East of Key West and southwest of Big Pine Key, the snorkeling at Looe Key is a very popular day trip that some consider the best snorkel dive in the Lower Keys. Located within the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, Looe Key itself is a spur-and-groove reef formation that has healthy formations of elkhorn coral, brain coral, staghorn coral and fire coral with magnificent purple sea fans swaying back and forth. While snorkeling at Looe Key Reef, you can expect to see parrotfish, barracuda, hogfish, angelfish, barracuda, moray eels, sergeant majors, yellowtail, butterflyfish, lionfish, file fish, Queen Angelfish, French Angelfish, giant grouper, carribean reef lobsters, southern stingrays, spotted eagle rays, moon jellyfish, green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, nurse sharks and black-tipped reef sharks. The sharks tend to be found in the deeper grooves on the west end of the Looe Key Reef. The water depth ranges from 4 to 35 feet deep, and the best snorkeling is in the morning when the winds are usually calmer. Definitely do mulitple dives here especially on the eastern and western ends.
Looe Key is not really a key but a series of reefs that are part of the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. It is named after the wreck of the HMS Looe (1744), which is still marked by its left over ballist stones. Overall, the reef group is 200 yards wide by 800 yards long and is marked by over 50 white/blue mooring buoys.
It is located about 6 miles off Big Pine Key. The best private boat launch is the Cudjoe Key boat ramp. From the Bahia Honda State Park, there is a park concession, Coral Reef Park Company, that operates a daily snorkeling tour out to Looe Key that are usually at 9:30am, 1:30pm and 4:45pm. There are also to other nearby private snorkeling tour companies that run out to Looe Key, which typically do two or three dive sites starting from Ramrod Key.
To reach the snorkeling in Key West, fly into Key West International Airport (EYW), which is served by several airlines including United/Silver Airways, Delta, USAir and Southwest. Alternately, there is also the regular Key West Express ferry service (4 hours) that runs from Ft Myers to Key West. It is a 1.25 hour drive from Key West to the marinas near Big Pine Key.
TIP - When using a dive boat charter to reach the Looe Key dive site, make sure to reconfirm the reservation the afternoon prior AND the morning on that day. All of the snorkel tour boats have a minimum number of paid guests required to go out.
Overall, Looe Key is the 6th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 40 snorkeling dives in the Florida Keys.