Under the Sea

The first time I went snorkeling it was at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, Florida.  That was a long time ago and since then I’ve snorkeled in various Caribbean spots, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji and even the Great Barrier Reef.  Returning to Pennekamp as a seasoned veteran, I was curious how I would view the experience.

If you are new to snorkeling, Pennekamp is a perfect place to start.  About an hour south of Miami, Key Largo is the northern most of the Florida Keys so its easier access than all the other coral reefs.  The park is easy to find and the entrance well signed.

You can book your reservation on line and you’ll get an email confirmation. We also got a follow up call the morning of our scheduled tour. Be sure to arrive at the concession stand an hour before your tour time and park entry fee is extra.

The price was reasonable (under $30), less than most other snorkel excursions elsewhere. They rent fins, masks and a snorkel that’s yours to keep. If the water is a few degrees too cold for you (it was 77 and I found it comfortable after the initial shock) you can also rent a wetsuit for only a few dollars more.

Its also the only place I’ve ever been where they provide and require snorkel vests which is great for new snorkelers or those uncomfortable in open ocean.

Christ Statue PennekampThe boat ride out to the reef was scenic and gave us a sampling of the mangrove forest you can also kayak through. The reefs are about 5 miles off shore and the one they take you to depends on weather and sea conditions. I had hoped to visit the undersea Christ statue but the ideal conditions gave us the rare chance to visit Banana Reef instead.

We saw a nice assortment of sea life from Parrotfish, Damselfishvarious Damselfish, Puffers and numerous Barracuda swimming through and around the fan coral. There are schools of tiny fish, colorful fish and squid that I can’t name. The water is clear with great visibility.

There’s a snack shop, gift shop, cold water showers to rinse the salt off when you return and clean restrooms with changing stalls so bring dry clothes for a more comfortable ride back to your base hotel.

BarracudaIts a well run operation, a relatively low cost outing and a great look under the sea.  It’s an easy “add on” to a Miami or Fort Lauderdale visit and well worth a day.  New snorkelers will be hooked, I know I was – and still am!


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