Key West is the only spot in the US (besides Hawaii) that has active coral reefs. When you come to Key West, you have to snorkel! When we first started researching our trip to Key West, I knew snorkeling needed to be at the top of the list of things we were going to do while there.
So now that you’re convinced snorkeling is a must, you’re thinking (as I was), but what’s the best snorkeling in Key West? There’s actually no spot to snorkel directly in Key West…. So while not IN Key West, hands down, the best snorkeling in Key West is found at Looe Key Reef.
While in Key West, basically every local we talked to about our plans to go snorkeling said, you’re going to Looe Key right?! I’m so glad that we did! All the details are below.
To start, here are some Looe Key Reef Facts
It’s located 6 miles offshore only accessible by boat.
Located inside Florida National Marine Sanctuary, the closest Key is Big Pine Key
There’s never been a fatal shark attack in all of the Keys.
At 3 miles long, it’s huge and easy to spread out amongst visitors.
You can dive or snorkel here.
We chose to do a private snorkeling trip with Saltwater Seafari for a few different reasons. First, the flexibility that comes along with taking a private boat trip is just amazing. I wanted a private boat for us so we could kind of do our own thing and that is all Saltwater Seafari does! Their prices were affordable as well – with 6 of us, we ended up only paying $50 a person. Last but not least, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and sticking in smaller groups is the safest choice.
I’m so glad we ended up choosing Saltwater Seafari! They were the nicest couple and were so accommodating of our group. We ended up going out with them twice. Yes, you read that twice in four days! They were such nice people who we could have genuine conversations with. Travel is all about connecting with people and it was fun to connect with them as a company and people!
First Stop, Picnic Island
On our first day, we went to a well known local sand bar island, Picnic Island, but it was so cloudy, snorkeling out at Looe Key was not really an option. We hung out on the island, made friends with some locals (Captain Jack was nice enough to share his awesome houseboat and Fireball with us), and have an awesome afternoon.
The island was super cute and we found out it’s a popular spot for locals to go hang out regularly. We felt like we got a slice of local life in Key West -what a dream! If you every go to Picnic Island, make sure you stop by Captain Jack’s boat to say hi. He’s a really friendly and nice guy!
The area around the island is known for lobster, so instead of trying to go out snorkeling in choppy, unclear water, we went searching for some lobster! My boyfriend was the first to find one and everyone took turns, except for me, holding it. I am pretty sure I got stung by a jelly fish so I ran off before I got a turn to hold it.
Visiting Looe Key Reef
Our second trip, we met up in the marina again and made it out to Looe Key Reef. It’s not just number one with locals, it’s actually the #1 spot in North America for diving and snorkeling. You can only access this reef by boat, and so finding a good company to take you out is important.
It took about 40 minutes by boat from Big Pine Key to get there. The ride was really pretty and we didn’t mind sitting in the boat snacking and sipping all along the way. Swimming is necessary here so make sure you are prepared to either swim with fins or a life jacket. You’ll want to be a confident swimmer here.
Jennifer at Saltwater Seafari brought her GoPro with her and was able to take some really cool shots for us! She shared them all after our trip via DropBox which made all the memories even sweeter. I, of course, brought my underwater dome to snap pics as well. They also supplied us with a cooler full of ice and bottled water for the trip, snorkel gear, and plenty of space to keep our valuables dry.
When we hopped in the water, we were immediately greeted by a huge group of fish. The reef there is 3 miles wide and the amount of fish you see is incredible on a clear day! Visibility was at 60 feet while we were there and it was probably some of the best snorkeling I have ever done.
My boyfriend said that it was on par with Hawaii, but in Hawaii, you can just walk into the water instead of taking a boat. I think this earns it the title of best snorkeling in Key West!
While there, we saw pufferfish, sea turtles, and tons of fish. I was told it’s pretty normal to see sharks as well, but we only saw them while in shallow water from far away. It was honestly so beautiful out there! The water is the most gorgeous color of blue. It was even more clear than the water we saw in Mexico or Colombia. I was honestly beyond impressed with how clear the water. I didn’t really think snorkeling like this existed in North America and was pleasantly surprised by how it was here.
As we road back in the boat toward shore, a group of dolphins started to play in the wake that the boat was making. I laid down on the front of the boat and the dolphins saw right up next to us! That was something I’ve never seen before and will always remember.
So when you’re thinking about where the best snorkeling in Key West is, Looe Key is where you need to go and I’d highly recommend Saltwater Seafari for your trip!