South of Islamorada, the snorkeling at Cheeca Rocks is well known with local snorkelers for its scattered coral heads in 10 foot deep water. The area is also known as the Islamorada Underwater Coral Gardens and is formally called the Cheeca Rocks Sanctuary Preservation Area. It is located about 3 miles south-southwest of Windley Key and is one mile directly offshore of Matecumbe. It is halfway between the Keys and the main outer reef. This inshore patch reef has a nice collection of brain coral, mushroom coral, fire coral and star coral spread over 0.05 square nautical miles. During Cheeca Rocks snorkeling, you may encounter conch, sea turtles, parrotfish, triggerfish, hogfish, wrasse, butterflyfish, blue tangs, angelfish, spotted eagle rays, snook and tarpon. Since it is well inside the main outer reef, the water tends to be greener in color than the bluer water further offshore.
After snorkeling, check out the Morada Bay Beach Cafe on Islamorada.
While the snorkeling at Cheeca Rocks is possible year-round, most snorkelers usually shoot for March through September. There is usually some rolling surf at most snorkeling sites off Islamorada, while you can expect the flatest surf conditions from June through August.
When using a dive boat charter to reach the dive site, make sure to reconfirm the reservation the afternoon prior. Most dive boats select the site the afternoon prior or even the morning of the dive. Also, most dive boats have a minimum passenger requirement in order to leave dock meaning they may cancel at the last minute, so when reverifying the afternoon prior ask how many reservations they have.
To reach the snorkeling in the Florida Keys by air, there are several options. The most popular option is to fly into Miami International Airport (MIA), which is served by all major US and international airlines. Also nearby, a potentially lower cost option is to fly into Ft Lauderdale airport (FLL). From either of these airports, you can rent a car to drive south on the Florida Turnpike a couple hours to reach the Florida Keys (watch out for automated cash-less toll highways along the way). Alternately, you can fly into Key West International Airport (EYW) which is served by several airlines including United/Silver Airways, Delta, USAir and Southwest. If you don’t mind coming into Key West, there is also the regular Key West Express ferry service (4 hours) that runs from Ft Myers.
Overall, Cheeca Rocks is the 39th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 40 snorkeling dives in the Florida Keys.