John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The on-shore attractions at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (102601 Overseas Hwy., 305/451-6300, www.floridastateparks.org/pennekamp, 8 a.m.–sunset daily, $3.50) aren’t the main draw. There are three beautiful white-sand beaches—which is about three more than many other state parks in the Keys have—and some picnic areas, campsites, and a unique visitors’ center with a massive saltwater aquarium as its centerpiece.
The primary attraction at Pennekamp, however, lies a few miles away from shore in clear shallow waters that house an abundance of coral reefs. The park offers 2.5-hour snorkeling tours ($29.95 adults, $24.95 children) that leave for these reefs at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m.; with depths between 5 and 15 feet, these snorkeling areas are rich with coral and tropical fish.
At Dry Rocks reef, snorkelers can see Guido Galletti’s 8.5-foot-tall bronze statue, Christ of the Abyss, extending its arms to the heavens from a depth of about 20 feet below the surface, a sight which has drawn divers to this spot for more than 40 years. Scuba divers can avail themselves of the park’s twice-daily deep-dive tours (9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., $60 per person).
Visitors who want a look at the vibrant marine life but would prefer to stay dry can head out to Molasses Reef on the Spirit of Pennekamp, a 65-foot glass-bottomed catamaran (departs at 9:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., and 3:15 p.m., $24 adults, $17 children under 12); the boat carries more than 100 passengers, so it’s not the most natural experience, but nonetheless it’s a good way for nonsnorkelers to glimpse the underwater beauty of the park. Advance reservations for any of the boat trips are highly recommended.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition