Complete guide to go snorkeling in St John US Virgin Islands

The US Virgin Islands are famous for their amazing snorkeling and rich marine life. The smallest of them, St John is very popular with good reason. With lush forests, crystalline waters and a National Park that covers more than half of the island, it is proud to offer wonderful landscape above and under the sea too. This is a perfect destination if you wish to witness some of the best Caribbean Sea marine life. While snorkeling in St John, you can observe multi-colored coral reefs, swim with sea turtles, rays and nurse sharks. Are you ready to dive? Then keep reading and we take you to the top spots!

St John snorkeling conditions

Most spots for snorkeling in Saint John lie inside calm bays with a sandy bottom gently sloping out into the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea. Even if you aren’t an expert swimmer, the shallow waters offer great opportunity to get up close to sea life and underwater scenery and you don’t have to venture far from the beach to start bumping into local aquatic inhabitants.

If you respect their space and approach them slowly, the fish, turtles, sharks, octopus and crabs in the sea won’t at all mind you hanging out around them. It’s important to be careful around slippery rocks and prickly coral, but as long as no risks are taken this island paradise is a safe place to explore.

St John sandy beach from the car

St John is one of the best places to snorkel in the Caribbean with excellent weather conditions year-round. Sea temperatures range from around 79F from January to April to around 84F from September to October. The driest part of the year runs from February to March, making it an ideal period to visit if you want to be sure to avoid periods of rain that sometimes pass by the islands.

The changing tides affect your St John snorkeling experience, but not seriously. The highest tides are in September and November and the lowest occur from May to June. The calm and protected waters around St John guarantee that ocean surfs are rarely a problem, but from May to October there’s the least chance of waves blowing in from the ocean.

Related: Snorkeling in St. Thomas
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Best spots for snorkeling in St John US Virgin Islands

Hansen Bay Beach

A privately-owned area that’s been in the family for generations, Hansen Bay Beach definitely has to be among the best Saint John snorkeling spots. Seeking a natural vibe, the owners of this stretch of white sandy beach along the bay have opened it up to visitors to explore.

Hansen bay beach St John

This pristine corner of the Caribbean Sea is not just a prime place for relaxation but also an excellent seeking out sea life and soak up the natural wonders of the Caribbean Sea. Besides being a prime snorkeling spot, you can also rent kayaks or simply hang out on the sand.

Hawksnest Beach

Hawksnest Beach is a great place to experience the sea. Although it is unprotected from the wind and surf, there’s less sea life and coral reef around this beach due to the larger waves, but it’s still a great St John snorkeling spot.

Hawksnest Beach

Besides snorkeling, this beach is full of soft sand and surrounded by lush vegetation creating an unforgettable tropical backdrop.

Maho Bay Beach

The best St John snorkeling places list must include Maho Bay. Fringed by coconut palms, full of gentle waves, easy to find, and full of coral reefs and other sea life, Maho is famous for a reason!

It’s a top spot to go snorkeling in St John from the beach. Just offshore lie beds of seagrass that attract turtles and rays, and along the western and eastern shores of the bay you find coral reefs. Head towards the east if you want to see lots of coral lying in shallow water. Head west if you want to see schools of fish and perhaps even a Nurse shark resting under the corals.

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Salt Pond Beach

With a reputation as a great St John snorkeling place, Salt Pond Beach is ideal for spotting the aquatic life of the US Virgin Islands. From the pristine natural biosphere in the bay to its beautiful sandy beach, Salt Pond is a prime location for those who want to spend a relaxing, yet adventure-filled day.

Sea turtle - St John

Out in the middle of the bay sit two large rock formations, where lots of varieties of fish enjoy hanging out. Once you swim out to them, you can spend hours exploring the colorful Caribbean marine life and get up close with many colorful and curious sea-dwelling locals. Moreover, there are extensive seagrass fields too that attract eagle rays and sea turtles.

Accommodation tip nearby: Concordia Eco Resort

Oppenheimer Beach

A secluded beach that used to be a private property and that still features a historic home close to the water, Oppenheimer is a quiet getaway for those who want to soak up the beachside wonders of the Caribbean Sea. Oppenheimer Beach captures the ingredients that make the USVI so idyllic: soft, warm sand, gentle tides, and lots of marine life.

Oppenheimer beach

This is a prime St John snorkeling place, where you can spot a wide variety of corals as well as schools of fish, especially in the tiny cove on the right of the old Oppenheimer house. And all of this despite parts of the reef suffering recent damage from nearby construction runoffs.

Lameshur Beach

Part of Virgin Islands National Park, Lameshur Beach is a quiet yet beautiful stretch of sand and tide. It’s more remote than other beaches but venturing here means you’ll be rewarded with lots of wildlife sightings and an amazing aquatic experience.

Lameshur beach - Octopus

Seagrass beds and lots of coral mean there’s always a lot of sea life around – from fishes and octopuses to turtles and stingrays – and if you stay inside the bay the surf is easy to handle. More experienced snorkelers can venture past Yawzi Point to explore the deeper coral beds and large schools of fish that live there.

Salomon Bay

If you want to experience superb snorkeling in Saint John, Salomon Bay has a lot to offer. A peaceful beach is full of azure waters, soft sand, and beautiful views, there are a lot of snorkeling opportunities at this gateway to the Caribbean.

It takes a hike to get to the palm-fringed, secluded beach, therefore usually Salomon Bay is quiet. The snorkeling is simply fantastic, there are plentiful coral formations in shallow water that extend till Honeymoon Beach.

Tip: Estate Lindholm is a lovely inn not so far from Salomon Bay that features an outdoor pool and Indonesian-themed rooms.

Honeymoon Beach

Surrounded by tropical foliage and coconut palms, Honeymoon Beach is an ideal spot for beginners to go snorkeling in the US Virgin Islands. The calm, clear waters of the bay make it easy to hang out in the water and watch for passing sea life such as turtles and rays. The best snorkeling we found near Caneel Bay Resort, along the rocky point.

Honeymoon beach - Usvi

On shore, there are plenty of amenities including snorkel gear and paddleboard rental as well as food choices near the soft, warm sand of this scenic hideaway.

Trunk Bay

Trunk Bay is a must-visit site for those who want a memorable snorkeling experience. With beautiful sand, shade from the summer sun, and lots of nearby amenities and food, this beach is an obvious choice for snorkelers. But what makes this beach stand out even more, is the St John Trunk Bay snorkeling trail.

Trunk bay - St Thomas

The snorkeling trail in St John USVI is an underwater, self-guided snorkeling trail in 8-15 ft deep water that leads you on an underwater journey of discovery through the coral reefs and fish of the Caribbean like wrasses, blue tangs, triggerfish, and yellowtail snappers. Underwater plaques laid out along a 650-foot underwater pathway provide information about everything you might see along the way.

Francis Bay Beach

Anyone who enjoys snorkeling must visit this hidden gem called Francis Bay. You can get there by car, or also hike if you want to enjoy the beautiful nature too. Usually, Francis Bay is not crowded since not many people walk know this place, so if you want to enjoy the sun and sea in peace and calm, it is definitely a place for you!

Stingray - Francis bay US Virgin Islands

The water is calm with easy access. There aren’t many corals here, but it is a prime spot to hang out with turtles and rays that love to rest and feed in the seagrass.

Waterlemon Cay – Leinster Bay

Described by locals as one of the best snorkeling spots in St John, Waterlemon Cay lies within Leinster Bay and is chock full of coral and all kinds of sea life. After hiking through plantation ruins and along the beach, you encounter Waterlemon Cay – a shallow bank covered in coral and full of shallow water sea life.

Waterlemon Cay - Leinster Bay

This quiet and scenic place is part of the Virgin Islands National Park. It is a great place to explore the beachside wonders of the Caribbean Sea within a setting of unparalleled tropical beauty. Include it in your travel itinerary if you are looking for the best places to go snorkeling in St John! To access the bay, hike the Leinster Bay trail from Annaberg car park.

Henley Cay

All Saint John snorkeling spots have something nice to offer, but if you are looking for the healthiest coral and richest marine life, you should definitely visit Henley Cay. It is an advanced snorkel spot because of its remoteness and sometimes strong currents, therefore recommended only for confident swimmers, but it is considered as one of the best U.S. Virgin Islands snorkeling places with good reason.

To get there, you can book a boat charter or sign up for a kayak tour. The most beautiful part of the reef runs on the western side of the cay. With wonderful gorgonians, sea fans, and large shoals of fish, you will feel like swimming in an aquarium! On top of these, this is a place where you have a high chance to see nurse sharks too!

Snorkeling in St John since Hurricane Irma and Maria

Since hurricanes hit the Caribbean in 2017, it’s been a challenge for the reefs of the US Virgin Islands to bounce back. There are signs of recovery and there’s still plenty of fish, turtles, and sharks hanging around despite the upheaval caused by the hurricanes, but some reefs suffered serious damage.

The coral reefs at Trunk and Salomon Bays took quite a hit during the storm and are still recovering, so don’t be surprised if you don’t find many healthy corals at these spots at the moment. Maho Bay, Lameshur Beach, and Leinster were less affected, so if you are on a tight schedule, consider visiting these places.

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St John snorkeling spots guide

Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!