St John, is best know for its beautiful beaches and shallow water snorkeling. As many visitors can attest, the reputation is well deserved. The island boasts over 3 dozen beaches to choose from and discover. And you’ll find wonderful snorkeling from most of the beaches!
Here’s our TOP PICKS for snorkeling on St John.
Remember: Always snorkel with a buddy.
Never stand on or touch coral.
Do not touch or feed marine life/fish/turtles/rays.
Use only reef-safe sunscreens [ it’s the law].
#1 Waterlemon Cay
The number one destination on St John is Waterlemon Cay. This is one of our top recommendations for anybody visiting the island. Why? Because it combines History, Hiking, and Snorkeling. Parking is in the lot across from Leinster Bay. Head up the paved hill or take the wooden walk way to Annaberg Plantation ruins. This Danish slave-era plantation is well preserved and provides a glimpse into St John’s colonial past. Then head back down to the waters edge and pick up the Leinster Bay Trail to Waterlemon Cay. This mostly flat approximately 1 mile hike takes you along the shoreline. Waterlemon Cay is a small “island” about 40 yards off the shore. Please note: it is sometimes subject to strong currents and wind. Continue up the trail and you’ll see 2 more sets of ruins, The Old Danish Guard House and on the hill top, The Murphy House Estate ruins.
#2 Haulover North
Haulover North: Located on St John’s remote East End, you’ll find our second pick, and arguably the best snorkeling on the island. Located at the farthest eastern end of the National Park. You’ll hike a narrow path no more than about 100 yards. There you’ll find a coral rubble “beach”. Entry is best at the apex of the bay where the sand comes closest to the shoreline. From there, snorkel to the left (as you face the water). Dramatic reef structure, a virtual forest of soft corals and sea fans and everywhere the eye looks are colorful fish and marine life. Note: Conditions at Haulover North can be subject to high surf and strong winds.
#3 Henley Cay
Henley Cay is located just off Caneel Bay Resort sits an 11 acre cay. To get to it you must cross the Durloe Channel. A small sand and pebble beach forms a crescent within the protected “bay” on the western side of the cay. Most of the best snorkeling is in 5′ to 15′ of water – and within the relative protection of the “bay”. What you’ll see: forests of gorgonian corals and sea fans. Hard and soft corals. And lots and lots of fish and marine life! Note: Because of the strong current and boat traffic we recommend visiting Henley Cay on a snorkeling charter or kayak and snorkel tour.
#4 Maho Bay
Maho Bay Beach is our #1 Pick for the chance to see a sea turtle! This protected bay has a narrow beach, shallow water entry, and huge seagrass beds! Snorkelers will usually be rewarded with a modest swim of the beach. There, if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter sea turtles foraging in the sea grass along with rays and Tarpon. On either end of the beach you’ll find shallow water patch reefs. Their home to soft and hard corals as well as lobsters, eels, and tropical fish. With lots of parking, bathrooms and shallow sandy water, this National Park beach is a favorite of families, especially those with young kids.
#5 Salt Pond Bay
Salt Pond, located on the south eastern side of the island, is our next choice for snorkeling on St John. Park at the gate, and hike down to this crescent of white sand. This little beach gets LOTS OF SUN and doesn’t afford much protection. But the snorkeling is some of the best on the island. Starting on the eastern shoreline and heading out toward the mouth of the bay. Along the way you’ll see rocky structure with some hard and soft corals. Smaller fish. In the center of the bay you’ll find a large seagrass bed. It’s common to see turtles, rays and giant marine hermit crabs ( they take up residence in large conch shells). Almost exactly in the center of the opening of the bay is a coral hump. It attracts larger fish, and is home to hard and soft corals.
Want to know more about Snorkeling on St John?
Our favorite St John snorkeling guide is The Ultimate St John Beach Guide. This web site is packed with information about St John’s beaches, snorkeling and hiking trails. It includes insider tips, maps and alerts/caution and is a must-read reference if you plan to snorkel. Check it out here: St John Beach Guide