Snorkeling in Jamaica – When to visit, best spots to go
This island nation is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Caribbean with good reason. It has not only reggae music that creates a special vibe attracting thousands of tourists year after year, but also perfect white sandy beaches with vibrant reef systems that make it a top choice among those who love water sports. The warm, crystal clear sea offers superb snorkeling in Jamaica so you can easily discover the diverse marine life. Let’s see now what are the best spots to go on an underwater adventure!
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Jamaica snorkeling conditions
The island has more than 450 square miles of coral reefs that are in relatively good condition. Due to extreme warm sea temperatures and hurricane activity, there are bleached and damaged areas mostly on the southern coastline, but it is still easy to find superb places to go snorkeling in Jamaica.
The fringing reef runs about 10-20 minutes offshore by boat so you need to sign up for a trip to get to the best spots, but luckily there are some beaches where you can snorkel from the shore too. The eastern, east-western coastline is protected by storms and occasional hurricanes where one can find nice living reefs not too far from the beaches.
In terms of weather conditions, Jamaica is a year-round destination with constant 77-84F/25-29C air and 81F/27C water temperatures. The only thing you need to be aware of is the hurricane season that is between June and October. It is possible to come in that period too, but it is important to follow the forecast.
If you want the enjoy the most ideal conditions, the best time to come snorkeling in Jamaica is from March to May. These months are considered the low season with fewer tourists, cheaper prices and pleasant weather.
Best spots to go snorkeling in Jamaica
Doctor’s Cave Beach – Montego Bay
The Montego Bay Marine Park is one of the best Jamaica snorkeling spots where strict environmental regulations ensure that the area’s flora and fauna enjoy high-level protection. The nature reserve extends from the Great River to the airport.
You can go on canoe tours to explore the mangroves or hop on a boat to discover the outer reef (tours are offered by most resorts) that will certainly give you a ‘swimming in an aquarium’ feeling with large fish and sometimes turtles around since the northern coastline is a nesting area.
Those who wish to just snorkel from the shore, the best place to do it in Montego Bay is the Doctor’s Cave Beach. The shallow reef is of course not that developed like the main one, but there is still a lot to see. This beach is very popular and gets really busy during the day, so arrive early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowd.
Tip: the on-site Doctor’ Cave Beach Hotel is a budget place to stay but needs updating. If you want world-class service, check out the nearby 5-star S Hotel!
Cardiff Hall Beach – Runaway Bay
Runaway Bay is a town on the island’s north coast that is very popular with locals. Tourists also love the area because there are a lot of things to do here like visiting the Green Grotto Caves or the Bob Marley Museum in Nine Mile moreover, the coast features some of the best Jamaica snorkeling beaches.
The most popular is Cardiff Hall Beach where you can see a wide variety of marine life (Caribbean fish species, sea urchins, and sometimes stingrays too). This family-friendly beach has a few vendors and bar around, a nice spot for a relaxing day.
Tip: discover more Caribbean destinations, see here our related posts:
Snorkeling in Grand Cayman
Costa Rica snorkeling spots
Roatan best snorkel places
Where to snorkel in Cuba
Bloody Bay – Negril
However, Negril’s most popular beach is the stunning Seven Mile with its incredible soft white sand, but for those who wish to enjoy good snorkeling in Negril Jamaica we recommend heading to the neighboring Bloody Bay.
This place also offers the same soft sand and clear waters, but the reef runs closer to the shore providing excellent underwater views, it is not too crowded and as a bonus, one of the island’s top resort, Royalton Negril Resort and Spa is also here!
The beautiful Bloody Bay in Negril is great for swimming, paddle boarding and excellent for snorkeling. There are lots of fish, sea star and crabs to see not so far from the shore so we recommend this spot for novice snorkelers and also for families with small kids too.
Half Moon Beach – Negril
Your Jamaica snorkeling vacation cannot be complete without visiting another pretty beach in Negril, which is the Half Moon Beach. The bay is relatively small with chilled vibes, not too many tourists but locals selling their products.
Close to the shore, there can be sea urchins in the shallows, so wear beach shoes if you go walking around and also be careful when entering the water with your flippers on. The best area to explore is on the left side and around the little island in the middle. If you swim in the bay, keep your eyes on the bottom of the sea and you will certainly see some rays resting in the sand.
Tip: it is easy to rent water sports gear on the island, but think about safety and hygiene and bring your own equipment. If you don’t have your own yet, read here what is the best snorkel set to buy.
Booby Cay Island
The small island just off the shore of Bloody Bay is Booby Cay that got its name from the Booby birds living here. It is available with a few minutes long boat ride from Bloody Bay or Seven Mile Beach and definitely worth the quick trip thanks to the azure waters, relaxing vibes and enjoyable snorkeling.
The reef around this little island was damaged a bit by hurricanes so there is dead coral at some places, but the marine life is still vibrant with a good variety of living corals, fish, starfish and octopus. The main attraction (besides the underwater scenery of course) on Booby Cay is that locals cook and sell freshly caught lobster, make sure to try it if you like eating seafood!
Ocho Rios Marine Park
Offshore of the Ocho Rios area there is another marine park that needs to be on your places-to-visit list if it comes to snorkeling in Jamaica. The corals are the most diverse at Devil’s Reef where nurse sharks can be seen too! However, this spot is more suitable for divers than snorkelers, but Ocho Rios offers good snorkeling off the beach too.
Cruise shippers find since snorkel beaches near the cruise port too (Ocho Rios Bay Beach and Mahogany Beach are our tips), but if you come for a longer vacation and are looking for the best place to stay, check out RIU Ocho Rios that is definitely one of the best snorkeling resort in Jamaica with calm waters and a nice reef right off the beach.
Snorkeling is the best early in the morning or late afternoon since the beach gets busy with boats and jet skis during the day. There is a lot to see right in front of the hotel (butterflyfish, parrotfish, morays etc…) but check out the reef on the left too where octopuses and even rays can be spotted.
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