Most everyone would agree that Key West is a scenic tropical paradise, with blue skies, turquoise water, exotic foliage, and an interesting urban and human landscape that catches the eye every way you turn. But what is often overlooked is the fact that, because Key West is a tiny island surrounded by a lot of water, there is far more scenery under the water than above it. Those in the know take advantage of this fact, getting out on the water and below the surface to glimpse the wonders of America’s only living coral reef and the colorful tropical seascape that is a draw for a good portion of the millions who visit Key West each year.
How do they do it? The three most common ways are by snorkel, SNUBA, or SCUBA. You may have heard of at least one or two of these three activities. Let’s take a closer look at each one so you can choose the best when you are ready to go for your own underwater adventure.
Snorkeling is a fairly well-known water activity, and it is impossible to miss the numerous snorkel tour operators working out of Key West and helping visitors explore the many world-class underwater sites around the island. Snorkeling has many positive things going for it. It is a simple sport, and is very accessible to folks of all ages and physical conditions. The gear required is minimal, cheap, and lightweight: a dive mask, snorkel tube, and a pair of swim fins.
A key attraction is the fact that you do not have to be a good swimmer to snorkel. Once you are familiar with wearing a dive mask, and in control of your breathing enough to keep your lips sealed around the mouthpiece and inhale and exhale calmly through the snorkel, the rest is actually very relaxing. You simply float face down in the water, peer at the sights below, and kick your feet when you want to move around. For those who are not comfortable in water, or for extra security on the first outing, a life vest can be worn to provide full flotation. Another big advantage of snorkeling is the ability to easily practice and learn before your Key West snorkeling trip – just get your hands on some gear and try it out in your local pool or lake.
Introduced in 1990, SNUBA is a fairly new sport that bridges the gap between snorkeling and SCUBA diving. With SNUBA, the underwater explorer actually descends and remains beneath the surface for a more exciting, close-up experience with the sea life and seabed formations. Air is supplied by a tank floating on a surface raft and connected to the diver by a long hose attached to a lightweight harness. As with SCUBA diving, a dive mask is worn, and breaths are taken through a regulator that is held in the mouth. A set of soft weights provides the neutral buoyancy needed to easily dive below and return to the surface. The hose acts as a safety line to control depth, and the surface raft also has grab lines around it should the diver want to go topside for a rest.
Far less complicated and gear-intense than SCUBA, the SNUBA experience is great for those who are comfortable breathing underwater, or who are considering taking SCUBA certification courses. Although first-timers can participate, and an orientation is included with each outing, SNUBA should be considered the next difficulty level up from snorkeling. It requires a minimum of physical conditioning and competence, along with the ability to comfortably descend, breathe, and stay underwater, including compensating for pressure in the ears, and comfort with using a dive mask at depth.
SCUBA diving is probably the most well known of these three sports, even if only from television nature documentaries. Unlike snorkeling and SNUBA, SCUBA diving is a relatively intense and demanding sport. It requires formal training and certification that some may consider quite expensive. SCUBA also requires the use of an array of gear that will seem complex to the beginner, and that does weigh a lot out of the water. Divers must also be able to swim unaided some distance both on and underwater, and be completely comfortable spending time many feet below the surface.
However, with the higher levels of commitment and effort required by the sport come correspondingly higher levels of reward. Even divers at the most basic level can star in their own nature documentaries as they explore fantastic worlds 20 meters and more beneath surface. Coral reefs guarded by sharks and other large game fish, sunken wrecks, hidden ledges and caves, the nighttime waters; they are all accessible to the experienced diver. SCUBA certification is the next logical step for those who visit the undersea environment via snorkel and/or SNUBA and find that they are attracted to return again and again to this unique and amazing water world. For an introduction to diving, Cool Key West offers a Dive in a Day Resort Course, which includes training in a resort pool in the morning, followed by two guided dives in the afternoon.
Key West offers one of the best and most convenient opportunities in the US for those who would like to learn more about one or all of these great water sports. It is one of the few places where you can enjoy wonderful underwater vantages even on your very first snorkel outing or training SCUBA dive. Cool Key West can hook you up with everything you need for Key West snorkeling, SNUBA, or SCUBA, so go ahead and take the plunge in Key West.