A Snorkeling Trip to Islamorada Key
Islamorada Key offers many pleasures such as sports fishing in the Atlantic Ocean or Florida Bay (Gulf side of the waters), Ecotours, and much more. This weekend's getaway trip wasnít for any of those purposes - our adventure included snorkeling in the wonderful coral formations just off Islamorada Key.
For this trip we towed our boat down the I-95 corridor, through Miami and south of Miami to US1 which takes us south through the Florida Keys. Islamorada is located in the upper keys. People generally use Marathon Key to mark the mid-point and Islamorada is located above Marathon and south of Key Largo. We have reservations in a quaint little beach front cottage-style motel for our trip. There is a wide choice of lodging available in Islamorada and the surrounding keys but we had heard this spot was both affordable and well situated.
After a good nightís sleep we get up with the sun to see whatís happening on Islamorada. The water is calm, the beach outside our lodging is flat and there are none of the familiar Florida dunes of the upper coastline. People are already out, putting boats in the water, taking fishing gear out, and getting ready for a full day of fun. Charter fishing is available, and some people are getting ready to go on a fishing trip. For others, glass bottom boat tours of the coral are available as well for those who donít snorkel or dive.
We go to find a store to stock our boat with soda, ice, snacks, and a dive flag - every trip we forget something and this time it is our dive flag. You canít go in the water from your boat without flying a dive flag. Not only is it dangerous because a boat could accidentally run you down but it is also the law and the Coast Guard will give you a ticket for a possible hefty fine if you donít fly your dive flag.
Islamorada is actually made up of four islands bounded on the east by the Atlantic and west by Florida Bay. We stock our boat and head out to find a convenient public boat ramp. Locating one is not difficult - boat ramps in this part of the country are everywhere. We select a ramp and put our 21 foot power boat into the water. Having selected a ramp on the Bay side, we motor between islands and out to sea. Of course, we have in our possession a good nautical map indicating the water depths to ensure that we wonít run aground. The map also makes locating the coral gardens easy. The gardens are so close to shore, we can spot our motel less than one-half mile away.
Not only does the nautical map direct us very well but the site was easy to spot because of several other boats anchored near the coral. We choose a spot just off the coral and drop anchor. While we are out in the water and there are far fewer laws governing behavior, there are still some good rules to follow. For instance, itís important to anchor off the coral to protect this fragile natural resource. It is also very important to only view the coral but not touch it. Corals are living creatures and necessary to the ecological structure of the oceans. Some corals have natural defense mechanisms and sting, but more importantly, touching the coral can destroy it. Further, if you want coral mementos to take home, buy them in a gift shop! Do not try to collect coral in the ocean. That, too, is illegal. You can get your coral confiscated and still get a major fine!
At anchor, we sort out our snorkeling gear and mount our dive flag on the front of the boat. Snorkeling doesnít require a lot of expensive gear or training. A mask, a snorkel, and optionally, swim fins are all that you need. We moisten our masks in the salt water and shake most of the water off them. This provides a good seal, avoiding water leakage. With our gear on, we look a bit silly in the boat and laugh at each other. Allowing ourselves to fall off the side of the boat, we get into the mighty Atlantic. The water here is not deep - about 20 feet - but it is certainly too deep to stand up. I place my mask in the water and look toward the coral garden and canít believe my eyes! The beautiful coral is everywhere in amazing formations. Brain corals, fan corals, corals of every color and shape, with small fish darting in and out of the formations, are just ahead of me!
I swim over, place my snorkel in my mouth, making sure it is clear of water, and begin swimming with my head in the water, the snorkel extending above the water so that I can breathe freely. Floating and swimming around the coral gardens, I remain in complete awe of the beauty I am seeing so close at hand. The water is so clear and blue, the coral so awe-inspiriting. My swim partner is doing the same. We try to remain aware of where the other swimmers are and not encroach on their space. There is plenty of beauty for everyone and room to see it all. I could easily stay here for hours and hours, however, after an hour or so the task of swimming makes me tired and I return to the boat and take off my snorkel gear. Soon, my swim partner does the same thing. We sit in the boat and refresh ourselves with water and soft drinks while soaking up some sun.
After a respite we take the dive flag down, hoist anchor, and decide to head out in the Atlantic for a while to enjoy the sun and water. We motor out with no particular destination in mind and when surrounded by water, kill the engine and lay about on the boat in the bright sun, diving into the water occasionally to cool off a bit. We drift along wherever the current takes us for a couple of hours. (A word about the sun here - we are Florida residents and have a well-defined tan already. We can lie in the sun without burning. If you are visiting be cautious of the sun if you do not have a natural tan. Sunburn is painful and can, in severe cases, cause ďsun poisoningĒ which will send you on a trip to the nearest Emergency Room. Use sunblock and limit your time in the harsh sun of the Keys).
After a while, we eat some snacks and decide itís time to return to land. Motoring back to our boat ramp we stop to view the coral garden a bit more, again posting the dive flag and preparing our equipment. By now both of us are lazy from the sun and tired from swimming, so we make this visit brief. The coral is still amazing and I just canít believe such beauty is so near to shore. Upon re-boarding the boat we take down the dive flag and stow our snorkel gear, hoist anchor and head back to land to explore the other pleasures Islamorada has to offer. We hoist our boat back onto its trailer and pull it back to our motel, which offers an area to park your boat trailer so you can disconnect your vehicle for sightseeing. Of course, we decide naps are in order before our next trip out to see the sights!
Iíve snorkeled lots of places in Florida, but the coral gardens at Islamorada will never be forgotten as one of the best snorkel trips ever. Anyone wishing to visit Islamorada should locate lodging, first. Motels and hotels change over time and you will find something that is nice and in your price range. On the Internet you can locate all the many things to do on Islamorada besides snorkeling - fine dining, glass bottom boat trips, sunset cruises, tours, history, shopping, etc. Whatever you choose to do while in Islamorada, you will have fun!
Islamorada Chamber of Commerce sites offers information on lodging, events, area services and much more.
Nearby cities to check for activities and attractions: Key West, Key Largo, Tavernier and Marathon. Visit the best park in the Keys - Bahia Honda State Park.
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