Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park

A Stunning Underwater Paradise

Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park

Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park is spectacular with crystal clear waters, colorful and healthy coral reefs brimming with marine life, and shipwrecks that lie in relatively shallow water.

This underwater paradise is just the beginning of the third largest coral reef in the world (after Australia's and Belize's Barrier Reefs), and it extends southwards for another 170 miles into the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The offshore reefs within Biscayne National Park waters are only reachable by boat, there is no beach or shore diving at the park from either the mainland or the small keys.

Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park

The Park provides year-round daily snorkel tours to the reefs through their Concessioner. The boats leave from the jetty at the visitor center. Programs may differ from season to season so it is best to check before you head out.

Snorkeling Tour at Biscayne National Park

Before our snorkel tour, there was a short orientation about the Park, the reefs, conservation, marine life, do's and dont's to protect the reef and its inhabitants, etc.

The orientations are provided by park staff or volunteers and are a great introduction of what you are about to see.

Then everyone was outfitted with mask, fins and snorkel and a snorkeling vest and we were off! The trip to the reef takes about one hour.

During our tour, they were combining both the snorkel trip with the Boca Chita Key trip. We first dropped off the folks that were going to the island and then the boat took us to the wonderful living corals where we readily jumped into these underwater gardens that exploded with color...

It is just amazing that so much color and life can exist so close to a mega city like Miami, the park is only a half-hour away from the hustle and bustle, practically next-door.

Beautiful Coral Reefs at Biscayne National Park

We spent approximately an hour on the reef and saw a lobster, many schools of pretty fish, beautiful hard and soft corals, little shrimps, fans and sponges, and what we think was a moray eel hiding in the rocks!

There were parrot fish, squirrel fish, trumpet fish, angel fish, and whole school of striking blue tangs...

Beautiful Coral Reefs and Sea Fans at Biscayne National Park

Lobster at Biscayne National Park

Seafans at Biscayne National Park

After our snorkel, it was time to get back on the boat. We stopped at Boca Chita to pick up the rest, and headed back to the dock at the Visitor Center. Overall, plan on minimum of three hours, maybe four, it is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon!

What to Bring Along

  • Sun protection: One hour in the water is a long time, even if it is overcast. A thin swim shirt that provides UV protection and is quick drying is great for snorkeling.
  • Towel, sunglasses, hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Lots of drinking water
  • You can bring a cooler onboard to keep snacks and drinks
  • And a waterproof camera of course!

Booking a Snorkel Trip at Biscayne National Park

Tours are ran by the Biscayne National Park Institute. They have daily morning and afternoon trips to the reefs, wrecks or bay depending on the weather and cost $64 per person. These group snorkel tours are temporarily suspended.

Small-Group Snorkel Experience is limited to 6 passengers maximum or 3 groups (families) per trip maximum and cost $99 per person. Private option available.

Mask, snorkel, and fins can be rented for an additional cost. At this time, there is no rental of snorkeling gear, you must bring your own.

There are also longer cruise excursions, about 6 hours, that combine snorkeling, paddling, and island visits and cost $159 per person. These are smaller groups with a maximum of 4 or 3 (family) groups per trip.

Snorkel Tour Boats leave from Biscayne National Park headquarters, you first check in at the store next to the Visitor Center.

At this time, reservations will only be accepted online and with your own device. There will not be a computer or tablet available on site for you to book.

In addition, snorkeling tours will follow enhanced safety and health measures:

  • Facial coverings are required to be worn from the time you are waiting to check-in until you off-board the vessel after the completion of the activity. This is in accordance to Miami-Dade County regulations. Facial coverings are not required for the short time of preparing enter the water to snorkel.
  • A brightly colored swim vest must be worn and will be provided but you are encouraged to bring your own if you have one. At this time, you will be instructed NOT to inflate the borrowed vest since this is done through the mouthpiece. If you require additional flotation you can request a pool noodle. Vests and pool noodles will be sanitized after each use.
  • Social distancing guidelines on piers and boats must be followed.

More Info: Snorkel Trips Biscayne National Park

FAQ - Biscayne Park or Pennekamp Park?

We often get asked which park is better for snorkeling, Biscayne Park or Pennekamp Park in Key Largo. There are plus and minuses to both. Here's our take:

The reefs and what you will see are comparable at both locations, it will depend on the conditions at the time of your excursion and luck, remember that each dive/snorkel is different.

Despite being slightly closer to Miami, Biscayne Park does not get the "tourist traffic" that Pennekamp does. On the plus side, boats at Biscayne are normally less crowded and the pace less hectic than at Pennekamp. On the minus side, if you are set on snorkeling the reef, please keep in mind that depending on weather conditions, this may not be possible and you will snorkel the bayside area instead. You need to inquire on the day of your visit, this is important specially for visitors that come to the park for the sole purpose of snorkeling the reefs.

Snorkel tours are also more expensive at Biscayne Park. Pennekamp snorkel tours for adults cost $29.95 vs $59 - $64+ at Biscayne.

Please note that the Concessioner that provides the snorkel trips is separate from the National Park. There have been many different outfits filling the position over the years, at the moment the current concessioner is the Biscayne National Park Institute. The staff is extremely helpful and will try to accomodate any reasonable requests.

If snorkeling on the reef is a priority, you can also consider heading down to the Keys. Pennekamp is one of the popular options, but there are literally hundreds of operators along the Keys corridor.

Here's more on Snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Here's more on Snorkeling in Miami and nearby.

FAQ - What about Scuba Diving Trips or Glass-Bottom Cruises?

We have not seen any Scuba Diving for certified divers or Glass-Bottom cruises running from the Park's Visitor Center although many are offered by outfits authorized to operate within the waters of the park and leave from their own different locations in Miami, Miami Beach or the Florida Keys. For a list of current tour operators and their offerings click here. Key Largo which is not far away of course offers many alternatives for both activities.

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