This island of two identities and two nationalities has double the fun for snorkelers, despite taking a big and well publicized hit from Hurricane Irma several years ago. The devastating storm certainly changed the landscape of the island, but there are still areas either untouched or that have fully bounced back for snorkel lovers to explore the beauties of its underwater world.
Mullet Bay/Cupecoy Beach—St. Maarten
Truly obsessed snorkel fans can get their fins wet right off the plane. Just around the corner from the infamous Maho Beach with its beach-skimming aircraft, you’ll find the easily accessible reef at Mullet Bay. Party on the beach, serious fish business in the back—namely to the right side along the rocks below the ruins of the former hotel unites.
You can pull double the fun by continuing to follow this point to Cupecoy Beach but keep an eye on current and hug the coastline (better sea life that way, in any case). Colorful reef fish like queen angelfish, wrasse and parrotfish abound. If you are leery of currents or the shore break is too rough at Mullet, you can also access Cupecoy near the Sapphire Beach Club (head to the left where limestone caves and cliff mark decent underwater sites).
Little Bay—St. Maarten
If you are seeking more than a simple coral reef experience, head for Little Bay. Thanks to crystal clear viz, the hulls of more than six shipwrecks, a scuttled yellow submarine, and even 16th century cannons can be spotted.
Not only do these abandoned markers of the island’s history offer a nice backdrop as you float above, they provide habitat for endless tropical fish, eels, sea urchins and if you have a good eye, an octopus or two. Take a few minutes to swim over the sea grass for a chance to spot southern stingrays, turtles and passing jacks and snappers.
Galion and Dawn on St. Maarten’s far eastern coastline had boasted some of the best reefs on the island, but always required a fairly calm day for their exploration due to current and rough surf. Sadly, due to their locations, these two charmers took a serious hit from Irma and at this time have been changed by nature indefinitely with surrounding facilities (including popular Mr. Busby’s) no longer in existence. Not recommended.
Just offshore and a $12 rt skiff ride from Orient Bay, in the island’s northeast corner, this laidback island offers fantastic snorkeling. Located in a protected Marine Reserve, across the lagoon from Cul de Sac, the iguana haven features gentle sloping sand perfect for new snorkelers. Upon arrival, follow signs to the right for the Pinel Island Marine Trail to access a designated snorkeling trail, marked with white buoys.
Using this safe route to explore the reef, look for grunts, wrasse, tang, colorful parrotfish and keep an eye out for southern stingrays and sea turtles. More experienced snorkelers can take a scenic hike around the islands and find additional reef to explore on the north side of the island.
Baie Rouge and Le Trou David—Saint Martin
Island fave Baie Rouge (Red Bay) is located in the Les Terres Basses region of northwest coast. Famed for the pinkish hue sands leading to its name, it is also the access point to natural wonder David’s Hole.
Multiple arches forming holes let seawater rush into the collapsed sea cave, creating a mini-open-air cove 80-meter in diameter ringed by high cliff walls and a devilish bubbling from the crashing waves. The 25-foot deep reef extends a few hundred feet from the shoreline, teeming with fish. Partially submerged sea caves at the base of David’s Hole lead to chunks of reef offering respite to large schools of blue tang and the occasional hawksbill turtle.
Currents can be tricky here, so check with local sources about conditions and undertow.
Since Irma, the beach has gone through changes. Gus’s Beach bar is no more, leaving no rentals/refreshments so bring your own (and you might need to check in at security gate to access public parking).
Creole Rock—Saint Martin
Snorkeling this little bird rookery island isn’t as simple as donning fins and slipping into the sea. A popular spot for cruise ships and other tourist ventures (along with storm damage) has left much of the shoreline reefs beaten up by poor snorkel etiquette and fish largely looking for a handout rather than going about their business for snorkelers to observe and enjoy.
Since visiting the islands requires a journey across the water anyway, this might be best explored with a guide. Visitors using Creole Rock Water Sports out of Grand Case Beach Club have had great success with the tour’s “secret spot” away from the main “Rock” being able to enjoy a healthy, if small, section of reef packed with life.
Barracuda, turtle, stingrays, rainbow parrotfish, trumpetfish, French angels and even squid can be found.