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Key Largo - The Sight – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

(pronounced Pennay as in the pasta, Kamp.)


One of the things I love about the State Parks in Florida is that if you're single in a car you'll very likely pay half the quoted rate, so it's really only a couple of bucks per person to go to the visitor centre and the land based part of the park, but, as the first underwater state park it is, of course, what lies beneath that most people are interested in.


The visitor centre will start you off with a look at some of the wildlife you'll find out there in a small aquarium and information on the park itself and how it came to be.  There's also an excellent gift shop and snack bar (but don't forget the Key Largo Conch House is just around the corner which is also super!)


There is camping, fishing, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, a glass bottomed boat to explore the coral, boat hire, kayak hire and even a shipwreck 100 feet off the coast to enjoy (and I didn't know that until I just looked at the website!)


I actually got out on my first ever snorkelling trip with a different company, but it still takes you into park waters for your trip.  The hotel recommended them as sometimes the park trips can be a bit busy and "flippers in your face", but if you visit the popular underwater Statue of Christ it's really going to be like that anyway as a lot of snorkelling boats will congregate here no matter who you go with.  Personally I wasn't that bothered about the statue, in theory, yes, but when I got there I was much more excited about the colourful fish and coral all around.


The team I went with were excellent – and like John Pennekamp they split out the snorkelling and scuba trips.  The safety instructions and "how to snorkel" lesson were easy to follow and you really can come here for your first time.  Other passengers who have snorkelled were also really supportive and friendly when I was getting nervous.  It takes about an hour or so to get out to the snorkel locations and I was pretty nervous by then, add in the safety talk and I got really nervous – not about my own safety – but about how to avoid damaging the coral when you're out there.  Just touching the coral can kill it, and with those big flippers on I was seriously worried that I might kick something I shouldn't.  For this reason the boat took us out to a section of coral that "rises up" on one side, so we could comfortable in the deeper water away from the coral before swimming alongside it.  We didn't quite make it over there and this was quite a boring swim, but I really needed it.  As soon as we got out of the boat I took a practice go underwater and it was great, but as soon as I swam a few metres away from the boat I started to panic and my breathing went to pot and I just wanted to pull my mask off and breath through my nose.  I couldn't bear the thought of putting my face underwater (even though I swim underwater in the pool).  Finally I tried to do just one breath underwater, then two, then three, and then I was fine.


Whichever team you go with they will probably ask you to swim in a buddy system – two to three of you – and this is so important for safety, not least because it's often easier to spot jellyfish that someone else is headed for.  Unfortunately there was at least one person on the boat who wasn't listening and decided to wander off by himself, which was extremely worrying when he was heading for a group of jellyfish and then dropped out of sight.  As I was by myself I asked a charming father and son if I could buddy with them as we'd been chatting up top of the boat, their response; "we were going to ask you anyway." Although initially I felt like a dead weight, when I’d spotted a few jellyfish and warned them I felt pretty useful!  Whereas the guy who was swimming buddy-less ended up stung and getting a talking to back on the boat (from me – not the captain!)


Speaking of the jellyfish yes, I did get stung, but after a quick spray from the purple bottle on the boat (which I really hope WAS vinegar) it faded in a few minutes, but apparently each type of jellyfish is different.


Unfortunately I also got extremely seasick, which usually never happens to me.  The trick to avoiding sea sickness is to always keep your eyes on the sea – of course, exhilarated from the first dip in the sea I was talking to my buddies and eating bananas.  (Of course the cup of coconut water and half a fresh coconut I inhaled on the way out may not have helped.)  At which point the dive master yelled out "Whose bag has the bananas in it?"  Apparently it is bad luck to bring bananas onto a boat (who knew!) and unfortunately things did go downhill from there with our third snorkelling spot so full of jellyfish that only a determined few got out of the boat.  And then, of course, there was the hour on the boat back to the marina.  Luckily the crew had already given us our seasickness talk, so it was to the very back of the boat to hang on and let rip if need be.  By the time I left the boat everyone was being very nice to me as I got it the worst, I even felt carsick driving back to the hotel, and it was only when I spent a good few hours in the hammock that afternoon that I felt better (although the tea and Key Lime Pie were good too!)


I still felt a bit wobbly the next day driving up the coast, so it's good to remember that you can also snorkel pretty close to the shore here and have a chat with the park rangers about where to get a good look.  Of course, I visited the park on the morning I was driving up to Vero Beach and they told me that that was by far the best day to get out with very calm seas – so if you can, plan your trip to cover a few days so you get a really good day out on the reefs.










I went with Keys Diver


AFTERNOON 3 LOCATION MINI-CRUISE (over 2 hours water time) departs daily at 12:15pm and is $36.95 per person. This tour features the Christ statue as one of the stops. Tour returns around 5pm.

Price includes equipment!


Children 10 and under $5.00 off above prices.


Prices include gear (mask, fins, snorkel and safety vest) and instruction. Prices do not include taxes or crew gratuity.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park


Single entry around $5


Snorkelling Tours

Adult $29.95

Under 18 $24.95

Times: 9am, 12pm, 1:45pm, 3pm

2½ Hour Tours

Between 1 hour and 1½ hours water time


Equipment Rental

Mask $2

Fins $2

Souvenir Snorkel $5

Semi-Dry Snorkel $9.95

Dry Snorkel $19.95

Corrective Mask $5

Half Wet Suit $6

Safety vest is provided at no charge.


4½ Hour Extended

Snorkel Adventure

Per Person $38.95

2 locations or more.

Time: 9:00am

All gear rental rates apply.

No additional discounts.

For your added comfort, these tours operate at a reduced capacity.

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