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Where to go snorkeling in Florida – Bahia Honda Beach – Full Guide
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Where to go snorkeling in Florida – Bahia Honda Beach – Full Guide 

Bahia Honda Park is a unique place in the Florida Keys with expansive sandy beaches that can compare in size to the beaches of Krabi in Thailand, combining a lagoon with nice shallow water without waves near the shore, which is good for vacationing with kids, and enough depth for snorkeling nearby. We especially liked the wild beach with soft sand and clear water.

To learn more about coral reef life in the park, there are snorkeling tours by boat to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, 12 miles off shore.

Interesting to know: The name Bahia Honda means “deep bay” in Spanish, which is a pretty accurate reflection of why hundreds of Florida vacationers come to this park every day.

Here are 5 reasons to go to Bahia Honda Park

  • First, to sunbathe on the beautiful beaches or walk along the beach barefoot on the sand
  • Second, to see the old railway bridge from the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Third, hike the Nature Trail or ride a bike.
  • Fourth, relax in nature, and have an unforgettable picnic on the ocean.
  • And of course if you have enough time, you should definitely snorkel over the beautiful coral reef! Depth there is not very big – from 1.5 to 5 meters, with no strong currents, and reef sharks are not dangerous during the day, so everyone will be happy!

Basic info

  • Name: Florida State Park Bahia Honda
  • Year Established: 1961
  • Address: Overseas Hwy, Bahia Honda Key, Florida
  • GPS coordinates: 24.659576°N, 81.261578°W
  • Hours of operation: daily from 8:00 a.m. to sundown, Visitor Center from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Bahia Honda Park is located near the east end of the famous Seven Mile Bridge, on a 212-hectare uninhabited island, between mile 36 and 38.5 along U.S. Highway 1 (Overseas Highway) between Ohio Key and Spanish Harbor, 12 miles east of the town of Marathon. Since its formation in 1961, it has become well known among tourists as the beach gem of the Florida Keys.

For up-to-date information about Bahia Honda Park and phone numbers for booking boat tours, see its website before your trip.

Interesting Facts

  • Bahia Honda Island itself is part of an ancient coral reef that rose above the water as a result of the drop in global ocean levels several thousand years ago. Now we are seeing the reverse process, which may result in these islands going under water again.
  • Bahia Honda Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail along with Everglades and Biscayne National Parks as one of the best places to watch birds in the subtropical wilderness and protect their habitats.
  • Like John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park, the flora and fauna at Bahia Honda Park feature exotic species, some of which have been introduced here from the Caribbean Islands. We were surprised to see quite a few rare silver palm trees here, which always look great in beach photos, whether in expensive Hawaii, Seychelles or humble Sri Lanka.

How to get to Bahia Honda Park

Bahia Honda Park is located on Bahia Honda Key, the exact mailing address is 36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key, FL 33043. The park entrance is on the ocean-facing side of U.S. Highway #1, between Mile Markers 36 and 37.

You can get to the beaches at Bahia Honda Park from Miami or Key West by car. We rented a car as soon as we arrived at Miami airport.

From Miami, the fastest way is to take the Florida Turnpike south to Exit 4 at Homestead / Key West. In Florida City, take US 1 Highway toward Florida Keys and continue for 1.5 to 2 hours until the park turnpike signs at mile marker 36.

Coming from Key West is also by car only. Key West (which is where the road miles are counted from) is 37 miles southwest of Bahia Honda Park, with a travel time of about 45 minutes.

Our recommendations:

Never exceed the maximum allowed speed limit on the Overseas Highway. The traffic police are careful to enforce the speed limit!
Since the beaches of the Florida Keys are much more crowded on weekends than on weekdays, it’s best to arrive mid-week. To get the best spots on the beach in the shade of the palm trees, you need to be there as early as possible before the hotel guests have had breakfast.

Where to Stay

Near Bahia Honda Park on Big Pine Key and in the town of Marathon, there is a fairly large selection of hotels with cozy rooms and guest houses. From the inexpensive Captain Pip’s to the respectable Hyatt Place, which is where we stayed.

There are also several huts within Bahia Honda Park that can accommodate up to 6 people. They need to be booked in advance. Linens and bedding are provided for guests.

Cost of admission

There is a fee to enter Bahia Honda Park. Since it is a Florida state park, there is no annual pass to U.S. National Parks.

The entrance fee depends on the number of people in one car. They charge $8 per car, plus 50 cents for each passenger. The more people you have with you in the car, the cheaper it is to visit the park per person.
It costs $4.50 per driver without passengers in a car or motorcycle.
But if you enter on foot or by bicycle, you will be charged only $2.5.

Visitor Center

At The Sand and Sea Nature Center, the Visitor Center offers information about coastal and marine life, including coral and underwater life, crabs, and sea turtles.

Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, it was closed to visitors due to a whole busload of school children arriving for the tour, so we were unable to talk to the ranger or volunteers about anything of interest and went on our walk through the park.

In addition to the Visitor Center and restrooms and locker rooms with showers, Bahia Honda Park has a store with snacks, souvenirs and beach paraphernalia, as well as kayak rentals and organized snorkeling trips to the reef. Here we looked at souvenir t-shirts and bought some postcards for $1.

Railroad Bridge

The old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge is on the west end of the island where the wild beach ends. The bridge was built in 1912 for the all Florida Keys railroad from Miami to Key West with Henry Flagler, founder of Standard Oil, own money. In 1935, the bridge was severely damaged by a hurricane and the railroad went bankrupt.

The bridge was soon purchased by the State of Florida and converted to two-way vehicular traffic. The bridge was reopened in 1938 and used until 1972 when it fell into disrepair because of corrosion and because it was too narrow, cars could barely pass on it.

In 1980, a new four-lane bridge was built a few hundred yards north of the old bridge, with an increased span height to make it easier for large boats to pass underneath.

Interesting fact: The channel between the old and new Bahia Honda Bridge along the west side of Bahia Honda Island is one of the deepest natural channels on the Florida Keys and is used for navigation.

Two sections of the old bridge over the canal were subsequently removed. Today the east side of the former railroad bridge, located within Bahia Honda Park, is open to pedestrians. It offers a beautiful panoramic view of the local beaches, it is convenient to watch the sunset over the water.

Beaches

Bahia Honda’s beaches are considered some of the best beaches on the Florida Keys, on par with Sombrero Beach, Smathers Beach, and Dry Tortugas. An interesting feature of the park is that it has beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean side (Sandspur Beach) and the Gulf of Mexico side (Calusa Beach).

In 1992, this 4-kilometer-long white sand beach was awarded the title “U.S. Beach of the Year” by chief beach expert Stefen Leatherman, which made it extremely popular with tourists looking for an alternative to the bustling beaches of Miami.

In our opinion both beaches are swimmable, with clean white sand, but on the ocean side the beach is wilder, without infrastructure and there can be a lot of seaweed (but very few people). You can easily do without coral slippers.

Swimming and snorkeling

Tourists come to Bahia Honda Park mainly for the snorkeling, so they don’t have to travel far abroad for the best snorkeling in expensive 5-star hotels in the Maldives. After all, as you know, the U.S. has almost everything, and coral reefs are no exception. Because of this, many Americans do not even leave the country that have not yet been everywhere and have not seen everything in their homeland.

In Bahia Honda you can see all the variety of marine life (live corals, colorful tropical fish, seaweed, and even lobsters) not very far from the shore, literally a couple hundred meters from the shore. At the same time, you can swim there on your own, because it is not very deep, the water is usually very clean, there is no strong current and large waves (although there are exceptions on windy days).

Important to know:

  • In winter, the ocean water gets chilly, so you may need a wetsuit to swim comfortably (you can rent one, too).
  • The only danger is the Bahia Honda Channel with a strong current. It is better not to swim near it, or you can be carried away into the open sea.
  • In the park Bahia Honda daily snorkeling tours in the national marine reserve Looe Key (Looe Key). This is one of the most beautiful reefs in the Florida Keys, long favored by scuba diving and snorkeling enthusiasts from around the world. Estimated departure times are 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. (check the park website for details). In addition to boating, participants on this tour have 1.5 hours to snorkel at one or more spots.

The cost of the snorkeling tour is $30 + taxes. Children are $25. You can rent a snorkel, flippers and a life jacket.

Hiking

In addition to opportunities to hike along the shoreline and on paved paths near the beaches, Bahia Honda Park has one Nature Trail for nature-inspired trail rides. The trail starts at the southwest end of the island near Calusa Beach and leads along the inner lagoon through coastal rainforest to an old bridge. There are several picnic and fishing spots along the way.

The views from the top of the bridge are wonderful – you can see the entire island and much farther to the horizon than from the shore itself. On a clear day when there is no wind from the old bridge, you can see fish jumping out of the water, stingrays, and sea turtles swimming near the surface.

Picnic

There are two small barbecue pavilions in the immediate vicinity of Calusa Beach. The park also has picnic tables with benches and grills at Calusa and Sandspur beaches.

Bike ride

Bahia Honda Park has as much as 5 km of paved bike paths, so you can safely go there with your bikes (they are generally indispensable when vacationing in the Keys). Children under 16 years are required to ride in a helmet.

Camping

For overnight campers in Bahia Honda, there are 3 campgrounds with 80 tent (primitive) and RV (full hook-up) sites:

  • Buttonwood Camping Area – 48 sites
  • Sandspur Camping Area – 24 sites.
  • Bay Side Camping Area – 8 sites.

The campsites have toilets and hot showers. You can reserve a campsite on the park’s website well in advance. It is difficult to do this in the winter months.

The cost to rent 1 campsite spot at Bahia Honda Park is $36 per day plus taxes, and there is an additional $6.70 fee if you book online.

Kayaking

In windless weather, one of the most popular activities at Bahia Honda Park is kayaking through the beautiful lagoon. A kayak rental will cost $12-18 per hour (Single/Double), and for a half day it’s $36-54.

Our review

The main thing worth going to Bahia Honda Park for is the snorkeling on the reef, which, judging by reviews, is not much inferior to the reefs in the Maldives.

Park Bahia Honda is well suited for families on a fairly large and beautiful beach, preserving its pristine beauty as much as possible, unlike the beaches of Cancun. However, we advise to prepare well for the trip, and in advance to buy all the necessary beach utensils and food, as the park has no cafes and restaurants, as well as rent umbrellas and sun loungers. Also, don’t forget a mask and flippers for snorkeling.

The main plus of Bahia Honda Park is the presence of coral reefs, the relaxed atmosphere on the Florida Keys and the ability to relax with children on the beach without the strong waves. It’s also not as noisy as Myrtle Beach or Malibu, and the sand and palm trees are much prettier. All in all, it’s practically an introvert’s paradise!

Among the minuses of the park are the presence of algae on the far side of the beach on the ocean side and the area not fully restored after Hurricane Irma. However, work is underway, and soon Bahia Honda will once again be able to claim the title of one of the best vacation parks in the United States.

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