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Miami is home to some of the most breathtaking beaches, world-class hotels, and spectacular sightseeing in the US. A mecca for food, fashion, flora, and fauna, this South Florida travel destination is truly a city to see-and-be-seen. But as sensational as the sights are to see on land, there’s no better view than that which can be seen when exploring Miami’s underwater universe. And when it comes to snorkeling, Miami is one of the best places in Florida to don your mask and fins is the vibrant coral reef ecosystem of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.
Miles and meters of crystal clear coastlines, magnificent reefs, beautiful bays, and perfectly preserved wrecks make Miami one of the best snorkeling destinations on earth.
We've compiled a guide to the finest snorkeling locations in and around Miami — definite must-visit spots to consider adding to your bucket list. If you're not a confident swimmer but are interested in snorkeling, we've asked our swimming instructor whether you need to know how to swim to snorkel.
Biscayne National Park is one of the best spots for snorkeling in Miami. It is located in southern Florida and covers 172,971 acres, 95% of which is water. This unique park preserves Biscayne Bay, its offshore barrier reefs, the longest stretch of undeveloped mangrove forest on Florida's east coast, and a number of islands that comprise the northernmost part of the Florida Keys.
The park's coral reefs are a popular spot for snorkeling and offer visitors a chance to see a diverse array of marine life. The park offers several snorkeling tours and also allows visitors to snorkel on their own. It is important to note that visitors should take care not to damage the coral reef, and must follow park rules and regulations to help preserve this delicate ecosystem.
There is no entrance fee for day use according to the Biscayne National Park's website page, but there is a $25 USD fee for each overnight stay, which includes the use of a tent for six persons.
The park is home to a variety of marine life, including:
Coral: Biscayne National Park's coral reefs are home to a variety of different coral species, including brain coral, elkhorn coral, and staghorn coral.
Fish: Visitors may see a variety of fish species, including angelfish, parrotfish, sergeant majors, grunts, snapper, grouper, and barracudas.
Sea Turtles: Visitors may also see green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, and loggerhead sea turtles, which are all found in the waters around the park.
Rays: Biscayne National Park is home to a number of different species of rays, including southern stingrays, eagle rays, and spotted eagle rays.
Lobsters and Crabs: Visitors may also see spiny lobsters, Caribbean spiny lobsters, and a variety of crab species.
Sharks: While relatively rare, visitors may also have the chance to see several species of sharks while snorkeling, including nurse sharks, reef sharks, and even the occasional hammerhead shark.
Here are a few ways to get to the Biscayne National Park from Miami:
By Car: The most convenient way to get to Biscayne National Park from Miami is by car. The park is located about 45 minutes south of downtown Miami. Visitors can take the Florida Turnpike south to Exit 6 (Speedway Boulevard) or US-1 south to the park's entrance.
By Public Transportation: Visitors can also take public transportation from Miami to Biscayne National Park. The Miami-Dade Transit has a bus route that goes to the park's visitor center, making it accessible to those without access to a car. Visitors can take Bus Route 35, which departs from the Dadeland South Metrorail station and stops at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center.
By Boat: Since Biscayne National Park is primarily a marine park, visitors can also access the park by boat. There are several marinas in Miami that offer boat rentals, charters, and tours to Biscayne National Park. The park's Dante Fascell Visitor Center has a boat ramp and docks for those who bring their own boats.
Image credits: Live Free Diving
Phil Foster Park is a public park located at the Blue Heron Bridge Waterway in Riviera Beach, Florida. The park is known for its snorkeling and diving opportunities, and is a popular destination for both locals and tourists.
The Blue Heron Bridge Waterway is a shallow inlet that connects the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. The unique geography of the waterway, including its shallow depth and rock formations, has created a diverse and vibrant ecosystem that is home to a variety of marine life.
There is no entrance fee to enter Phil Foster Park, as it is a public park owned and operated by the City of Riviera Beach, Florida. However, there may be fees for parking.
Snorkeling there is suitable for all skill levels, including beginners. The water is shallow, with a maximum depth of around 20 feet. Snorkelers can easily access the water from the park's beach, which has a designated snorkeling area, access to the map to Pura Vida's website.
Here are some of the marine life species that snorkelers can see while exploring the waters at Phil Foster Park:
Seahorses: The Blue Heron Bridge area is one of the few places in the world where snorkelers can spot seahorses in the wild. These small, colorful creatures are a favorite of many snorkelers.
Tropical Fish: The waters at Phil Foster Park are home to a variety of tropical fish, including angelfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, and sergeant majors. The fish are often attracted to the rocky structures and artificial reefs found in the waterway.
Crustaceans: Snorkelers can spot a variety of crustaceans at Phil Foster Park, including crabs, shrimp, and lobster. The park's shallow waters and rock formations provide ideal habitat for these creatures.
Octopus: Octopus sightings are also common at Phil Foster Park, especially during the cooler months. Snorkelers should keep an eye out for these intelligent creatures hiding in crevices and holes in the rocks.
Rays: The waters at Phil Foster Park are home to several species of rays, including southern stingrays, eagle rays, and cownose rays. These graceful creatures are often spotted swimming along the sandy bottom.
Image credits: Friends of Johns Pennekamp
The park was established in 1960 and is named after John D. Pennekamp, a Miami newspaper editor and conservationist who worked to protect the Florida Keys and its marine life.
The park encompasses 70 nautical square miles and is the first underwater park in the United States. It is home to one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the world, offering snorkelers the opportunity to see a diverse array of marine life. Here are some of the species that visitors may encounter while snorkeling in the park:
Coral: The park is home to a variety of coral species, including brain coral, elkhorn coral, and staghorn coral.
Fish: Visitors can see a variety of fish species, including angelfish, parrotfish, sergeant majors, grunts, snapper, and grouper. Some of the most colorful fish in the park include the blue tang, queen angelfish, and stoplight parrotfish.
Sea Turtles: Snorkelers may also have the opportunity to see green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles, which are both found in the waters around the park.
Rays: The park is home to several species of rays, including southern stingrays, eagle rays, and spotted eagle rays. These graceful creatures are often spotted swimming along the sandy bottom.
Sharks: While relatively rare, visitors may also have the chance to see several species of sharks while snorkeling, including nurse sharks, reef sharks, and the occasional hammerhead shark.
Dolphins: Bottlenose dolphins are occasionally spotted in the waters around the park, and snorkelers may be lucky enough to see them swimming and playing in the waves.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers a variety of camping options, including tent camping, RV camping, and cabin rentals.
The campground at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park features 47 campsites, including 40 sites for tent and RV camping and 7 sites for cabin rentals. The campsites are located in a shaded, wooded area near the park's beach and facilities. All campsites have water and electric hookups, a picnic table, and a fire ring or grill.
In addition to the standard campsites, the park also offers three types of cabins for rent: the Garden Cove Cabins, the Largo Sound Villas, and the Tamarind Villa. These cabins are fully furnished and include a kitchenette, bathroom, air conditioning, and outdoor grill. The cabins can accommodate up to 6 people and provide a comfortable and convenient camping experience.
Reservations for camping and cabin rentals at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park can be made online on the park's website, the price varies from $16 to $40 USD a night. It is recommended that visitors make reservations in advance, especially during peak season, as campsites and cabins can fill up quickly.
Dry Tortugas National Park is a national park with one of the most beautiful eco-attraction sites in the world, consisting of seven islands, superlative coral reefs, magnificent marine life, and a vast assortment of birdlife, visitors to Dry Tortugas National Park can expect to see the largest versions of marine life in the Keys.
Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities at Dry Tortugas National Park and here are of the things snorkelers can do there:
Peanut Island is a small island located in Palm Beach County. The island was created in the 1910s during the construction of the Lake Worth Inlet and was used for a variety of purposes over the years, including as a quarantine station and as a secret Cold War bunker for President John F. Kennedy.
Today, Peanut Island is a popular destination for outdoor activities, including snorkeling. The waters around Peanut Island are known for their clear visibility and diverse marine life. Snorkelers can explore the island's reef system and see a variety of tropical fish, coral, and other marine creatures. The waters around Peanut Island are also home to several sunken boats, which provide an artificial reef habitat for marine life. Snorkelers can explore these wrecks and see the marine life that has made them their home.
To get to Peanut Island, visitors can take a ferry from the Riviera Beach Marina. The ferry service is provided by the Peanut Island Shuttle Boat Company and runs every 20-30 minutes during the day.
Tarpoon Lagoon Diving Center is one of the most popular Miami snorkeling tours. Instructors provide diving lessons, and trips take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Overview: Located 23 minutes from Miami International Airport, Tarpoon Lagoon Diving Center offers snorkeling excursions and education.
Why you need to go: Clear waters, interesting views, and an abundance of vibrant sea life make this a must-see Maimi snorkeling destination. Tarpoon Lagoon Diving Center excursions include visits to Rainbow Reef, the Half Moon Underwater Archaeological Preserve, and Emerald Reef. The Half Moon Underwater Archaeological Preserve is a wreckage site where a schooner named Half Moon sunk.
Cost: Starting from $80 per person
Overview: A quick 21 minutes drive from Miami International Airport is Ocean Safari Diving. a half-day excursion, on a boat with about 25 guests, that will take you on a snorkeling tour along the Great Barrier Reef, Undine Reef, and Mackay Reef.
Why you need to go: One of the area’s most renowned water adventure destinations, visitors can expect to see and experience a variety of marine creatures, including devil rays, turtles, whale sharks, and manta rays. Swimming with the dolphins or watching out for Humpback whales (depending on the season) makes this one of the most family-friendly water adventure destinations in Miami.
What you need to know: Friendly, knowledgeable guides, available to happily answer questions, make this interactive water experience perfect for families with small children.
Overview: Located 30 minutes from Miami International Airport, South Beach Dive and Surf Center offers half-day snorkel trips to wrecks and reefs on Key Biscayne.
Why you need to go: Conveniently located in the heart of Miami Beach’s trendy and vibrant South Beach, close to popular hotels, dining, shopping, and the ever-popular Art Deco District, families can get their feet wet, exploring the Atlantic’s most magnificent marine life under close supervision.
What you need to know: Offering snorkeling services since 1995, South Beach Dive and Surf Center offers half-day excursions every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Trips are 3 1/2 hours in duration, providing plenty of time to snorkel on the shallow wrecks and reefs off of Key Biscayne, and include mask, snorkel, fins and snorkel vest rental.
Children ages 6 to 15 must be accompanied by an adult, while kids 16 to 18 require a letter from a parent or guardian to join the excursion. Children under six years are not allowed to snorkel.
In addition, the Center requires all participants to have prior swimming knowledge.
Cost: $119 per person (includes snorkel gear rental)