Snorkeling in the Florida Reef – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – Key Largo, FL

This post would’ve been much more visually astounding if I had my GoPro at the time. Alas, I did not. I had to enjoy my time in the reef like a regular human interacting with nature sans documentation. It was beautiful. 


I’ve snorkeled out of this park twice and each time was unique. I mean, that shit’s alive out there. Once inside the park, head toward the visitor info building to book a snorkel or glass-bottomed boat, rent a kayak, and rent or purchase snorkel gear. The snorkel boats go out several times a day and are on a first-come-first-serve basis. I recommend calling ahead to see what tokes have space then showing up at least an hour prior to departure. We went about 2 hours early so that we could enjoy a picnic and get fitted for our wetsuits and fins. Wetsuits aren’t required, but there was a jellyfish warning and fuck that I’m not trying to get stung by a man-o-war. 

picnic area and iguana


waiting to board with my bud jayme




The ride out to the reef is about 45 minutes. We passed through mangroves on our way to Molasses Reef, a section of the Florida Reef. The Florida Reef is the third largest reef in the world. The water was vibrant shades of turquoise and so incredibly clear. Our tour was at 3pm so the sun was straight ahead casting a glow atop the water’s surface. 

sandy area beneath the surface


flying through the mangroves


my bud carrie

 Once we reached the reef, we plopped right into the water to explore around. I gotta be honest, it was a little intimidating just hopping into this expansive area without knowing what could be swimming around me. As soon as I dipped my face under the surface I saw a stingray directly below me. Pure exhilaration.

My first experience out here was a bit murky, but when I went most recently the visibility was astounding: 15-ft visibility with most of the reef within 10 feet, so I could see every nook and cranny, from the antannae of lobsters hiding in their dens to the delicate teeth of the puffer fish swimming among the coral. I was blown away by how much detail I could see. It was a little creepy to turn around and see a barracuda staring at you with his moth open, but they didn’t give a hoot about me. 

Other people on our boat reported seeing a shark, a sea turtle, and the ray. I would’ve pooped my panties if a shark came up on me, but it also would’ve been the best thing in my life. 

The park also has a campground, trails, and a small beach/swim area. Most of the park is underwater, so getting out in it is the best way to experience it.

Additional info:

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Pennekamp on Trip Advisor



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