Best Snorkeling Naples Florida
Historically known for real estate development and agriculture, Naples is fast becoming an ecotourism magnet in this part of the southernmost contiguous state of the United States. Located in southwest Florida, guests can visit several natural attractions both inland, like the tropical wetlands of the Everglades National Park, and in the sea, such as the chain of mangrove islets of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
For snorkelers, the coast facing the Gulf of Mexico presents a vast playground, where on top of its local snorkel sites, neighboring destinations like The Florida Keys can be added to your vacation itinerary making these spots the best snorkeling in Naples Florida. A quick update about FL Keys: It's good to know that very recently (March 2019) South Florida U.S. Congress members introduced legislation to ban use of two ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens, in the National Marine Sanctuary. So make sure to check our list of reef friendly sunscreens for prior to your trip.
Naples is located on the west coast of the peninsula south and is about 160 miles south of Tampa Bay which works out to a two and a half hours of drive. It is also about 130 miles from Miami and roughly in the same driving distance. Both routes are beautiful and worth every minute spent on the road. Once you get to Naples you will be in for a treat. The seven mile stretch of beach is spectacular!
Snorkel Conditions in Naples Florida
If there is one thing Florida in general is known for, then nothing beats her beautiful weather. Having a tropical savanna climate, one could experience hot and wet summers while winter is usually warm and dry. Yes, you read it right: WARM AND DRY DURING THE WINTER and not freezing cold. It is frost free, even if winter is prevalent in the United States. In fact, Naples is literally sunny every day and has a record high of 2,900 hours of sunshine per year. With this, you can now archive your winter apparel and prepare your snorkel gear. And do not forget to bring and apply sunscreen, and not just any sunscreen, but the reef-safe brands.
Once you dip in one of the snorkeling sites in Naples, you will realize that the surface water temperature is just like ones you have in a bathtub. It ranges from 80 - 85 OF (26 - 29 OC), although it can drop to 70OF (21 OC) during the winter season and wearing an exposure suit, such as a 3mm wetsuit is imperative. Speaking of weather, it dramatically affects the tourism cycle of Naples Florida. December to February is the peak season where the weather, both on land and at sea, is relatively warm compared to other areas in the United States. However, as we all know, prices for accommodation on these months are high. Concerning costs and weather condition, the best time to go to Naples Florida is from March through May. Prices are not that high, and the weather is tropically great for snorkel.
On top of the warm Caribbean waters, visibility is relatively clear in Naples where it can go to a maximum of 20 meters (60 feet). However, in some instances especially if conditions are not right, visibility may drop down to 10 meters (30 feet) or less making it hard to see the reef and its surroundings (if you are looking to record video underwater read our recent review of akaso ek7000 pro for an inexpensive underwater action camera).
With regards to the snorkeling sites, most of the reefs are located just near the shore. You can do a beach entry where you can easily reach the reef just after a few minutes of swimming. For reefs that are located in the distance, you may be required to use a boat. And the good thing with using boats for snorkeling is that you will have the option to visit and explore nearby sites such as the Florida Keys, wherein the use of a boat is more exciting and faster when compared to hitting the road.
Snorkeling Sites in Naples Florida
1. Marco Island
Despite being an island detached to the mainland, you don’t need a boat to go there as there are bridges connected to it. You can either take Collier Boulevard or San Marco Road. Aside from the signature events and festivals such as the Mullet Festival in January, Wet Paint Live in February, the Seafood Festival in March, tourist also come to Marco Island for a fantastic snorkeling adventure.
Snorkeling in Marco Island would always first take you to the sandbar. This shallow sandy bottom is perfect for the kids where they play with some small fish like sergeant majors. Located along Hernando Drive is Tigertail Beach where it is a known spot for bird watching, lagoon crossing, and snorkeling. Your snorkeling adventures in Tigertail beach will start by entering a shallow lagoon that leads to an undeveloped beach that goes all the way to the Big Macro Pass Critical Wildlife Area where mangrove associated birds can be seen. Your exit point in Tigertail Beach is the Sand Dollar Island which is a piled-sand brought by a strong hurricane. Here, you can see the marching of the decapods where you can see a good population of Fiddler crabs.
You have to be aware that the visibility in Marco Island is not that great, most of the time. So as an alternative site with better visibility, you can visit South Macro Beach located at South Collier Boulevard. Seashells fill the sand of this 1 acre (0.4 hectares) spot where surface photography is popular courtesy from the tropical palms and towering condominiums as your backdraft.
2. Delnor-Wiggins State Park
Categorized as a State Recreation Area, this vast expanse of sandy beach facing directly at the Gulf of Mexico, is a favorite spot for tourist who wants to go beachcombing, picnic, paddle boarding, fishing, kayaking, and of course, snorkeling. There is a concessionaire that manages the park and offers amenities like foods, drinks and aqua sports equipment. Please remember that certain states have different rules for snorkel safety and Florida is no exception to this.
If you are coming here by car, we highly suggest you go directly to parking lot number 4 where you can find the nearby facility and a short distance walk going to the beach. Once you get to the shore, you will see everything is pretty much organized. The northern part of the beach is designated for fishing where anglers can throw in there fishing lines and reel in some good catch. On the other end, boats can be deployed to the shore where a ramp can be found. Snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding is pretty much located at the central part of the beach where there is a beautiful reef underwater. Now here’s the thing: if it is your lucky day, you might see some gentle giants where some have seen manatees and loggerhead sea turtles.
On top of snorkeling, a noted side trip for Delnor-Wiggins State Park is to visit the Cocohatchee River that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico. Just sign-up for a guided tour where park rangers and some volunteer will lead you to this delicate natural estuary. The endpoint of this tour is your interaction with a land turtle where you are guaranteed to see the endangered gopher tortoise.
3. Clam Pass Beach Park
In case you are visiting Naples Florida with your family, then head out to the northern coast where there is a fantastic adventure specially designed for groups. Considered as a family-friendly beach, your kids and other family members will surely enjoy the soft white sands of Clam Pass Beach Park that stretches for miles. But before you can access the beach, you will first follow a wooden boardwalk along a mangrove forest. This half-mile-long trail is an attraction itself where you can see butterflies, seabirds, and shells under the shade of this coastal trees.
Snorkeling in Clam Pass Beach Park is quite unique as it features a different kind of experience. Your entry point is not the beach, but instead, you will start within the pass which is a naturally cleared path in between mangroves. Depending on the flow of the tide, you will either end up in the mangrove lagoon when it is a high tide or end up in the mouth of the beach during low tide. Either way, the gentle flow of current will carry you across to your destination. Many have described this experienced as “The Lazy Snorkeling” wherein your fins are virtually of no use. Your kids will really enjoy this smooth water ride. Don’t worry about getting dirty with sand and mud as there are restrooms and outdoor showers within the park.
The only downside with Clam Pass Beach Park is that it is not advisable in extreme cases where the current is strong, and the possibility of being swept away out in the open during low tide is high and dangerous.
If you want more family adventure, there are nearby spots in Clam Pass Beach Park that is worth visiting. Kayaking or canoeing is a big thing here. You can either go to Koreshan State Historic Park which is a sprawling natural beauty along the Estero River that features gardens and exotic bamboo forests or the Imperial River in Bonita Springs where you can paddle in its tea-colored waters under the canopy of oak and pine trees. Many groups have been considered lucky while visiting the Imperial River as they have seen manatees. Biking is also a great way to spend your family vacation where you can safely do it here courtesy from the dedicated bike lanes of Old Naples.
4. Naples Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier
Considered as one of the longest beaches in Naples Florida, the Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier, measuring 10 miles (16 kilometers) long, is a popular spot tourist will never miss as it is located near the road along Gulf Shore Boulevard. While it has a vast expanse along the shore, the center of its attraction is located on the side mainly on the southern portion where the standing structures of the fishing pier will always attract its visitors.
While there are reefs in front of the beach, snorkeling is preferred near the fishing port where the shade of this artificial structure has provided a refuge for fish like batfish, damselfish, wrasse, and snappers. Looking into the pier, it measures 300 meters (1,000 feet) and runs parallel to the shore. However, despite being long, we highly advise you to only explore the first few meters of the structures as conditions in the deep may not be conducive for snorkeling. This is on top of the fact that anglers throw there fishing lines at the deeper portion and you might get problems with line entanglement.
On top of snorkeling, the vast expanse of this public beach offers other outdoor sports like beach volleyball and paddle boarding. In case you forget to bring your aquasports apparel, do not worry as there is equipment for rent in nearby shops. Most of the tourist who visits Naples Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier will spend their day until late afternoon for reasons that this is one of the few spots where you can have a great view of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
5. Vanderbilt Beach
Located near the Intersection of Vanderbilt Road and Tamiami Trail N, Vanderbilt beach is famous for its powder quality white sand. It is situated near major hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and can become crowded at times. Swimmers and snorkelers like you can explore a nearby reef just located a few meters from the shore. However, if you notice, the majority of tourist who is visiting Vanderbilt beach are here for walking. And not just ordinary walking, but barefoot walking. You can see many tourists (without their flip-flops) walking along the beach where the sand meets the water. Many have considered this a therapeutic walk as you can breathe in air fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. At the edge of the shore is a favorite spot for bird watching where you can find migratory birds such as Pelicans resting on the sand. Other sports are popular in Vanderbilt Beach like windsurfing while kayaking, swimming, and beach volleyball.
Similar to Naples Municipal Beach and Fishing Pier, many tourists spend here until late afternoon to witness the sunset where it creates a tremendous orange undertone in the sky which is further enhanced through its reflection in the sea.
While tourism programs are kicking off, the only downside that we see in Vanderbilt beach is their promotion to gather shells, dead shells in particular through their program entitled Shell Hunting. While collecting dead shells can be a great way to spend time at the beach, in an ecological point of view, it is still best to leave them alone even if these shells don’t host any living organisms. As much as possible, we should leave the least footprint and preserve these precious resources.
Other beach and snorkeling sites can be found in Naples Florida. Located just north of Vanderbilt beach is the North Gulf Shore Beach Access. This beautiful beach is a famous walkway going to the nearby condominiums and the North Gulf Shore Boulevard. Another beach and snorkeling attraction in Naples Florida will take you to a beachfront with a country club vibe. Located on Seagate Drive and 5 blocks across the hotel-laden Crayton Road is the Seagate Beach where it is known as a favorite family hang-out area. And finally, located across Naples Beach and Gulf Shore Boulevard is the Lowdermilk Beach Park where family and friends can have a great beach hangout with lots of aqua sports activities being offered like snorkeling and paddle boarding. There’s also a beach volleyball area where you can stretch out those muscle for a good spike.
6. The Nearby Snorkeling Sites of Key Largo
As earlier said, there are great nearby snorkeling sites outside of Naples Florida where many tourists have visited as an added destination to their already wonderful vacation. If we were to recommend one nearby snorkeling site located outside of Naples Florida, then we suggest that you go straight to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Here you can visit the first declared underwater park in the United States which features vibrant reefs such as the world-renowned Molasses Reef. Being listed under the National Register of Historic Places in the United States, it had attracted visitors from around the globe were tourist arrival reaches over a million per year. Now, here’s the good thing for non-swimmers and non-snorkelers: you still can see the underwater beauty of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park without getting wet as many boat tours have a glass-bottom were you can clearly see the reef under you while just sitting down on the boat.
Naples Snorkeling Boat Excursions
Of course with almost anywhere throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico area you will be able to take a boat out whether you snorkeling or diving and having lots of options to see even more marine life. It can be tough to find a place that only offers just snorkeling but a lot of the dive shops will head out with snorkelers if there are other divers heading out as well. The snorkeling on an excursion here might not be worth your money but there are lots of options for dive shops and it is a great place to do diving.
Captain Joe's Charters
Captain Joe's Charters does offer snorkel only tours that last 3 hours and take up to 6 people but it all depends on availability and the downside is that you will have to go to Sanibel Island which is a good hour drive north of Naples. You can check rates with them as it is seasonal dependent and how busy they are.
Here are a list of a few good options for diving and again your best bet is to call and see if they will offer snorkeling tours because you may be able to charter a boat or if there are scuba divers heading out they may take you but just ask if the snorkeling is good first!!!
Scuba outfitters Naples: Click on the website for more details http://scubaoutfittersnaples.com/
Scuba Adventures Naples. Click the link for more information: http://www.scubadventureslc.com/
Hope this guide proves to be useful for your visit to Naples - if you are looking for further amazing snorkel experiences, our guide to best snorkeling in Tahiti is a must read. Enjoy!