Beginner’s guide to Looe Key snorkeling

florida keys water

I used to spend my winters working in Florida (less glamorous than it sounds, believe me) and I’m willing to try almost anything once (unless it involves jumping out of anything or close encounters with carnivorous animals). On a weekend getaway to Key West, my then-boyfriend (now husband) suggested going snorkeling. Despite my initial anxiety about ocean creatures, we had a blast at Looe Key.

Why should I go to Looe Key?

The Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center is reasonably priced and came highly recommended by our resident Key West expert/friend who lives in the Keys. For $39 per person, you get a half day of snorkeling plus all the equipment that comes with. If forget sunscreen, they also sell biodegradable, reef-friendly sunscreen for only a few bucks (I was 100% convinced I would shell out $20 for an 8-ounce container. Not so!).

The dive center is actually located on Ramrod Key, about a 35-minute drive from Key West proper. We were staying on Summerland Key, so it was a bit shorter from there. It’s super easy to find and is literally right off the highway, so you can’t miss it.

What should I expect for my snorkeling trip?

The staff was super helpful and friendly, and we boarded the boat with about a dozen or so other people. Based on my first snorkeling experience, I assumed we would be staying right by the shore. I thought that was the only place you could go snorkeling – going further out was clearly for scuba diving and advanced people far beyond my bravery level.

I didn’t realize we were legitimately going out into the ocean. Quickly, the shoreline disappeared as we motored into open water. Coupled with the fact that our boat captain told us we would see “anything and everything” (read: sharks), by the time we stopped at our first dive site I was starting to worry I was getting in over my head.

I reminded myself that thousands of idiots go snorkeling every year, and silenced the anxiety devil on my shoulder. I hopped in the water with only a sliiiight death grip on Billy’s hand. As soon as I looked underwater (again, no experience necessary – put on the mask, the fins, keep the tube above water, and breathe) I knew this adventure was going to be worth it.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the thousands of beautiful tropical fish we saw amongst the coral reef, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were there. They have a professional photographer that follows you around, but I quickly discovered I looked much less graceful underwater than I imagined. We didn’t get any photos.

What do you see underwater?

We saw a ton of different fish, including a goliath grouper that scared the pants off of me. They weigh about 200 pounds, and this one was particularly friendly and kept trying to swim at my face.

And yes, we saw a shark.

A small-ish blacktip shark that was very far away and not swimming at me. Thanks to the herd mentality, I remained calm and could actually enjoy the fact that I was seeing this incredibly cool creature. It’s amazing what happens when you’re in a group of other people that are all dying to see a shark.

Is Looe Key super touristy?

The staff at Looe Key is awesome and have the sense of humor that comes with running a touristy business. We had everyone from experienced scuba divers to extremely stupid spring breakers on our boat, and we all had a blast. Except for the one spring breaker who got horrifically seasick, which was actually awesome because he wasn’t barfing, just sick enough that he stopped talking, which is what everyone really wanted.

What if I get hungry while we’re on the boat?

For the perpetually hungry, like myself, there were snacks on the boat and our captain even grilled up some hot dogs. You have to pay for lunch, but the captain just keeps a tab and charges your card when you get back, which is super convenient. After lunch, we motored around to another destination for more diving, before circling around a shallower area to look for sea turtles.

For completing your dive, you also get a drink ticket to the oh-so-Floridian tiki bar back on dry land. Delicious tropical drinks, excellent adventuring, and plenty of sunshine – what more could you ask for?

Answer: this hat.

souvenir shark bite hat at looe key reef resort in key west

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

8 thoughts on “Beginner’s guide to Looe Key snorkeling

  1. This post is great! I’ve gone snorkeling and I’ve gone swimming with sharks (both intentionally and not-so-intentionally) and the experiences were amazing! I was thinking a trip to the Keys would be fun, especially for snorkeling (and now maybe to do some volunteering too), and it sounds like this was a great place for that 🙂 Way to go out of your comfort zone in the open water and it sounds like it was a fantastic experience! Haha I laughed out loud at the grouper being particularly friendly and the spring breaker making everyone happy by being just sick enough not to talk much 😂 And I hope you bought that hat!!

    1. I wish I could remember! They just sold it at the dive shop and I’ve yet to see it anywhere else, but I have seen other reef-friendly brands after googling for a separate trip. Wish I could be more helpful!

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