Snorkeling Sombrero Reef – A Snorkeler’s Dream – Fantastic!

Florida Keys

OK. After snorkeling Sombrero Reef we felt like we had reached snorkeler’s heaven. What a fantastic reef!

It was probably the best experience we had in the Keys. In part because we snorkeled it on a perfect sunny day and had the most crystal clear blue water. In fact the captain on our boat said it was probably one of the clearest water visibility days he had ever seen.

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.

Snorkeling Sombrero Reef

Even without the great visibility, this is a special place, and has it all for a snorkeler. Tons of fish, interesting topography, perfect depths and a great variety of corals, sponges, and other sea life to see.

This reef is right on the edge of the barrier reef, and to reach it you catch a boat tour from the Marathon area on Vaca Key.

This is a popular spot, with lots of mooring pins and boats. It is marked by a good sized lighthouse. But unlike at Alligator Reef Lighthouse, the lighthouse here is almost on land and is much too shallow to snorkel underneath. Even in super calm conditions waves break on the reef around the lighthouse base.

Beautiful Sombrero Reef, corals, fish and fun topography.
Sea fans, wrasse, and parrotfish at Sombrero Reef.

When you’re snorkeling Sombrero Reef you will find a spur and groove formation with many fingers. It offers a very nice range of depths. You can be over some fairly shallow spur and groove, where the sandy ground was only about eight feet, or you could be in much deeper water, with 20 foot depths. There are mini canyons to explore, and even some sea cave arches you can swim through if you are bold.

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School of Blue Tang at Sombrero Reef.

What We Saw While Snorkeling Sombrero Reef

The corals and sponges were very healthy here, with tons of different types, including some Pillar Coral, Elkhorn, Lobed Star, Massive Starlet Coral, Blade Fire Coral, Branching Fire Coral, and tons of sea fans, rods, plumes, Christmas Tree Worms, White Encrusting Zoanthid, and lots of different sponges: Green Finger Sponge, Red Boring Sponge, Black-Ball Sponge, Loggerhead Sponge.

Pillar Coral at Sombrero Reef.
Elkhorn Coral at Sombrero Reef.
White Encrusting Zoanthid and fish at Sombrero Reef.

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.

Spotted Scorpionfish seen while snorkeling at Sombrero Reef.

Just some of the fish we encountered while snorkeling Sombrero Reef were the regular Hogfish and the Spanish variety, Bluehead Wrasse, Scrawled Filefish, and Yellowhead Wrasse. We saw tons of parrotfish, including Yellowtail, Princess, Rainbow, Midnight, and Stoplight in all phases.

We did not see any, but some of the other snorkelers mentioned seeing sea turtles and Nurse Sharks.

We also found a Spotted Scorpionfish hiding, plus many Blue Chromis, some groupers, Yellowtail Damselfish (in all phases), Sergeant Majors in Purple Phase, Porkfish, Yellowtail Snapper, Gray Snapper, grunts, chubs, lots of immature Bar Jacks, barracuda, Spotfin Butterflyfish, Foureye Butterflyfish, and Blue Tang. And there was a nice variety of angelfish including Gray Angelfish, French Angelfish, and Queen Angelfish.

Scrawled Cowfish we saw at Sombrero Reef

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Find a Boat Company

We suggest you use TripAdvisor to look for current companies running snorkel trips out of Marathon, Vaca Key, and reviews of them. The community page linked to below suggests some companies for snorkeling Sombrero Reef as well.

Enjoy a few more pictures below from our snorkeling Sombrero Reef adventure. And don’t miss it if you get the chance.

Purple Sea Fans and immature Yellowtail Damselfish at Sombrero Reef
Hogfish at Sombrero Reef.
School of grunts between coral heads at Sombrero Reef.
Snorkelers feet hanging off the back of the snorkel boat at Sombrero Reef.

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