Snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

We drove down to Key Largo from where we were staying in Fort Lauderdale with the specific intent to go snorkeling.  We hadn’t checked out precisely where to go and while we stopped at the Visitors Center just as you approach Key Largo we saw a brochure about a state park with snorkeling.

A nice little beach was also available to visitors.
A nice little beach was also available to visitors.

The welcome center is really a great place to stop, run to the toilet, browse all sorts of brochures.  The staff or volunteer (wasn’t sure which) was very knowledgeable and friendly – something I always like to check out being in the tourism business.  We stopped at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – the fact that “coral reef” was in the title was our first clue that this was a must-do.

Kayaking was another option at the park.
Kayaking was another option at the park.

It was really well sign-posted and is on the left as you’re driving down.  There are many things to do at this park.  We drove around a bit to really suss it out.  There is a beach, dive shop, seemingly plenty of various boat trips, kayak rentals and a well-stocked shop that included everything from sodas to towels and souvenir magnets.  We always have to check out the shop.

Pretty impressive mangroves were in abundance.
Pretty impressive mangroves were in abundance.

There were services also available including toilets and showers.  Parking wasn’t a problem when we visited in early June.  Additionally, there were plenty of picnic facilities around the park.  A lot of people were at the small beach that was roped off with what I assumed was netting to prevent sharks from entering – though I can’t say for sure.  We figured out that we could take a three hour snorkeling cruise out a few miles to the Grecian Rocks and with our own equipment it was roughly $30 each – a fee later we would decide was worth every penny and then some.

The Grecian Rocks were incredible.
The Grecian Rocks were incredible.

We waited for our boat to be called in a waiting area with others and when called we boarded with about twenty others.  We were given life jackets and instructions.  Everyone was pleasant and friendly.  We passed mangroves and got out to open sea fairly quickly – in no more than ten minutes – as the water turned a more and more gorgeous color.

Everyone was anxious to get off the boat and go snorkeling.
Everyone was anxious to get off the boat and go snorkeling.

Once we reached the Grecian Rocks, we got out and snorkeled around to the left of where a marker stood.  The water was incredibly clear and a nice sized barracuda was the first interesting thing we came across.   There was a lot of coral as well.  Those who hadn’t snorkeled before stayed behind and got a lesson by the captain and his assistant.  They were very considerate and kind.

This was an incredible school of fish we swam through.
This was an incredible school of fish we swam through.

As we went around it was very tempting to get closer to the coral but we kept our distance – which was pretty close.  Schools of fish swirled around us and hung out by the coral.  There were gorgeous parrot fish and large schools of other fish hanging by the coral.  

A nice sized barracuda was a friendly chap.
A nice sized barracuda was a friendly chap.

We saw a few more barracuda and some parrot fish and some others I wasn’t sure what they were (I’m just a total amateur who enjoys snorkeling and doesn’t know the names of all the fish by any means).

Fish were hiding everywhere.  Can you see the nice sized school here?
Fish were hiding everywhere. Can you see the nice sized school here?

We had probably an hour at the location and came back to the boat – a nice 42 footer – equipped with all the cold water you can drink.  About a twenty minute run back to the dock and the trip was over and totally incredible.  

My partner with the boat in the background.
My partner with the boat in the background.

This is easily something for someone who has never snorkeled or experienced people.  If this is your first time, you may be a little disappointed in other locations because this one is pretty great!  Happy travels.

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4 thoughts on “Snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

  1. Great write up! Now I have been here and to the Keys many many times and have been diving or snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, Costa Rica and The Dry Tortugas too, before but tomorrow I am planning my first trip after many years of not having traveled much. And now, with my 11 year old daughter so she can snorkel for the first time. We will also go visit Dolphin Cove and we want to find a beachfront cottage smaller mom and pop hotel to stay at. I’ll post my own blog if i make great discoveries once we get back.

  2. This is one of the best secrets of South Florida. When friends came down for a longer time, I added this an excursion. First, the drive can be a memorable drive especially around Lake Surprise. We would always go down US 1 and back on Card Sound Road on trips to the Keys. Second, I am glad you mentioned about gear rentals. It just makes the experience so easy, just show and you are off. I would honestly put this on one of the higher snorkeling experiences. I know you guys like kayaking, if you get a chance: Oleta River in North Miami Beach is nice and I had friends kayak down in the Keys (can’t remember their charter).

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