Key Largo. Silver Springs. Dry Tortugas. Fort Lauderdale?
While it may come to some as a surprise, Fort Lauderdale is actually home to several of the best snorkeling sites in Florida, as the coral formations that abound in the Florida Keys make their way to the shores of this oceanside city. For divers, the unique three tier coral reef system also provides underwater explorers with more than enough environment for a stunning dive experience.
Just offshore, sea turtles readying to nest along the beaches; sleepy nurse sharks tucked underneath a reef ledge; southern stingrays fluttering into the sand; and vast numbers of Caribbean reef fish are a common sight to see. You never know what you might encounter while snorkeling or diving in Fort Lauderdale, and that’s a huge reason why many come here to explore our oceans bounty.
Couple all of this with warm year-round ocean temperatures, ranging from 72 to 80 degrees and the convenience of a big city, boasting a vibrant culinary, arts, and cultural scene, and you’ll soon realize why Fort Lauderdale is a hidden gem of a destination for underwater adventurists to roam.
Top Snorkel Sites in Fort Lauderdale
Type: Boat Charter / Partially Guided
Fort Lauderdale’s top snorkeling charter, Sea Experience, brings eager explorers to Twin Ledges: a shallow snorkel site right off of Fort Lauderdale Beach. The top of the reef is 15 feet deep with ledges dropping off to 18 and 20 feet (west and east, respectively). It’s an awesome reef to explore with lots of life, frequent visits from sea turtles, and a resident nurse shark. Additionally, the trip with Sea Experience combines a boat tour of Millionaire’s Row in Fort Lauderdale, a stretch of mansions and mega yachts along the intracoastal waterways as you make you way out to the ocean.
Vista Park Reef
Type: Self-Guided from shore
Vista Park Reef is a shallow water coral reef a short swim from shore (approximately 600 – 800 feet). You can access the reef from one of three city parks: Earl Lifshey Ocean Park, Loggerhead Park or Vista Park. The reef itself is about 12 – 15 feet deep. As you leave the beach, swim past the swim buoys and you’ll notice some small coral structures + algae. Keep swimming.
After a crossing over the last area, you’ll come over a small sand patch, you may think you missed it. You have not. Keep swimming just a little further!
About 100 feet later the reef will come into view. Large relief ledges and coral head jetting upwards toward the surface. You’ve arrived. Have fun!
Type: Boat Charter / Partially Guided
SS Copenhagen is one of the only wrecks that was unintentionally sunk in Fort Lauderdale (the rest were intentionally sunk for diving and fishing purposes).
Unfortunately, the sailors of the SS Copenhagen struck underlying coral reef in May, 1900 before completely abandoning the vessel shortly after. The vessel remained visible above the surface for years until it was completely destroyed during WW2. At the time, the US Navy used the ship as missile target practice right off the shore of South Florida. Today, remnants of the wreck can be found amongst the coral reef backdrop. It’s an awesome snorkel location for beginners visiting the Fort Lauderdale area.
Top Dive Sites in Fort Lauderdale
From sprawling reefs to ghostly shipwrecks, the dive sites in Fort Lauderdale are any ocean explorer’s dream. Dive down to discover what lies off the shore of South Florida’s premier dive destination.
Type of Dive: Boat Dive; Coral Reef; Drift Dive
Depth: 45 – 60 feet
Hammerhead Reef is one of the most prominent sections of the third layer of reef. Truly, it’s one of the deepest natural coral reef sites in South Florida. Hammerhead Reef features two distinct sections: a high relief ledge in 45′ of water to the west and spur and groove formation to the east which drop off to 60+ feet. Schools of fish, Caribbean reef sharks, and scores of lionfish ripe for spearing are often present amongst the winding channels of coral. Additionally, Hammerhead Reef is a favorite dive site to hunt lionfish
Mercedes 1 Shipwreck
Type of Boat: 194′ Cargo Freighter
Date of Sinking: March 30, 1985
Depth: 70 – 100 feet
One of the few shipwrecks in South Florida with a famous and notorious history to the area. In November of 1984, the Mercedes actually washed ashore in Palm Beach after breaking free of its anchor during a wicked storm. It was a sight to see for weeks as state crews worked tirelessly to pull the boat from the beach at an extraordinary cost to the taxpayers. Soon after its removal, Broward County purchased the Mercedes I from the state for $29,000 and sunk her in March of 1985.
Sitting in 90 feet of water, the Mercedes took a beating from Hurricane Andrew and currently the bow and the stern sit roughly 200 feet apart north to south with layers of twisted metal between the two. It’s a glorious field of artificial reef filled with all sorts of critters and fish. Take it nice and slow – you never know what you might find here. Penetrate the bow and stern (with proper training), say hello to the resident giant moray eel, hunt for lionfish, or explore the surrounding coral reef – the Mercedes literally has it all.
Date of Sinking: September 19, 1986
Type of Boat/Structure: 180′ Barge
Depth: 70′ to the sand
Hog Heaven is one of the most frequently visited dive sites in Fort Lauderdale, and for good reason. The 180 foot barge is an ideal dive site for any level of diver – from open water to technical. The area itself has been a beacon for successful artificial reefs with the old Pacific Reef Lighthouse, bridge beams, airplane wings, and the Wayne shipwreck all within swimming distance from Hog Heaven itself.
Hog Heaven was a 180-foot barge sunk in 1986 as a part of Broward County’s Artificial Reef Program. Upon sinking, the barge flipped upside down as it fluttered to the ocean floor where it rests in the sand 70 feet below the surface. Luckily for divers, the orientation actually made for a far more interesting shipwreck than if it had sank upright.
Its name, Hog Heaven, was given to the wreck because of its uncanny ability to attract Hogfish (one of the most prized targets of spearfishermen) to the area. Not much is known about the Hog Heaven barge prior to its sinking, but the surrounding features do have some history.
Other artificial reefs scattered around Hog Heaven include bridge beams, airplane wings, mine carts, and construction piping. You could dive Hog Heaven 100 times and discover something new every single time.