St John is one of the best snorkeling islands in the U.S Virgin Islands and all of the Caribbean. When it comes to the outdoors, not even St Thomas or St Croix can match the same level of natural beauty and number of landscapes that St John offers.
With the many shorelines and bays around the island, snorkeling in St John presents a large number of choices. When snorkeling, you can see a diverse marine life and plant life, with sea turtles, rays, octopuses, nurse sharks, tropical fish, and even dolphins swimming in its waters.
The large number of coral reef systems is another great thing to observe while snorkeling apart from the sea creatures. There are also plenty of sea fans and gorgonians in it. It’s truly the perfect island for snorkeling.
While it offers many snorkeling opportunities, you can also enjoy scuba diving, kayaking, paddleboarding, and trying many other water sports at some of these snorkeling places.
These are some of the best snorkeling spots in St John to check out next time you decide to visit on your tropical vacation.
Best Snorkeling on St. John
Maho Bay Beach is one of the best snorkeling beaches in St John, USVI, if you’re looking to catch sight of sea turtles and eagle rays. If you swim out around 20 yards toward the middle east end, you’ll find seagrass, where turtles tend to reside. One of the easiest ways to recognize them is if you see any medium-sized fish above a large brown circle since fish tend to always be right on top or below the turtles.
The east end of this beautiful beach also has coral reefs, where you can find all types of tropical fish, including parrotfish, surgeonfish, squirrelfish, damselfish, and much more. The western end of Maho Bay Beach also has coral reefs, but we didn’t find much sea life around this part last time we went.
It’s a great destination for children since the waters are pretty calm and shallow near the shoreline with very few waves farther out. Francis Bay Beach is on the other side of the east end, so it’s within kayaking distance if you decide to venture out.
The facilities on the premises include bathrooms, washing areas, covered picnic tables, and grills for cooking. You can try some delicious meals offered by local food stands and food trucks across the street. Although it’s one of the farthest north shore beaches in St John, it’s worth the drive.
Trunk Bay Beach is popular for its clear waters, soft white sand, and views that make it one of the most beautiful beaches in St John. Trunk Bay Beach is also quite famous for the Underwater Snorkeling Trail, which makes it one of the premier spots in the U.S Virgin Islands National Park for snorkeling. The trail has arrows with information on them that tell you information about the coral reefs and sea life that inhabit the area.
You can find a small island far out in the water with shallow reefs on both sides. They’re perfect for observing Caribbean fish like the butterfly fish, sea anemone, corrals and sea turtles. If you visit the beach during the evening, you can also get spectacular views of the sunset.
While it’s one of the few beaches in St John with a small entrance fee, it’s well worth the small price to enjoy everything Trunk Bay Beach offers. It has all the amenities you need for a cozy time, including bathrooms, snorkel gear rentals, beach chair rentals, and shops for food and drinks.
Waterlemon Cay Beach is one of the pristine beaches on the north shore of St John. You do need to do a small hike to get to the beach, so it’s quite isolated with few tourists most of the time.
Snorkel to the west side of Waterlemon Bay for the opportunity to find green sea turtles in the seagrass meadows. There are also coral reefs near this side with marine life like tropical fish and other sea creatures. You can find parrotfish, starfish, bluehead wrasse, Spanish grunt, and sometimes nurse sharks. There is also a chance for a very rare encounter with dolphins in Waterlemon Cay Beach.
While Waterlemon Cay Beach is an excellent spot for snorkeling in St John, it offers much more than just that. To get to the beach, you need to park in the parking area for the Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins, which are a must-visit. From there, you need to traverse a flat one-mile hike that takes you down toward the shoreline and offers scenic views of the bay.
You may also encounter animals like deer, mongoose, and even famous donkeys that roam the U.S Virgin Islands National Park. This beautiful beach is one of the best snorkeling spots in St John and all of the U.S Virgin Islands.
Henley Cay is a small island located very close to Caneel Bay, making it a must-stop if you’re near it since there are other great snorkeling beaches nearby like Hawksnest Bay Beach. Since it’s only accessible by boat or kayak, it’s isolated most of the time.
You can find diverse sea life around the reefs, including nurse sharks. You can find an abundance of colorful fish around the coral reefs, ranging from red snappers, wrasses, surgeonfish, angelfish, and much more. Snorkelers can also see plenty of sea fans and gorgonians.
The reef contains various types of coral, including soft and hard coral. The currents can be quite strong around the island, so you need to be careful. Don’t snorkel alone, and don’t try to swim in it if you’re inexperienced.
Many kayaking and snorkeling tours by companies in St John take guests to Henley Cay due to the wonderful snorkeling experience it offers. The waters for snorkeling are pretty shallow, so you don’t need to swim too far out to get some amazing sights.
Before, guests at the Caneel Bay resort could visit it easily, but that St John resort is closed now.
Cinnamon Bay Beach has one of the longest shorelines for you to explore and walk along.
This north shore beach has a small cay that sits out far in the water, the perfect area for snorkeling with sea creatures and observing the corrals. You may find the occasional turtle or eagle ray among the seagrass beds, but other beaches like Maho Bay Beach are better for finding them. In terms of fish, you may run into angelfish, soapfish, or damselfish.
You need to be more careful when swimming in its waters since the beach does experience large waves and strong currents.
One of the major attractions for snorkeling is the plane wreck located in Little Cinnamon Bay, to the west of the beach. To get to this relatively hidden spot, you need to make a short trek from Cinnamon Bay Beach. Starting at the beach, go all the way to the left while facing the water or just west. When you get to the end of the sand and shoreline, you will see a rocky path in the woods. Hike the rocky trail and follow it until you reach the coastline of Little Cinnamon Bay.
The white sand beach is also quite popular due to the Cinnamon Bay Resort & Campground, letting visitors stay overnight in cottages or tents. You won’t find a more unique accommodation in St John than this one. It’s also only a five-minute drive from Maho Bay Beach.
There is a stand for watersport rentals, so you don’t have to bring any snorkeling gear and just rent it from there.
Hansen Bey offers some of the more secluded beaches for snorkeling in St John, located very far east of the island. If you’re staying in Cruz Bay, it’s a very far drive from you, but if you’re close to Coral Bay, it’s only a 13-minute drive.
Hansen Bay Beach is the main beach in the area. Due to its far distance from Cruz Bay Ferry Dock, it’s one of the most isolated St John snorkeling spots. As the waters are pretty undisturbed, you’ll find all sorts of colorful Caribbean fish and rays. You can also find green sea turtles located around the seagrass. You can see corals near the western end of Hansen Bay Beach on the reefs. You’ll be rewarded with a mixture of soft and hard corals.
Since you’ll more than likely want to drive to the area in a rental jeep, it’s worth noting there is parking space near the beach. It’s the perfect snorkeling spot to avoid large tourist crowds and enjoy a peaceful atmosphere.
If you’re snorkeling near Hansen Bay, you need to check out Lime Out. You can grab some food and drinks from this unique floating taco bar. Although, you should ideally kayak or paddleboard to it.
Hansen Bay is a must-see if you’re planning a snorkeling trip in St John!
Haulover is also located on the farther eastern shore of St John. It directly faces Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands. Same as with Henley Cay, you will need to drive there on your own to get to the beach but arrive early since parking is limited. From Coral Bay, follow the East End Road until you reach an intersection with Haulover South to the right and Haulover North to the left. It’s then just a short hike to the beach.
To enter the water, head towards the middle of the beach since the bottom is quite sandy at this point. Then while facing the water, slowly head towards the left side where you’ll find coral reefs in the shallow water. You can also catch sight of the many gorgonians and sea fans that inhabit the area. Apart from the hard and soft corals, snorkeling also lets you see some beautiful rock formations.
There are plenty of beautiful sea creatures, like crabs, Caribbean lobsters, colorful fish like parrotfish, blue tangs, and trumpetfish, and you may also see the occasional sea turtle. If you’re pretty observant you can also catch sight of octopuses.
You won’t find any facilities, so prepare yourself for the day by bringing your own snorkeling gear and food. Just watch out for sea urchins, as there are quite a few of them when you first enter the water.
Salt Pond Bay
Salt Pond Bay is located close to Coral Bay, around a 10-minute drive. This south shore beach is one of the best places to go snorkeling in St John, which also offers tourists hiking trails to explore. To get to the beach, you will need to hike starting at the parking lot.
You can find green sea turtles in the large seagrass beds near the center of the beach, rays, and hermit crabs in its waters. There is a reef to its left when facing the water and farther out to the right of the seagrass.
The water is relatively shallow and tranquil, so there aren’t many waves making it easy to see things below as well as family-friendly for kids. Wild donkeys roam around the island, and some tend to visit the beach.
The biggest attraction near Salt Pond Bay is the Ram Head Trail, one of the U.S Virgin Islands National Park's most popular hiking trails. It can be challenging, and you should wear ideal footwear to hike it. In return, you get beautiful sights followed by a scenic view at the end of the trail. Just bring a lot of water, especially if you’re hiking when it's very warm out.
Honeymoon Bay Beach offers quite a pleasant experience for its visitors. It has calm waters that are crystal-clear, making it easy to see Caribbean fish and corrals below it. It's also within close proximity to the many all-inclusive resorts in St John.
Apart from fish, visitors can find rays swimming near the ocean floor. It’s a lot busier than other beaches, so it may not be the best option if you’re looking for something peaceful without tourists.
There are also no facilities around, but there is a bar which sometimes closes, so don't count on it always being open. You need to walk a mile-long hike to get to Honeymoon Beach, so it’s recommended to have the proper footwear since the trail is quite rocky.
Salomon Beach is another paradise-like beach close to it, worth checking out. While it’s certainly not the best beach in St John for snorkeling, it offers some beautiful views of the Atlantic ocean. It's one of the most visited places in the USVI, since it receives a lot of tourists coming from St Thomas since its close to the ferry dock in Cruz Bay.
Hawksnest Bay in the US Virgin Islands National Park offers guests transparent water and sandy white shore beaches. Hawksnest Bay Beach, the main beach in this St John bay, offers picturesque ocean views and plenty of sea grape trees for shade. You can also use gazebos with picnic tables if the natural shade is all taken up since the beach is quite popular.
The shallow water is quite rocky, but you can find a sandy bottom if you walk along the shore long enough. The best place to snorkel is towards the middle, where a large reef is located. You can find plenty of colorful fish near the coral reefs, but just watch out for the sea urchins. Every now and then, you might get lucky and catch sight of squids and rays.
You won’t find any lifeguards on duty but there are restrooms and changing areas after you finish your water activities. The beach is relatively narrow, so you may not always have a lot of space depending on the tides. Also, due to its orientation and landscape, the currents can be pretty strong at times.