If you are planning a trip to St. John, USVI, I hope that you enjoy snorkeling. The water around this beautiful island is crystal clear and, despite devastating hurricanes over the last few years, coral and sea life is abundant. The question becomes, “Which bay should we choose?” Here are our family’s votes for the best snorkeling beaches on St. John. The bonus is that these spots do not require a boat to reach.
Waterlemon Bay and Waterlemon Cay
This bay (and the small island that sits in it) is one of our favorite spots to snorkel around St. John. It also stays fairly uncrowded, as it is a bit of a hike out to the point where you can swim out to the cay (the map below shows where you park before following the trail along the coast). Be sure to bring shoes for the hike, as it is a bit rocky along the shoreline and not suitable for hiking barefoot.
If you choose to swim out to Waterlemon Cay (which we definitely recommend), make sure that everyone is a confident swimmer and/or has some type of flotation device as you do cross over a bit of deeper water (it’s not far and is crystal clear but the depth can freak out a less than confident swimmer). Once you swim out to the cay, be aware of changes in the current and know your swimming limitations, because the currents can get strong on the far side of the island. The diversity of sea life in this bay is one of the best on the island, so enjoy!
If you are hoping to see a sea turtle, then Maho Bay is definitely your best chance without going on a boat. These docile creatures are often found snacking in this beautiful bay. You may also be lucky enough to see a nurse shark, a tarpon, or an octopus (especially if you go all the way out to the point on the eastern side of the bay) and will definitely see lots of tropical fish along the rocky eastern shore.
Maho Bay is easily one of our all-time favorite beaches in several categories, but its easy accessibility can also make it a crowded one (by St. John standards). Maho Bay is literally right on the North Shore Road just before it turns to go inland. There is now a nice parking area just across the road from the beach, so it is also one of the more accessible beaches for anyone with any physical limitations.
Easily the most famous and most photographed beach on St. John, Trunk Bay also has to be included on this list of snorkeling destinations, especially for first-time snorkelers. The small cay in Trunk Bay has a decent reef and rocks all the away around it, and it has a decent variety of sea life to go with it. What makes this particular site good for beginning snorkelers is that 1) the currents are mild, 2) there is an underwater snorkeling “trail” that has signs placed by the National Park Service pointing out various different types of coral and sea life, and 3) you can literally walk out in beautiful sand to the point where you start to snorkel around the Cay.
The biggest caveat to Trunk Bay is the crowds that can be there on the days that cruise ships are docked in St. Thomas. This is THE excursion that most cruisers take during their day in St. Thomas. So, do yourself a favor, and check the cruise schedules before planning to spend time at Trunk Bay or arrive early or late to avoid the crowds. It is a must-see while on the island, but it is so much better without the crowds! The other thing to note about Trunk Bay is that it does require a facility use fee (at the moment it is $5 per person), but for that cost, you do get the use of nice restroom and shower facilities.
Want to snorkel more?
If you want to get an even better snorkeling experience, we recommend taking a boat charter. We recommend checking with Trevor’s Activity Center to get the boat and captain that best fits your needs. You will almost always talk to Trevor himself, and he really is wonderful at matching your party with the right boat. We have done three tours through him, and every one has fit our needs perfectly. We are not sponsored by him, but feel free to let him know we sent you!