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Snorkeling Biscayne Bay Miami: The Ultimate Guide

Snorkeler explores the Mandalay Shipwreck

Snorkeling Biscayne Bay Miami offers access to vibrant coral reefs, shipwrecks, and an abundance of tropical fish just off the Florida coast. This complete guide covers everything you need to know to plan the perfect snorkeling adventure in Biscayne National Park and from the beaches of Key Biscayne.

Biscayne National Park, managed by park rangers, is one of the most popular spots for snorkeling trips in the Miami area and southern Florida. Located just off the coast, it offers easy access to a variety of tours and some of the best snorkeling spots in the state. The crystal clear waters surrounding the small islands and mangrove forests of Biscayne Bay provide incredible snorkeling opportunities. Stop by the Dante Fascell Visitor Center to speak with rangers and orient yourself before embarking on a snorkel trip in the park.

Operated by the nonprofit Biscayne National Park Institute, guided snorkeling tours provide a great way to experience the park’s abundance of marine life and colorful coral reefs. The northernmost section of the Florida Keys, Biscayne shares similarities with other popular snorkeling destinations like John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo and Dry Tortugas National Park near Key West.

This guide will walk you through the best spots and provide tips to help you plan the perfect snorkeling adventure in beautiful Biscayne Bay.

Best Places to Snorkel in Biscayne Bay

biscayne bay aerial view
Biscayne Bay” by Daniel Piraino is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Biscayne National Park

Home to the northernmost Florida Keys coral reef, Biscayne National Park offers some of the best snorkeling in Miami. Over 200 species of fish and over 575 species of plants inhabit the park. You can observe colorful reef fish like angelfish, parrotfish, and sergeant majors, as well as sea turtles, eagle rays and nurse sharks. The diversity and health of the coral reefs are outstanding.

The only way to access the park’s pristine reefs is by a guided snorkel tour, usually 3-4 hours long. The tours provide all necessary gear and instruction. Some companies that offer Biscayne snorkel tours include Biscayne National Underwater Park Inc., and private charters!

Key Biscayne

The beaches of Key Biscayne offer great shore snorkeling opportunities along with easy access. Crandon Park Beach has a designated snorkeling area with rentals available.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is also excellent for beginners, with calm, clear waters and interesting marine life near the shoreline. No boat required! Just park and enjoy the convenience of snorkeling straight from the beach.

Snorkeling at Biscayne National Park

In addition to vibrant coral reefs, one of the premier attractions for snorkelers in Biscayne National Park is the SS Arratoon Apcar shipwreck. This 287-foot long ship sank in 1878 and now rests in about 10 feet of water. It has become an artificial reef, encrusted in corals and sponges and attracting abundant marine life. Spotting the outline of the shipwreck while snorkeling in the park is a memorable experience.

Most snorkeling tours of the park will include a stop at the Arratoon Apcar. Tour lengths vary from 3-6 hours for half day trips and up to 8 hours for full day excursions. Most tours depart early morning from the Homestead Bayfront Park marina or from Downtown Miami.

The park is the northernmost section of the Florida Keys, similar to John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo and other popular snorkel spots in southern Florida.

Some top tour providers include:

  • Biscayne National Underwater Park – 4.5 hour tour, $59/adult, morning and afternoon departures from Homestead marina
  • Private Sailing Tour – 3.5 hour tour, $120/adult, pick a departure time from Phoenix Beach Volleyball Club, 2400 S Bayshore Dr, Miami, FL 33133, USA

The Mandalay Shipwreck

The most popular shipwreck site for snorkelers in Biscayne National Park is the Mandalay, a 110-foot schooner that sank in 1966. Now lying in about 12 feet of water, the Mandalay has become an artificial reef encrusted in coral and sponges and teeming with marine life. The shipwreck is one of the main attractions and most visited snorkeling spots in the Maritime Heritage Trail.

The luxury cruiser was headed back from a Bahamas voyage when it ran aground on New Year’s Day. While passengers were rescued, the exposed ship was ravaged by looters and salvagers. Failed recovery attempts left the Mandalay wrecked on the reef.

Most snorkeling tours make a stop at the Mandalay so you can explore the ship’s outline and peer into the portholes. Be sure to bring an underwater camera! Wearing a wetsuit is also recommended for warmth when snorkeling the steel-hulled wreck.

Marine Life at the Mandalay Schools of tropical fish like blue tang make the Mandalay wreck their home. You’re also likely to encounter parrotfish, trumpetfish, barracuda and more. Massive purple sea fans, sponges and corals now grow on the ship’s exterior. Keep an eye out for rays, turtles, and nurse sharks that frequent the artificial reef as well.

Snorkeling the Mandalay Tips

  • Arrive early before winds pick up
  • Watch currents; the shipwreck can create turbulence
  • Bring an underwater camera
  • Wear a wetsuit for warmth on the metal wreck
  • Take your time and explore all sides of the shipwreck

Snorkeling from Shore in Miami

Miami FL Virginia Key Beach Park04” by Ebyabe is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

For those looking to snorkel without taking a boat tour, the beaches of Key Biscayne offer the most convenient shore access.

Crandon Park Beach on Key Biscayne has a designated snorkeling area complete with a snorkeling trail map. The calm, shallow waters here make it a nice spot for beginners and families. There is plentiful parking and snorkel gear rentals available on-site. Expect to see blue tangs, parrotfish, pufferfish and more.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is another shore snorkeling destination on Key Biscayne. The clear waters host abundant tropical fish, rays, sea turtles and nurse sharks near the shoreline. Park entry is just $8 per vehicle and snorkel gear can be rented on-site. Be sure to snorkel at high tide when conditions are calmest.

When conditions permit, snorkeling is also feasible right from beaches on Virginia Key like the Historic Virginia Beach Park. Just be aware that windy days or heavy boat traffic can reduce visibility. Shore snorkeling is always weather-dependent, so check forecasts and water conditions before heading out. Never snorkel alone.

Snorkeling Guided Tours vs Self-Guided

Boat tours offer some great advantages for snorkeling Biscayne Bay but require an extra cost. The question is whether to take a guided snorkel tour or go it alone? Here are the main pros and cons of each option:

Pros of Guided Tours:

  • Access to the best snorkeling sites including coral reefs and shipwrecks only reachable by boat. This includes prime spots within Biscayne National Park.
  • Don’t have to own/rent boats and gear. Everything is provided.
  • Knowledgeable guides assist with spotting marine life and offer instruction if needed.
  • Usually includes lunch and amenities onboard.
  • No transportation logistics to worry about.

Pros of Self-Guided:

  • More flexibility on timing and location.
  • Can snorkel for as long or short as you want.
  • No crowds or sticking to a group schedule.
  • Cheaper overall cost without tour fees.
  • Good option for experienced snorkelers.
  • Snorkel gear can be rented in places like Coconut Grove and Miami Beach before heading out.

If taking a private boat, snorkel gear can be rented from outfits like Blue Moon Outdoor Center, which also provides snorkeling maps of the bay. No boat? No problem. Opt to snorkel from the shoreline beaches of Key Biscayne instead.

What to Expect When Snorkeling in Biscayne Bay

underwater photo of turtle while snorkeling

Conditions

Biscayne Bay offers mostly calm, shallow waters ideal for snorkeling. Average water temperature is around 75°F. Visibility ranges from 15-30 feet depending on location. Some sections have stronger currents, so pay attention to weather forecasts before going. Early morning hours generally offer the calmest conditions. Being a confident swimmer and going with a small group or private trip for the best snorkeling experience.

Marine Life

Some marine life commonly spotted while snorkeling include:

  • Tropical fish like parrotfish, blue tang, sergeant majors, angelfish, pufferfish and more
  • Sponges, hard and soft corals
  • Rays like southern stingrays and spotted eagle rays
  • Green and loggerhead sea turtles
  • Octopus, shrimps, lobsters, urchins
  • Nurse sharks, barracuda, tarpon

Nearby Attractions

After visiting Biscayne National Park, consider exploring these other South Florida sights:

  • Everglades National Park – Take a wetlands tour or kayak through the grassy “River of Grass”
  • Robert is Here – Homestead fruit stand famous for milkshakes and key lime pies
  • Coral Castle Museum – Offbeat attraction with stone structures hand-carved by one man
  • Card Sound Road – Scenic drive to Alabama Jack’s, a lively Keys-style restaurant/bar

With so much to see both in and out of the water, a trip to snorkel Biscayne Bay promises adventure on land and under the sea!

FAQ’s about Snorkeling Biscayne Bay Miami

Q: When is the best time of year to snorkel Biscayne Bay?

A: The best conditions are typically December through April when water temperatures are warmest (70-80°F) and winds are calmer.

Q: What should I wear when snorkeling?


A: Wear a wetsuit or rash guard for warmth and protection. Reef-safe sunscreen, masks/fins, and floatation devices are also recommended.

Q: Where can I rent snorkel gear?

A: Many tour operators include gear with trips. In Miami, snorkel rentals are available at places like Diver’s Paradise and Blue Moon Outdoor Center.

Q: Are there dangerous animals to watch out for?

A: Sharks, jellyfish, fire coral – but incidents are rare. Just be aware of surroundings and don’t provoke marine life.

Q: Where can I see shipwrecks?

A: The Mandalay wreck in Biscayne National Park is a top snorkeling shipwreck. Guided tours typically include stops there.

Snorkeling Biscayne Bay Miami Recap

With access to vibrant coral reefs, historic shipwrecks, and crystal clear waters perfect for spotting tropical fish, Biscayne National Park is a premier snorkeling destination. Guided boat trips from Convoy Point or full-day tours to islands like Elliott Key offer the best way to discover the park’s underwater world. For those short on time, the area beaches also provide great snorkeling right from shore. Whichever way you choose to explore, be prepared for an amazing aquatic adventure in beautiful Biscayne Bay!

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