Snorkeling Waterlemon Cay is surprisingly busy given that it requires a hike of about 3/4 mile to get to the beach. The hike is even farther if you want to cut the distance of the swim in half. But, you are rewarded with a healthy shallow reef, a good number of fish, and the opportunity to see bigger creatures like rays and turtles.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular St John Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
Waterlemon Cay is an island on the north shore of St. John. The best reef to explore is on the far side of the island, the side most exposed to wind and waves. You really need to do this on a calm day, or on a day that the winds are coming more out of the south. Because even on a calm day we experienced quite a bit of current and waves. Also, go early in the morning because the winds often pick up late in the morning.
Depending upon your strength and stamina as a swimmer, you can choose a longer or shorter swim.
The longer swim begins from Waterlemon Beach then out to and around the island and back. The distance of the swim is about 4100 feet or 3/4 mile. The advantage of this is swimming over the sea grass beds in front of the beach where you are likely to see turtles, rays and reportedly Cushion Sea Stars.
The shorter swim for snorkeling Waterlemon Cay begins about 1/4 mile past Waterlemon Beach along the rocky shoreline closer to the island. The distance to swim around the island from here is about 2200 feet.
Another option is to enter at one spot, bringing your shoes with you and exit at the other spot. Then walk back along the shore to grab your stuff.
The Leinster Bay trail begins near the end of the road to the Annaberg Ruins. There is a sign at the start of the trail. It is a mostly level trail that follows along the shoreline for about 3/4 mile to Waterlemon Beach.
You can walk a bit farther, about another 1/4 mile, so that you can enter the water closer to the island. Don't take the right turn onto the Johnny Horn Trail. The trail comes out to the point where you do a little rock scramble around to the right, and it comes out to another cobblestone beach area.
At Waterlemon Beach, you can enter the water anywhere. It is sandy and with small rocks, so you can enter barefoot, but if you have sensitive feet wear some shoes.
For the water entrance closer to the island, choose a spot on the cobblestone beach near where the trail came in, not farther north along the shore. The reason for this is that there is less shallow coral life to be damaged when you are entering and exiting the water. You will need shoes for this entrance and exit.
For snorkeling Waterlemon Cay, there are 3 areas to check out.
First, in front of the beach are sea grass beds. There are often turtles and rays to see here. Also you can apparently see Cushion Sea Stars here, although we did not.
Next, just past the rocky point you can see on the right side of the beach, close to shore, is an area with many fish, lots of sponges, and some patch coral heads. We had fun here.
From there, head toward the island. You will swim over a sand bar. Current can move quickly across this, so keep an eye out. Also watch for Peacock Flounders in this area, we saw many.
Last, you can snorkel all the way around the island and going counter clockwise makes the most sense if you want to do this. That way you are swimming with the common wind and wave direction on the outside, and back on the protected lee side of the island.
The outside of the island has most all of the reef life. It is a healthy area with all kinds of hard and soft corals, including Elkhorn, Staghorn and Pillar Corals. The Staghorn area is little ways out on the eastern point. There was decent fish life around the island but not tons when we visited.
If the current is not strong when you visit, you could turn around to swim back along the outside. If not, or you just want to see something different, you can keep swimming around the island back on the inside. But, there is virtually no sea life there, as it is all sand, though we did see a ray and some urchins here. Then, return to your chosen exit point.
The visibility while snorkeling Waterlemon Cay was generally pretty good all around, but worse in the shallows. The depths range from about 1-20 feet for this snorkel.
There are two other snorkeling spots that are accessed from the same parking area and the same trail. They will both be described fully in our upcoming St. John eBook. You can sign up for our newsletter to be notified when it is released.
We saw 2 turtles, 2 rays, some Peacock Flounder, a beautiful Yellowhead Jawfish coming in and out of a hole, and a pretty Spotted Moray Eel being followed around by groupers. This was a good spot to see hard and soft corals, fish and other creatures.
There are trash cans and pit toilets at the trailhead/parking area. There is nothing but shade from trees at the beach.