The Best Keys Snorkeling – The Middle Keys Are Amazing!

Florida Keys

At the best keys snorkeling spots we describe below we found this French Angelfish.

The best Keys snorkeling in Florida is actually not where most people think (it surprised us). While Key Largo and Key West are the most popular spots, by far the best snorkeling is to be found between these two keys.

There are a bunch of lesser known snorkel locations that are wonderful. They are located in the waters off Islamorada (Matecumbe Key), Marathon (Vaca Key), and Big Pine Key. These best Keys snorkeling areas are in what we call the Middle Keys.

All of these reefs are reached by boat tours, and we normally prefer destinations that have more beach access. But we don’t let that stop us, because the health of the reefs at these locations make the Florida Keys one of the best places to snorkel.

We will go into detail below about each of the Middle Keys snorkel spots below. You can also explore our main page for snorkeling the Florida Keys. And, if you love snorkeling, you will also love our free monthly snorkeling newsletter.

2023 Coral Bleaching Event – Please note that very high water temperatures in the summer of 2023 have caused widespread coral bleaching and death in the Florida Keys. So the descriptions on this page are not accurate. If you wish to see healthy coral reefs we now recommend you visit the Coral Triangle.

Best Keys Snorkeling – From Islamorada

Islamorada is actually on Upper Matecumbe Key. But everyone seems to refer to the area as Islamorada because of the town. We drove down to snorkel these spots from Key Largo.

Two of these best Keys snorkeling spots are wonderful little patch reefs that are about halfway between the key and the outer barrier reef edge. The third is right next to the barrier reef edge.

Best Keys Snorkeling - Islamorada Snorkeling Map

Snorkeling Cheeca Rocks

This is a perfect snorkeling location. The depths are fantastic and the area is packed with medium sized fish and wonderful corals.

Click here for full details and more pictures from snorkeling Cheeca Rocks.

School of grunts at Cheeca Rocks

Snorkeling Hen and Chickens

This is another patch reef area that was wonderful. This site is remarkable for all of its healthy hard corals and sponges and interesting underwater topography.

Click here for pictures and more about snorkeling Hen and Chickens.

Midnight Parrotfish seen while snorkeling Hen and Chickens.

Snorkeling Alligator Reef Lighthouse

Tons of fish under Alligator Reef Lighthouse.

Farther out, in bluer water near the edge of the barrier reef, is the amazing Alligator Reef Lighthouse. This is a great snorkeling spot. There is a tall lighthouse structure, and thousands upon thousands of fish congregate underneath it for all the shade it offers. It is a fairly shallow area that is a joy to explore.

There is also a second area that you should snorkel while at the lighthouse. It is a deeper canyon wall just east of the lighthouse. Very deep but full of big creatures!

Click here to learn more about snorkeling Alligator Reef, and see Galen’s rare encounter with a Hammerhead Shark.

Best Keys Snorkeling – From Marathon

Marathon is actually on Vaca Key (Cow Key?). And there are some really nice inner patch reefs available to snorkel from Marathon, as well as an amazing barrier reef snorkel.

Best Keys Snorkeling - Marathon Snorkeling Map

Snorkeling Coffins Patch – The Donut and The Stake

Fish in the shade under The Stake, at Coffins Patch.

From Marathon you can get a boat ride out to snorkel the Coffins Patch area. We snorkeled two different spots in the Coffins Patch, and both were good. These locations are often combined in one boat trip.

The first was The Donut. This is a better diving than snorkeling spot because it is a little deep. But we still really enjoyed it for its amazing profusion of sponges.

The second spot is called The Stake. This is a much better snorkeling spot, because it is less deep.

Click here for more pictures and details about snorkeling Coffins Patch.

Snorkeling Sombrero Reef

You can’t miss this, it may be the best Keys snorkeling spot. This wonderful spur-and-groove reef is full of interesting topography to explore and many fish and corals to see.

Click here for lots of pictures and to learn about Sombrero Reef.

Hogfish at Sombrero Reef, one of the best Keys snorkeling spots.

Blurry Fish, Rotten Colors, Garbage Pictures

That does not look like what I saw! See our snorkeling camera pages for tips on selecting a good snorkeling camera, and how to use it for great pictures.

Snorkeling Bahia Honda State Park

Just south of Marathon is this fantastic park with mediocre beach snorkeling that is worth it nonetheless.

Click here to see more pictures and learn about Snorkeling Bahia Honda.

Snorkeler entering the water at Bahia Honda.

Best Keys Snorkeling – From Big Pine Key

Pretty much the snorkeling that everyone does from the Big Pine Key area is the amazing Looe Key Reef.

Best Keys Snorkeling - Big Pine - Looe Key Reef Snorkeling Map

Snorkeling Looe Key Reef

Looe Key Reef is another spot in the running for best Keys snorkeling spot, and it should not be missed. But this spot is not for the faint of heart. It is a bit deep, and is right on the edge of the barrier reef. The fresh flows of ocean water attract large creatures here, which is why divers love the area. Giant Groupers and sharks are not uncommon sights here.

Click to learn about snorkeling Looe Key Reef and see pictures.

School of Chubs over Looe Key Reef.

Note: Our suggestions are based on knowledge of the area. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you use the link(s) below. We may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

Find a Boat Company

There are other good snorkel spots around the Middle Keys, but this should get you started. Once you decide on a location above you can read some TripAdvisor reviews about what boat company to use.

More Florida Keys Snorkeling Tips