St John snorkeling offers more great shore snorkel spots than any other Caribbean island we have visited yet. This means you don't need a boat tour to get to them. Although a kayak rental can be helpful for a few areas.
For sure, some of the very popular and beautiful north shore beaches have dead reefs. Because of that we heard reports that St John is all dead. That is far from the truth. There are numerous spots around the island that have beautiful reefs and loads of fish. Not to mention St John has turtles and rays nearly everywhere.
Plus St John, in the USVI, is a quaint and enjoyable vacation destination. It is a beautiful little mountain island that is mostly a U.S. National Park. There is really only one small town, two gas stations and a few grocery stores. There is not even an airport; you ferry over from St. Thomas.
Click the links below for full descriptions, reviews and pictures. Also don't miss the video, pictures and more about what you can expect further down the page.
St John Snorkeling Guide eBook - The sample locations below are just a few from our popular eBook guide. You get:
Trunk Bay - Learn about the snorkeling and the underwater trail at the most popular national park beach.
Waterlemon Cay - A north shore island snorkel with a reef that is worth the 3/4 mile hike.
Watch our St John snorkeling video below to see what to expect. We compiled clips from all over the island.
1. Loads Of Free Snorkeling From Shore At Your Own Pace
While there are many boat tour options on St. John that can be lots of fun, you can access nearly all the best locations for free from shore. And if you are interested in renting a kayak there are a couple of great areas easily paddled to that are in fairly protected water. And no matter what the wind direction, you can always find some place calm to snorkel.
2. Plentiful Fish, Creatures, Corals & Sponges
If you know where to go, St John does not lack for healthy fish populations in good variety. We saw very few eels, but lots of other fish species, many squid and even a few octopus. We saw no sharks, but some of the biggest Barracuda ever. You can also find healthy soft and hard corals, including a great deal of Elkhorn Coral around the island. Although it seems that purple sea fan health is threatened around the island.
3. Turtles & Rays Everywhere
If you snorkel at dusk or dawn, at nearly every location you have a good chance of swimming with turtles and rays. That is always a treat.
4. Interesting Underwater Topography
We are particularly fond of snorkel areas that have cool features to explore, like walls, caves, big boulders and other interesting underwater landscape features. And St John has numerous locations that got us really excited because of the cool topography.
As you can see in the St John snorkeling map below, the snorkel locations are spread out all over the island.
Most Spots Are Fairly Exposed
While many of the snorkel beaches on St John are within some sort of bay, none of them are behind a protective barrier reef, so they are open to waves, surge, swell and currents. And a number of the better ones are located around rocky points that are very exposed.
Trade Winds Blow
The island gets a fair amount of wind, primarily a trade wind out of the east. But it can swing around from other directions.
For both of the reasons above it's important to check weather websites and buoy data to choose a safe place to snorkel. See our travel information below for links to weather websites.
Some form of protective footwear is necessary for entering and exiting the water on St John because of rocky shores. Yes, there are a number of nice sandy beaches, but a good portion of the best locations require foot protection.
For a number of reasons we think the best month for snorkeling in St John is March. It has one of the lowest probabilities of winds and lowest wind speeds. March is also a dry month for rains and is not during hurricane season.
One downside to March is that water and air temperatures are lower; water is 79 to 81°F and air high and low are 84°F and 72°F. We just used our neoprene tops and were warm enough for snorkeling for extended periods of time. Another downside is that you are traveling during high season which is more expensive and busier.
If March does not suit you then here is some more snorkeling weather information for St John.
The months with the lowest probability of wind and the lowest average wind speed are March, April, September, October and November. Wind is predominantly an easterly tradewind that can shift to the northeast and the southeast. Here is a link to the Windfinder statistics page.
There is not necessarily a rainy season, but the most rain has historically fallen in September, October and November. Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June through November, with the highest chance of storms in August and September. There are some rain statistics and hurricane information on this page.
Air temperatures never get very cold, but the average lows in the winter, November-April, are 70-73°F and winter highs are 83-85°F. While the average lows in the summer, May-October, are 74-77°F and summer highs are 86-89°F.
Water temperatures range from 77°F to 86°F in St John. The coolest water temperatures are in January, February and March between 77 and 81°F. Warmest water temperatures are in the fall months, September through November between 83 and 86°F.
One more factor to keep an eye on for snorkeling safety is ocean swell. Here is a surf forecast page for St John.
For current conditions when you are on the island look at the webpage for NOAA's weather data buoy south of St John.
You will be flying into St Thomas, the island just west. Then you have a choice to make. You can rent a vehicle on St Thomas and drive it onto the car barge that takes you over to St John. Or you can catch a taxi to one of the passenger ferries over from either Charlotte Amalie or Redhook and then rent your vehicle on St John.
Once on St John, you will be driving on a small mountain. Most rental vehicles are jeeps. A 4 wheel drive vehicle is very useful if not necessary depending on how much exploring you want to do. The roads are extremely steep and winding with some very tight switchback corners.
Oh yeah, you also drive on the left side of the road, in a left hand drive car. So that takes some getting used to. Drive slow, because donkeys, cows, goats, pigs, wide trash trucks, buses, and pedestrians do suddenly appear on these narrow roads.
Cruz Bay, the main town on St John, is home to much of the accommodations available on the island. Though there are some options in Coral Bay and elsewhere around the island too.
You will find there are some hotels, resorts and Bed & Breakfasts. But the most common lodgings available are villas, also known as vacation rentals, in the form of homes, cottages, apartments, studios, and condos. You can even find eco-lodging and camping options. Read our St John snorkeling accommodations page for recommendations about where to stay for the best access to snorkeling.