With miles of natural coral reef, excellent visibility and a gentle coastline with access, the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John is a snorkeler’s paradise. From hidden coves to must-see reefs, these are the best snorkeling spots in St. John.
Five miles east of Cruz Bay lies Maho’s blissful sheltered bay. Soft white sand stretches in both directions while shallow waters provide newbie snorkelers the chance to get their sea legs. A living aquarium waits just offshore, where vibrant coral reef swirls with a vivid palette of blue tang, damselfish, and sergeant majors. The liveliest underwater activity happens to the east among the rocks on the way to Maho Point. Out from the center of the beach, large beds of sea grass shelter sea turtles who don’t mind company are easy to spot.
Gibney and Oppenheimer Beach
The colorful mango stand with the white picket fence on North Shore Road is the only indication that you’ve found Gibney Beach (yep, it’s that private). While they’re nearly the same beach, the section known as Oppenheimer Beach is marked by wrought-iron gates. (J. Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, once owned the land.) Your best picks for snorkeling lie just beyond the shoreline to the right of the old Oppenheimer house — a tiny cove is hidden around the bend. Back on Gibney Beach, the reef that neighbors Hawksnest Beach plays host to a variety of corals, lacey sea fans, and shy feather duster worms that close tightly at the slightest touch.
Another one of the best spots for snorkeling in St. John is Salomon Bay. Despite the fact that Salomon is the closest north shore beach to Cruz Bay, it remains a private island paradise, as it’s accessible only by trail. A mile of easy hiking leads to a secluded beach graced with wind-blown palm trees, cerulean waters and views of lush green cays in the distance. When (and if) you tire of lazing in the shade of the palms, snorkel the extensive reef between Salomon and Honeymoon Beach on the bay’s east end. A veritable octopus’s garden dwells beneath the surface sheltering a parade of smiling, psychedelic parrotfish crunching away at the coral.
Little Lameshur Bay
Sunday is the ideal day to drive out to the south shore of St. John to partake in the waterfront jazz brunch at Miss Lucy’s Restaurant. When you’ve had your fill of music, stuffed French toast, and spicy Bloody Marys, head to Lameshur Beach. The rugged dirt road out to Lameshur will remind you of why you rented a jeep in the first place, but the beach is well worth it— wide and sandy with plenty of shade. Some of the best snorkeling on the island can be found along the rocky outcroppings on both sides of the bay, especially to the left, where angelfish, tang, parrotfish, and the occasional barracuda swim through the corals.
Hansen Bay and Vie’s Beach
Start your adventures snorkeling the large reef on the left with its plentiful sea life, intriguing corals, and small shipwreck. The beach is rocky and there are often spiny sea urchins lurking in the shallow water at the shore, so step carefully. After a morning snorkel, visit Vie’s Snack Shack and pay the nominal fee she charges to access the sandy beach next to Hansen. An afternoon lounging here, with a lunch of Vie’s famous garlic chicken and a couple icy bottles of Caribe, is the ultimate in Caribbean relaxation.
Looking for more snorkeling destinations? Check out our list of the best islands for snorkeling.