by Female Abroad

Most people when they head out the Caribbean are wanting beach, cruise, sailing, shopping, or some sort of relaxing escape. For me, I cannot just be stuck on an all-inclusive for days on end and need to do something. I find that snorkeling is a great way to explore, get exercise, and burn your bum really badly. The last one is not a highlight but usually worth it if you catch a glimpse of a ray or something even more rare (I'm looking at you sea turtles).

Since we were headed to St. Johns on our cruise and had an option of doing a snorkeling day trip I figured I might as well look into it to see if the island was worth it. Surely if the cruise line is offering it, there must be some reason for it.

The first thing that I learned is that the island has a large area that is protected by a National Park however more than 40% of this park is actually underwater. That to me was interesting as I didn't know that you could have a sunken "park" but it turns out there are mangrove's whose roots twist and turn through the water, beds of sea grass, and random reefs so it does kinda sound like a park. I also learned that the island is very dependent upon weather as to which of the following spots is the "best" so the following list is in no particular order.

Brown Bay - North Shore

There are only two ways to get to this bay; trail from Watermelon Bay or East End Road and boat. Once here you will find conch, lobster, sea stars, and other shell fish. On the east there are gorgonian corals. On the west there is a fringing reef with rare staghorn.

Caneel Bay - North Shore

Various coral and young schools of fish can be found in some of the calmest waters right beside the Caneel Bay Resort. As this is a beach resort, you will not be able to use the beach chairs and you can only access the main beach.

Chocolate Hole - South Shore

Oddly enough, this spot is found in a busy residential area. Turn off Chocolate Hole East Road and find the right hand turn down to the rock / sand beach where there is a resort (it was under construction pre-Irma). Here you'll find thick sea grass with lots of fish and sometimes rays or conchs.

Cinnamon Bay Cay - North Shore

This is one of the windiest spots on the island and depending on which side of the Cay you head to, you'll find different creatures. East side - shellfish, shelter fish, and starfish. Deeper waters - snappers and various reef fish. East, North, & West - various coral and other fauna. Northwest - coral pillars. West - shallow reef with an airplane propeller (not always visible). South - a dead reef with lots of fish.

Denis Bay / Perkins Cay - North Shore

Don't let the trespassing, keep off, and beware of dog signs scare you off; the private property that these signs are meant to protect doesn't start until the tree line so you are free to use the beach. Here you will find a recovering reef but it can get windy.

Francis Bay - North Shore

besides Trunk Bay, Francis is another place that is great for beginners due to the calm waters and schools of fish that hand out around the small coral patches. If you are strong swimmer then if you head out 1/3 mile from the north end of the beach you'll find various corals.

Great Lameshur Bay - South Shore

Due to the over abundance of sea weed, the east shore of the bay has been killed off but head beyond Cabrita Horn to see various fish like snappers and glassy sweepers.

Haulover Bay - North Shore

Seen in the movie The Big Blue this calm water rubble beach features small corals and fish but if you take the trail on the opposite of the road you'll see one of the densest reefs in the area but it is often windy with choppy seas.

Hawksnest Bay - North Shore

Harder to snorkel here as it is very shallow plus most of the reef is dead but is coming back slowly.

Honeymoon Bay / Saloman - North Shore

Here you will find two sandy beaches with clear water and a variety of different corals. Since there is always a wide variety of fish and you can see a lot of action is shallow water these beaches tend to become busy in the mid-morning / afternoon as the charter boats start coming in.

Jumbie Bay - North Shore

Slightly hidden (park on Northshore Road, cross the street, and enter the path that starts between the two speed bumps) this sandy beach leads out to a patchy reef but keep going deeper towards the left side of the bay (about 5 minutes) and once it doubles in depth you will find a lively reef with a bunch of fish.

Leinster / Waterlemon Bay - North Shore

Watermelon Bay is one of the only places to see the large orangish cushion sea star and Peacock flounder. Take the Leinster Bay Trail for about 10 minutes which will take you to a thin sandy area (wouldn't really call it a beach) that has a shallow reef with parrot fish, tangs, and other reef fish. If you keep heading out then there is a steep drop off with the chance of spotting a sea turtle. Another 10 minute walk would get you to a hard packed sand beach. Swim over this and keep walking along the rocky shore until you get to the deep water where you will find lots of fish, coral, gorgonians, and sea birds. Be careful in this area as there can be a strong current.

Little Lameshur Bay - South Shore

Great for beginners. Head past Coral Bay, all the way to end of the road, and here you will find a sheltered sand beach that is separated from Great Lameshur Bay. Swim out to the cluster of rocks to see snappers, grunts, and various other fish. If the water is calm, you can swim all the way to Europa Bay while checking out canyons in the rocks with schools of fish.

Maho Bay - North Shore

Lots of sea grass in this shallow bay which is normally the perfect home for the Green Sea Turtle. Besides them (usually they appear in the early morning or early evening) there is not much fish (there are a few angel fish) or coral.

Salt Pond Bay - South Shore

Park at the parking lot off Route 107 and walk for 7 minutes to this take a 1/4 mile swim to two sets of rocks in the middle of the bay. Here you'll see lots of hard corals, gorgoians, and fish as well as pillar coral. The beach is fringed with reefs but keep to the east side as they are thicker and healthier. If you hike over the first hill then you'll find a blue cobblestone & coral rubble beach that you can snorkel back to Salt Pond from which gives you a chance to see a sea turtle.

Trunk Bay Underwater Trail - North Shore

If you are new to snorkeling or like learning about marine life then this is a great place to start. This place can get crowded and the water can get choppy if it's windy but its a great place to start. Along the 300 feet (before you U-turn back to the beach) there are plaques along the bottom that explain the various fish and plants you will see in the area. If you keep going past this turn around point you will see that the reef continues with schools of fish and rougher water. Since this is a "highlight" of the island it is normally busy during the mid-morning to late afternoon period.

When deciding where to snorkel there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. South Shore options will be calmer when the North Shore options are rough and vice versa.
  2. Due to hurricane's sea life and accessibility can be affected , always check before going
  3. Keep your eyes peeled for dangerous creatures: sea urchins, lion fish, sting rays, sharks, etc

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