With an abundance of breathtaking underwater landscapes and exotic marine creatures, the U.S. Virgin Islands is a without a doubt a snorkeler’s paradise. Surrounded by the iconic clear blue waters of the Caribbean, USVI presents a diverse array of snorkeling opportunities from mangrove shorelines to patch reefs and more. Creating a list of the best spots for snorkeling in the Virgin Islands is daunting, especially when you consider that the term ‘best’ is very much subjective. However, we’re pretty confident that the following bays and beaches are worthy of this distinction and deserve their own spots in your snorkeling bucket list.
Situated in the northern shores of St. John, Maho Bay is simply picture perfect with its white sand beach, towering coconut trees, and magnificent blue waters, and beyond the sand lies an even more magical world that is sure to take your breath away.
The shallow waters just off the beach have sea turtles, rays, and schools of bait fish feeding on the beds of seagrass. However, if you want to see more patches of reefs with corals and colorful fishes, then you’ll have to follow the eastern and western shorelines.
The eastern and western shorelines of Maho Bay are home to a wide variety of aquatic flora and fauna. Snorkelers are rewarded with majestic views of reef patches peppered with corals like gorgonians, purple sea fans, and fire corals. Lounging in these coral reefs are varieties of parrot fish, Atlantic blue tangs, Gray and French angelfish, and many more. If you’re lucky, you may even come across a lionfish or a docile nurse shark.
Dubbed as one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea, the uninhabited Buck Island Reef National Monument is considered to be one of the best snorkeling spots in St. Croix. This snorkeler’s paradise boasts of over 250 fish species and a host of other marine animals like sea turtles, eagle rays, and the occasional lemon sharks and juvenile reef sharks.
Snorkelers can follow a dedicated snorkeling trail, reading the plaques along the way that describe the marine flora and fauna commonly found in the area. Meandering through the large coral formations in the trail allows you to swim with butterfly fish, parrot fish, blue tangs and hundreds of other fish and aquatic creatures. With a mind-blowing collection of marine life in various shapes, colors, and sizes, this thriving marine ecosystem is sure to leave you in awe.
Keep in mind that is a national monument and is thus protected by the national park system. As such, capacity is limited. So when planning a snorkeling trip here, you should definitely make reservations to any of the boats that make the trip to Buck Island daily.
If you’re planning on snorkeling with your kids, Leinster Bay is the way to go with the bottom staying shallow and never reaching a steep drop-off. Your kids will definitely have a grand time swimming along with trumpetfish, angelfish, and southern stingrays. They may even spot a sea turtle or two. If they’re excellent swimmers and brave enough to venture into the deeper waters, they may be rewarded with a sighting of eagle rays or barracudas from a distance.
Aside from the excellent snorkeling opportunity, another thing that most people love about Leinster bay is that there is very little crowd that comes here, unlike Maho Bay and Buck Island which is always teeming with tourists. However, do note that vendors who sell food or lend snorkeling gears are almost non-existent in this part of St. John so be sure to bring your own equipment and snacks.
Another popular snorkeling destination in St. John is Waterlemon Cay. Over 40 species of hard and soft corals can be found in this area, ranging from elkhorn, staghorn, pillar corals and more. Hundreds of tropical fish species like surgeonfish, trunkfish, and peacock flounders are abundant in this area. The seagrass in front of the beach is home to turtles and rays, and accordingly, this is where you can spot yellow and orange sea stars. With the abundance of marine creatures in this area, it is no wonder that thousands of snorkeler’s make the pilgrimage to Waterlemon each year.
Note that the entry can be rocky so you should definitely bring your water shoes. Also, Waterlemon Cay can be subject to strong currents especially on the far side, so it is best to have a snorkeling buddy with you when venturing to that area. Don’t let that intimidate you though since there are snorkeling spots in Waterlemon which are perfect even for the average swimmer.
One of the longest and most beautiful beaches in St. John, Francis bay offers one of the best spots not just for snorkeling but for other water sports activities like paddleboarding and others. Like Leinster Bay, Francis bay doesn’t get as much visitors as the more popular beaches in St. John do. This makes it perfect for snorkelers or even sunbathers who want to escape the crowd and enjoy a nice, quiet day at the beach.
The western end of the beach offers great snorkeling opportunities for beginners with its calm, turquoise waters, while the rocky eastern shore is best suited for the more advanced snorkeler. The center of the bay is mostly sea grass and is home to sea turtles and rays. Occasionally, a gigantic manta ray may find himself here. Other marine life that thrives around Francis Bay includes yellowtail snappers, French grunts, Damselfish, and tarpons feeding on fry.
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The US Virgin Islands is home to some of the most beautiful marine ecosystems in the world. Snorkeling in the Virgin Islands delivers a variety of adventures catering to various ages, levels, and abilities; however, all of them will surely provide you with the same opportunity to view the unspoiled beauty of the Caribbean. With all the underwater sights you’ll see, you’re bound to stay in the water longer than you had planned, so don’t forget to bring your snorkeling sunscreen as well.
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Have you snorkeled in the Virgin Islands? What is your favorite spot? Let us know how you liked it in the comment section below.