Snorkeling John Pennekamp Key Largo – What can you see underwater?

Let us share our snorkeling John Pennekamp experience with you to give you some ideas what to do and where to snorkel in Key Largo. This coral state park was founded with the purpose to protect and preserve the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Today it is a 3 miles x 25 miles protected area offering a great place for your next family with fun water activities and enjoying time in nature.

Why is snorkeling John Pennekamp good?

Pennekamp Park was established in 1963 and named for John D. Pennekamp who was a pioneer in environment’s preservation. Coral Reef State Park locates next to Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, they both work to preserve the coral reefs in United States. This explains why snorkeling John Pennekamp provides the opportunity of visiting the best Key Largo coral reefs. Now Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of the best snorkeling destinations in Florida offering sunseekers, water lovers to enjoy nature’s beauty.

John Pennekamp Shore Snorkeling

How to get to John Pennekamp Coral State Park?

You can reach the park from Miami, it is only a 90 minutes drive. Take the Florida’s Turnpike south than the US 1. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park entrance is at mile marker 102.5. The park is open every day from 8:00 a.m until sunset. There is an entrance fee, the actual prices you could check on the park official site where you will see more information about the snorkeling John Pennekamp tours as well!

Related: Do you know that North Florida also has some excellent snorkeling places? Make sure to visit Peanut Island and Phil Foster Park Snorkel Trail in Palm Beach County.

Best time to visit Key Largo

Key Largo and Florida Keys generally is a year round destination but there are some periods better than others. If you want clear sky, pleasant climate, choose spring months. However the sea temperature is only 73-75 oF (23-24 oC) so you will need wetsuit for snorkeling ! The sea is the hottest during summer 83-86 oF (28-30 oC) but this is the rainy season with heavy rainfalls although moderate hotel prices. Fall is the hurricane season. If you would schedule your visit for the months when there is chance for hurricane activity, make sure to have a good travel insurance in case of emergency and follow the weather forecast. Winter is the peak season with pleasant sea and air temperatures. Prices are higher and you find more people on the beaches, especially around Christmas and Eastern.

Shore Snorkeling John Pennekamp State Park

Although the official name of the park is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, unfortunately, you find very little coral available from shore anymore. The best beach for shore snorkeling is Cannon Beach where you can observe some fish and crabs hiding on the sandy sea bottom or in the seagrass.

Key Largo John Pennekamp Shore Snorkeling

Besides snorkeling, there is a lot of other activates to do in John Pennekamp Park. Go for a swim, walk around and learn about the local flora and fauna. You can also go kayaking around the mangroves while you can spot alligators and small sharks!

Reef snorkeling John Pennekamp – Snorkel tour options

To explore the Key Largo coral reefs, you can sign up for snorkeling John Pennekamp trips or choose between many other snorkel tour operators nearby. These companies go to the same coral reefs that John Pennekamp snorkel trips take you, prices are very similar. One of the best Key Largo snorkel trip is the Sundiver Snorkel Tour. Although we chose John Pennekamp’s own tour, we recommend Sundiver! We called them a few days prior to our trip and were asking about weather conditions, tour options, and they were super friendly and helpful!

Pennekamp pocket coral and reef fish guide

  • Pocket size mini reef life guide to use in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean
  • 272 species of fish, coral and invertebrates id cards with hand drawn illustrations
  • Perfect for diving and snorkeling the Florida Keys

Key Largo John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park

Short snorkel trips include snorkeling at 1 Key Largo coral reef that is chosen by the captain depending on weather and sea conditions.You can use fins while snorkeling, life vest  is mandatory and included in the price. Equipment rental is extra charge, take you own snorkel gear  if you have! The clear water provides excellent conditions for underwater photographers, don’t leave your waterproof camera at home!

How much is a snorkeling John Pennekamp trip?

In-house snorkel trips (departing from Pennekamp Park marina) are starting from 24.95 USD + tax for kids under 18. Adult price is 29.95 USD. This is 2.5 hours long trip visiting 1 reef and you can spend approx. 1-1.5 hours in the water. 4.5 hours extended snorkel trips are also available which include snorkeling 2 different coral reefs for 38.95 USD +tax. (2017 prices)

Best Key Largo Snorkeling places

Shallow coral reefs offering easy snorkeling for everyone. Unfortunately, you don’t find good shore snorkeling in Key Largo so you need to take a boat to the near barrier reef. Depending on the weather conditions, your tour operator or boat captain will decide which reef is the best to visit. For your safety, snorkel boats are not operating if it is windy, there are big waves or storm is approaching.

Best spots to snorkel in Key Largo:

  • Grecian Rocks (photos were taken at this reef with Canon G7XII camera )
  • Garrets Reef
  • White Banks
  • Banana Reef
  • Horseshoe Reefs
  • Key Largo Dry Rocks – Christ of the Abyss
Snorkeling John Pennekamp

The Christ of the Deep / Christ of the Abyss

The most popular Key Largo snorkel tour is the Christ of Abyss snorkeling trip. But you need to be lucky weatherwise to see this famous underwater statue. Boats only visit this snorkel site by flat sea and calm weather conditions. The “Christ of the Deep” statue is at Key Largo Dry Rocks reef. The 2,7 m tall (9 feet) bronze statue rests in 6 m of water (20 feet), the top of the statue is at 2,5-3 m (8-10 feet) depth. The original Christ of the Abyss can be found in the Mediterranean Sea. This statue of Jesus Christ is a replica, the Underwater Society of America got it from Egidi Cressi in 1961. Snorkel boats usually don’t go there during busy times, holiday weekends to avoid overcrowding. If you’d like to visit Christ of Abyss, best is to make a request to your tour operator or book Key Largo private snorkeling trip.
Around the statue, you can see large brain corals, staghorn and elkhorn coral formations. Rays are common here and you can meet a big barracuda who lives here. Another interesting thing is, that The Christ of the Deep sometimes works as an underwater church, were divers use to marry.

John Pennekamp Coral State Park

Key Largo coral reefs after the hurricane

As lying in a hurricane zone, Florida coral reefs are often affected by hurricanes. Lately, in 2017 Hurricane Irma caused serious damage in Florida Keys. Our snorkeling John Pennekamp trip was scheduled right after the hurricane. In spite of the not-to go recommendations, we decided to go anyway to see how the corals survived the extreme wind and waves. In Hurricane Irma John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park also get a strong hit. They had to close for a few weeks after the big storm. They managed to restore the major damages and reopened in a few weeks. If you would like to visit the park and join a snorkeling John Pennekamp tour but heard about storm/hurricane, we advise you to give them a call prior your trip and inform yourself about the conditions.

Key Largo Hurricane After Irma

Grecian Rocks coral reef condition

Since this was our first Key Largo snorkeling trip, we cannot tell you how the reef looked like before, but it seemed nice for us, a little bit even more vibrant than the Mexico Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Soft corals, sea fans are colorful, we even spotted a nurse shark! Sadly, there were a couple of windy days before our trip with rough sea causing bad visibility but still enjoyed swimming among sergeant major fish and huge barracudas. Unfortunately, you will see bleaching and dying corals too – like everywhere in the world – but this is not Irma’s fault…

John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park

Our snorkeling John Pennekamp trip guides confirmed that most of the corals survived the hurricane pretty well. Soft corals are in very good condition, the reefs started to recover quickly and they hope they will continue like this. Hard corals suffered bigger damage: Elkhorn and staghorn structures broke due to very strong waves and wind. As hard corals growing slowly, unfortunately it will take longer time for them to start recovering.

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Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

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