas are relatively near each other, as they are really just different parts of the same overall reef system. When booking a tour, you need to trust that the captain of your boat wants you to love your experience, and will take you to the best available spot on the day.  

SHORE SNORKELING

Cannon Beach Key Largo

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has a couple of beaches where you can do some Key Largo snorkeling from shore. There’s not a lot to see in comparison to taking a reef trip, but it’s not bad Key Largo snorkeling for beginners who want to get a feel for things, or spot what they can while having a beach day.

The park is a fun place to spend time anyway, so you may as well bring along your snorkel and flippers if you have them. There are walking trails to follow and you can hire kayaks or boats during a day at John Pennekamp.

The beaches at the park don’t offer coral reef snorkeling in Key Largo, as they’re located on Largo Sound, a sandy bay with shallow water and seagrass beds. This means the water is protected, which is ideal for those with kids, but not the best for anyone seeking the top Key Largo snorkeling locations.

It’s a good place for testing your snorkeling skills or equipment, and you may see some small coral formations on the ocean bed. A few smaller fish may also be swimming around.  If you have beach shoes, bring those too, as the sand and stones are rather rough to walk around on. 

Cannon Beach is probably the most popular coral reef Key Largo snorkeling spot from shore, and it’s named for the cannon forming part of a shipwreck here. There are also mangroves nearby, and exploring these by kayak is also enjoyable. 

WHICH KEY LARGO SNORKELING SPOTS WILL YOU VISIT?

From private catamaran snorkeling Key Largo trips to large group tours from the state park or even some basic shore snorkeling, there are plenty of options available from operators like Sundiver snorkeling in Key Largo.

Molasses Reef Key Largo snorkeling is the number one choice for many due to the sheer variety of marine life, while others hanker after a Christ of the Abyss Key Largo snorkeling trip. 

Whichever interests you, do try to keep an open mind, as any deep or shallow reef snorkel tour from Key Largo will largely depend on the weather and other factors. If, like we did, you don’t see the best place to snorkel in Key Largo, that always gives you a reason to return in the future!

Looking for more Florida Keys info to plan your trip? Check out all of our Florida Keys Guides HERE.

About the author
Kristin Young