Viewing the beauty and wonder of the coral reef in the Florida Keys is an experience you will never forget. Instead of taking a boat tour of the reef, stay active on your vacation by snorkeling! Snorkeling the best way to get up close to the diverse ecosystem and its inhabitants--fish, eels, coral, urchins and other marine life--and burns approximately 435 calories per hour for an average, 145-pound individual. Bahia Honda State Park, in the lower Florida Keys, is a popular destination for snorkeling, because it offers snorkeling in shallow water just off the shore for those starting out, as well as snorkeling at greater depths for more experienced snorkelers.
About the Park
The 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park, founded in 1961, occupies most of the Bahia Honda island. It is located 30 miles north of Key West, directly north of the Seven Mile Bridge. On its west side is one of the deepest natural channels in the Florida Keys.
Where to Snorkel
You can snorkel in the shallow water, only four to six feet deep, just a few hundred feet from the Bahia Honda Key's shore. Or take an hour-long boat trip to the reef at Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, 12 miles away. The water depths there reach five to 15 feet and allow for viewing a more active part of the ecosystem with a wider variety of plants and animals.
Equipment is available for rent right on Bahia island, and the boat crew provides you with a safety vest and instructs you on how to snorkel before you go. There is no age limit, but all snorkelers must be able to swim and all children must be accompanied by an adult.
Hours and Fees
Bahia Honda State Park is open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset. The concession building is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The entrance fee is $8 per vehicle with two to eight people. It is only $4 for a single occupant. The entrance fee for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers and passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass is $2. In addition, there is a $.50 Monroe County Surcharge per person. All prices as of 2010.
The Florida Keys are home to more than 600 species of marine animals, as well as sea birds, marine plants and amphibians such as the giant sea turtle. Many different types of rays, such as the Leopard, Cow, Manta, and Stinging, have all been seen in the area, as well as various types of sharks, like the Nurse, Blacktip and Hammerhead. You may also see eels, coral, urchins, conchs, dolphins, porpoises, jewfish, marlins, sailfish, pilot fish, barracudas and dozens of other fish species. You can expect to see some of these animals on a snorkel around the shores of Bahia Honda State Park and the reef at Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.
The fun doesn't have to stop with snorkeling. The Bahia Honda State Park also offers wide variety of exercise activities to keep you fit, such as swimming, camping, boating, fishing and kayaking. Or if you'd rather stay inland, bike or hike on one of the three nature trails on the island. You can also visit Wings and Waves Butterfly Garden, where you may be able to view the tiny endangered Miami Blue butterfly.
Do not touch the coral. Not only is it against the law, it is also incredibly harmful to the fragile ecosystem. Any coral you see for sale in gift shops has been imported from other countries that do not have laws to protect their reefs.
The water can be cool in the winter months, so a wetsuit is recommended.
- Snorkel image by LenseGoneBad from Fotolia.com