South Beach sometimes gets a bad rap for snorkeling and scuba diving. While beautiful to relax on, sandy beaches just don’t make for good snorkeling. Having said that, South Beach does hold its own as a snorkeling base. The nearby Biscayne National Park is an obvious choice for snorkelers, with a good variety of sites to hit up. Then there’s the lesser-known local favorites, like Key Largo and Looe Key. Overall, snorkeling is totally possible around South Beach; you just need to know where to look.
Biscayne National Park
Starting just a few minutes south of South Beach, Biscayne National Park is the jewel of Miami’s snorkeling community. It’s an absolute must-see, with plenty of great snorkeling options. Half Moon and Emerald Reef are two local favorites, while mangrove trips are also quite popular.
The park features an impressive amount of natural variety. The oft-swampy shorelines give way to coral reefs and clear waters in the south, and transitional, sandy islands in the north. The park is also home to the Florida Reef – one of the largest reefs of its kind in the world. Finally, a visit to the sunken Mandalay is almost mandatory, and is one of the few truly impressive shipwrecks that are reachable by snorkeling.
Almost all snorkeling tour groups hit up Biscayne National Park, with trips usually costing around $40 to $100 per person.
Did you know the world’s largest coral barrier reef is just next door to South Beach? Key Largo boasts North America’s only living coral barrier reef. It’s perhaps better suited to scuba, but avid snorkelers can still get a few kicks out of this one. After all, this is some of the best diving in the world, with hidden treasure and some good fish. In fact, the area has been a national park since 1975, making it one of the best protected diving spots anywhere around Miami. From South Beach, Key Largo can be easily reached within an hour. Find out more details here.
Blue Heron Bridge
Less known than Key Largo and Biscayne, Blue Heron is small but impressive. Located just inside the Lake Worth Inlet, the Blue Heron Bridge has some good shallow diving opportunities, with a surprisingly varied amount of marine animals to see. Seahorses, batfish and pipefish are all commonly seen, and the clear waters make for good photography. The best thing is that all this can be seen at depths of barely 16 feet, making Blue Heron a good stepping stone for newer snorkelers looking to get their feet wet (both metaphorically and practically speaking).
Closer to South Beach, Looe Key is a bit of a local secret. It’s a great spot to get up close and personal with tropical fish, with angelfish being particularly common around here. There’s a lot of natural variety across Looe, too, with sudden drops and a good mix of corals. Around the deeper parts of the reef, you can even occasionally see eagle rays and turtles. While rare, whale sharks have also been seen here.
More aimed at beginners, Crandon Park is a nice, quiet spot for a bit of a swim. Snorkelers will find gentle waters calmed by sand bars. You can see a surprising amount of tropical fish around, but not much else. Tours from Crandon Park also offer snorkeling trips to the Bear Cut Preserve’s fossilized reef, where spotted eagle rays are commonly seen.