Crystal clear Caribbean waters result in fantastic St John snorkeling, diving, beaches and outdoor activities. The surrounding island of St Thomas and the chain of British Virgin Islands (BVI) share this amazing trait but each has something special to offer. Snorkeling, diving, hiking and relaxing of beautiful beaches are among the most popular activities.
St Thomas and St John snorkeling is some of the best in the world. Waters are calm and protected from wind and waves by the nearby islands and coral reefs. From the more popular Trunk Bay to more isolated coves, the crystal clear year round 80+ degree water makes this island a must experience event for the water active person.
Trunk Bay is the most popular St John snorkeling beach on the island. This also makes it one of the more crowded beaches on the island. However, do let this deter you from visiting using the hints explained below.
With easy access and just a short drive from town center, Trunk bay offers calm, crystal clear waters that include an underwater snorkeling path consisting of cement blocks that describe the habitat. A small island within easy reach provides abundant coral and sea life. The northern side of the island offers some slightly deeper water with additional varieties of fish not found closer to shore. If you are new to St John snorkeling, then this is a great place to start.
Even though the Trunk Bay area is somewhat touristy, especially on those days that have several cruise ships in port at St Thomas, this still is a must see location. The beach is gentle sloping with easy access. Full time lifeguards are present to ensure your safety plus make sure the the fragile coral reefs are not damaged. There is an underwater snorkeling trail with cement blocks describing the local fish and coral. The trail leads you along the west side of an island. The further you venture out along the western edge of this island, the more abundant the fish become. At the outer most island point, you can be very close to shore yet have easy access to 20-30 foot water with numerous species of large fish. You also lose most of the tourist, because they have a tendency to stay closer to shore, making for a more pleasant St John snorkeling adventure.
Hint! - check the cruise boat schedule and visit Trunk Bay on the day when the least amount of boats are due in. If you combine this with a mid-morning visit, you will avoid the crowds. Tour buses from the cruise ships typically don't make it over to Trunk Bay until just before lunch time. The lifeguards are very helpful answering questions about St John snorkeling conditions and local sea life.
Just a few minutes down the road, and just far enough to lose most of the tourist, is another favorite St John snorkeling spot, Maho Bay. I have been there twice and the most people I have seen on this beach is about a dozen. Parking is along the road in any spot that the car will fit, usually in the dirt between the thick foliage. The beach is right next to the road and entrance is through holes in the bushes. The water is very calm, shallow and there is good snorkeling on both sides along the rocky shores. This is one of my favorite beaches for just relaxing on the sand and floating in the calm waters while still having access to some great St John snorkeling.
Cinnamon Bay is another great St John snorkeling spot both for the beginner and the experienced. Shallow water around the rocky area is a great place to snorkel with a nice selection of brilliantly colored fish. For the more experienced snorkeler, the small island of Cinnamon Cay, has an even greater variety of sea life. In little Cinnamon Bay there is a small Cessna aircraft that sank several years ago making this a great St John diving spot. It is in shallow water located between the stone wall and the first group of palm trees.
Cinnamon Bay has a nice campground, restrooms and beach equipment rental. If you don't want to stay in one of the luxury resorts, this is a great, much less expensive, alternative. For more information, visit the Cinnamon Bay Home Page.
Stunning is the best word that describes the water just off of Mary Creek which is in the western most part of Leinster bay. Bright turquoise shallow water abounds with large areas of coral stretching out hundreds of feet. This is not so much a swimming beach area, but rather a great photography spot. Hint! - Photo spot! - Don't miss taking several pictures here on a sunny day to get the contrast of the water and coral from the area high above.
Off the coast of St Thomas, but still easily accessible from St John, is Buck Island, a small natural preserve with super clear water and visibilities of 100+ feet. You can jump in 60 foot water and watch several turtles make their way from the bottom, up to the surface for air, and then back down. The bay is protected from the wind and waves making this a great St John snorkeling spot.
We headed out on the Castaway Girl catamaran for our St John snorkeling adventure. We motored out to Buck Island and returned under sail. The crew was great and their rum punch during our return trip was awesome.
The trip to Buck Island was one of my favorite St John snorkeling spots and a must do activity.
If you like hiking, nature and waterfalls, the Reef Bay trail is one of the best St John activities . It is located about 5 miles or so east of Cruz Bay on Centerline Road . The trail head starts out an an elevation of about 900 feet. The trail is 2 1/2 miles long and descends from the summit down to the Reef Bay valley where the Sugar Mill is located adjacent to Genti Bay. The entire trip takes between 2 and 3 hours depending on how much time you take to stop and view nature's beauty. About two-thirds of the way down the trail is an off-shoot trail to the west that takes you to the Petroglyphs. This trail is only about 1/4 mile long.
You can do the trail on your own but parking at the top is limited to 5-6 cars at the most and you will not have a boat waiting for you at the bottom and will be required to hike the 2.5 miles back to the top. Humidity and heat can be excessive, especially in the summer months. Hint ! - Do the tour. It is well worth it.
The National Park Service, located in Cruz Bay, offers a guided tour including transportation to the head of the trail. At the end of the hike you are met by a boat that takes you back to Cruz Bay. Reservations are required and there is a modest fee for the trip. Contact the
National Park Service at (340) 776-6201 ext. 238
Voted #1 of best St John snorkeling, beaches and activities.
One of my favorite St John activities is a day trip tour to the British Virgin Islands that starts at the Westin St John Resort dock just before 8am.
We boarded the boat "Island Time" and headed out to Tortula to go through Customs and Immigration. The boat personnel handed all of the entry duties leaving each of us to bask in the sunshine of a calm Tortula harbor. Hint! - You must have your passport.
After checking in at Tortula, we head out to our first snorkel stop - Norman Island. The south side of the island is very steep and we moor in about 50 feet of water but are still very close to shore. Upon jumping in, the first reaction is that you can see underwater forever. We head toward land and are only 10 feet away but still in 20 feet of water. There is abundant sea life, coral and fish everywhere. The first large fish that I notice is a 4 foot barracuda which I follow for a few minutes until he turns around and stares at me. I decided to leave him alone. Hint ! - do not wear any type of shiny jewelry when snorkeling as some aggressive fish species may mistaken it for a small fish or lure.
There are three caves that you can swim back into. The further you go, the darker it gets until it is completely dark. Hint! - bring some type of waterproof flashlight. Also be careful to not rub up against any of the fire coral. The further you get back in the cave, the more narrow and shallow the water becomes. The seas are generally calm in this area so navigating amongst the caves is pretty easy.
The next stop is Cooper Island for a great lunch at the Beach Club restaurant. There is a small dock that can accommodate a handful of boats. Just a few steps away is the open air restaurant with a great view of the Carribean. The food and drinks are fantastic and the scenery is second to none.
After lunch we head to Virgin Gorda and The Baths. Giant granite boulders pushed up from the sea over centuries and stacked on the beach allow for a once in a lifetime hike. The boat moors about 500 feet offshore, making for a nice snorkel swim to the cove where you drop your fins and mask and start hiking through giant boulders surrounded by the stunning Caribbean water and talcum powder sand.
Surprise!! - at the end of the trail is a small bar and hut serving your favorite cold beer. It was a nice surprise and end to a very nice hike.
After hiking and then swimming back to the boat we departed on our 90 minute return trip back to the Westin St John.
Hint! - I highly recommend this day trip and you should add it to your list of St John Activities. Cruz Bay Water sports runs the boat "Island Time" and does a fantastic job of taking care of you throughout the day. Their website is as follows:
With the average water temperature around 82-83 in the summer and 80 in the winter with 75 to 100 feet or more of visibility, its no wonder that St John and the surrounding island of St Thomas are some of the most popular dive spots in the world. In fact, the two islands are so close together they share some of the same dive locations. St John diving sites vary from shallow to deep offshore walls and caves. Some are accessible from shore but most from a boat.
Since St John and St Thomas are United States territories, they are regulated by the US Coast Guard and all dive boat operators must conform to standards and inspections.
Carval Rock is a small rocky island, if that, about 3-4 miles north of Cruz bay. The rugged and steep rocks serve as a nesting site for many birds. The north side of the rock is the most popular and deep where stingrays and tarpon are commonly seen.
Eagle Shoal is a premier St John diving site but only for the experienced. Even then, it can only be approached on calm days. Located about 1 mile offshore form the most south eastern point of St John, Eagle Shoal is only visited by a handful of dive operators due to its distance from St Thomas and the more western departure locations of St John. Surrounded by three long coral reefs, this area has numerous caves, arches and overhangs.
Grass Cay is located to the north, equal distance between St John and St Thomas. This is a great area for the beginner with four dive sites ranging from about 10 to 80 feet deep. There are large colorful coral mounds that rise off of the sandy bottom that are home to a large number of species of colorful fish.