Despite spending half of summer 2020 in the keys, we never made it to Alligator Reef. In 2020 Natalia was 6 and Peter was 4 and although they know how to swim, we started off our trip assuming they would not be old enough to snorkel. Believe it or not, my mom ended up buying them some snorkels to see what would happen, and they learned how to snorkel looking for sand dollars and shells at our trusty Rodriguez Key! If you are curious about Rodriguez Key, check out my post on it ‘Why you need to learn to LOVE Rodriguez Key’. We eventually did visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park last year but never made it to Alligator Reef.
John Pennekamp is closer to the house we rent so it was easier to visit for a first trip with the kids. Alligator Reef is in Islamorada though and more of a trek so we never went. The ride ended up being 30-40 minutes. As you go farther south the water was becoming more and more beautiful! The beautiful turquoise waters are gorgeous and every time I see this water in the keys I can’t believe that we are still in Florida and not in the Caribbean!
We made sure to head out early because we thought we would not be able to throw our anchor and would need to tie to a buoy. This is how you need to do it at John Pennekamp so you do not harm the beautiful corals. This actually is not necessary at alligator reef since there is plenty of white sand around the reef. We parked on the north side of the famous lighthouse, however, we believe on the other side you did need to tie up to buoys. In the area where we anchored people were also floating around and hanging out so you actually have the best of both worlds here if you don’t mind not being able to stand. Unlike mosquito, despite the tides you will never be able to stand at alligator reef so if you are visiting and wanted to spend time relaxing there, keep this in mind! As always you can check my amazon storefront for our favorite float options.
The reef is right around the lighthouse but Peter did not want to anchor too close since there were so many people snorkeling the area. We felt more comfortable throwing the anchor a little farther and swimming out to the reef. The kids immediately wanted to jump in and get going!
I don’t have extensive experience snorkeling. We snorkeled John Pennekamp last year and actually could not do much because we did not have fins. Growing up doing cruises we did snorkeling tours a couple of times but other than that, it’s not something I have done much. Nonetheless, I have so say the reef was BEATUFIUL! I had never seen so many fish in one place. We also saw a nurse shark. We were not alarmed as it was minding it’s own business and in my opinion, it’s probably so used to be around people that I don’t think it was going to harm anyone. The kids were so excited to be able to say that they swam with a shark and they think their friends will not believe it! There were also a few barracudas. I missed it but Peter says he saw one that is likely the biggest barracuda he has seen in his life! Under the light house there was a wall of fish. That is the only way I can describe it! There were so many different fish to see! We saw a beautiful parrot fish, some yellow tail snapper, and an Angel Fish amongst others. I wish we had an underwater camera so we could take some photos to share but unfortunately we did not bring one. If I thought I had fallen in love with the Florida Keys before, this sealed the deal!
After our snorkeling we debated whether or not to just stay on floats here at Alligator Reef the rest of the day or head to Mosquito Bank. Low tide was in about an hour so we decided to head to Mosquito Bank especially since it is the same quality of water. It worked out because we ran into friends there and made some new friends so it was a great time!
Alligator Reef was definitely worth the visit! I am not sure if we will go back this trip since John Pennekamp is so close to us as well as Mosquito Bank but I am happy we finally made it over there and if you are in the keys, I highly recommend it!
Thanks for visiting!