Reef Locations of the Keys and Key West

Key West offers a snorkeler’s paradise of pristine reefs, intriguing wrecks and unique underwater structures alive with tropical fish and other fascinating marine life. As most of the best snorkeling is at off-shore reefs, Key West snorkeling tours are the easiest way to explore the amazing underwater world of the Keys. Following are just a few of the premiere snorkeling spots in this stunning snorkeling mecca.

Sand Key

One of Key West’s most popular snorkeling destinations, the waters around Sand Key’s massive iron lighthouse have become home to an incredible abundance of coral structures and marine life. Roughly eight miles northwest of Key West, the islet was formed by sand accumulating on the reefs, presenting both a hidden threat to navigation and an incredible snorkeling haven. Here,visitors can thrill to more than ten miles of coral reefs of various depths where rock fingers, gullies and elkhorn coral structures are alive with marine creatures including reef fish, grouper, loggerhead turtles and barracuda. Beginners generally stay on the northwest portion, where calm waters and shallow reefs offer amazing marine life viewing. Because the islet changes with the weather, you can visit Sand Key again and again and have a different experience each time.

Rock Key

Just one mile east of Sand Key and easily accessible from Key West, Rock Key offers incredibly varied snorkeling experiences with its dramatic shallow coral reefs, spectacular crevices and even a coral-encrusted 1800s Spanish galleon. With its flourishing coral structures, Rock Key is home to a stunning variety of brilliantly hued marine creatures including blue tang, sergeant major, parrotfish and yellowtail snapper. Located within a Sanctuary Preservation Area, Rock Key’s two wrecks offer patient snorkelers a chance to uncover brass fittings, tiles, cannon balls and spikes.

Sambo Reefs

Varying in depth from ten to 40 feet, the Sambos are a spectacular line of reefs divided in to Eastern, Middle and Western areas by stretches of silken white sands, with each section having a somewhat different structure, depth and variety of sea life. Long a favorite snorkeling spot, the Sambos lie four miles south of the Boca Chica Channel. Key West snorkeling tours out to the Sambos offer stunning views of elkhorn and staghorn coral as well as schools of brilliantly hued tropical fish life.

The area encompasses a Sanctuary Preservation Area, and Western Sambo also lies within an ecological reserve, ensuring an undisturbed area for spawning and reproduction of a rich variety of marine life. With an incredible diversity of underwater terrain including inshore and offshore patch reefs, salt ponds, mid-channel reefs and hard bottom, Western Sambo is home to an astonishing collection of sea life including anemones, crabs, starfish, sea urchins, surgeonfish, angelfish, grouper, barracuda and nurse sharks. Along the Western Sambo’s Cannonball Cut snorkelers can spot many spiny lobster and giant star coral. The Eastern Sambo section features excellent spur and groove reef formations with lots of dramatic ledges and lies within the National Marine Sanctuary Research Only Area. Separated from the other areas by large swathes of white sand, Middle Sambo features a more defined coral structure.