By Perry – (Decatur, GA)
There has been a fair amount of discussion on this website about the state of the snorkeling in St John, USVI post 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. I have just returned in July 2019 from two weeks on the island where I was able to snorkel every day.
Below are my thoughts on the current condition of many of the most popular sites. Overall, I still believe that St John offers some of the best snorkeling from the shore in the entire Caribbean with many of the sites still in great condition. However, the impact of the hurricanes is very evident, and it will be a number of years before the snorkeling returns to the island’s pre-hurricane pristine state.
I will be comparing my experience with the descriptions and rankings in the St John Snorkeling Guide you can get on this website.
Honeymoon and Salomon Bay – guide ranking: 3 snorkels – my updated ranking: 2 snorkels – The main reef at Honeymoon is pretty beat up. This is probably a combination of the hurricanes and all the new activity on the beach (daily catamaran trips to snorkel, paddle boarders, etc.). However, there was still a good amount of fish and the water consistently offers some of the best visibility on the entire island.
Caneel Bay Beach – guide ranking: 5 snorkels – my updated ranking: 1 snorkel – We did the long swim over from Honeymoon and the damage was very evident from the point we entered the bay. The reef was completely destroyed by the storms and there has not yet been much recovery. We did see a very large Spotted Eagle Ray and a giant Caribbean Spiny Lobster. I would not waste the energy on the swim.
Hawksnest Beach – guide ranking: 2 snorkels – my updated ranking: 2 snorkels – Most of the Elkhorn Coral was surprisingly still healthy and there was a fair number of fish, turtles and a sting ray.
Maho Bay – guide ranking: 2 snorkels – my updated ranking: 1 snorkel – Maho is just a large grassy area to search for turtles and rays. They were still some there. Other than that, the beach does not offer much for snorkeling, but is a nice place to hang out and relax.
Francis Bay – guide ranking: 2 snorkels – my updated ranking: 3 snorkels – Francis never really contained very much coral and that is now even more so the case. However, there were a good amount of fish and many turtles. Still a nice long snorkel with some interesting sea life.
Waterlemon Cay – guide ranking: 4 snorkels – my updated ranking: 4 snorkels – The sea life was still abundant, but there seemed to be fewer large fish around the point and at the drop-off on the west side. Impressive amount of soft coral including a large sea fan area.
Long Bay and Pelican Rock – guide ranking: 5 snorkels – my updated ranking: 4 snorkels – The soft coral here appeared to fair the best from the hurricanes versus any other site on the island. The protection of the interior bay may have helped that outcome. Still a great snorkel site, but the amount of sea life seemed to be decreased a bit.
Blue Cobblestone Beach – guide ranking: 5 snorkels – my updated ranking: 5 snorkels – Still a great spot with abundant sea life. The coral was noticeably damaged, but not enough to diminish the snorkel.
Kiddel Bay – guide ranking: 5 snorkels – my updated ranking: 5 snorkels – Probably my current favorite spot on the island. The coral was also noticeably damaged, but the sea life was very active on both sides of the bay. Big and small fish. Always worth the drive.
Grootpan Bay – guide ranking: 5 snorkels – my updated ranking: 4 snorkels – I will preface this by saying that the conditions were a little tough for the snorkel (winds out of the southeast) creating poor visibility along the right side rock wall and around the point on the left. There seemed to be a lot of damage from the storm. We still saw a lot of sea life, but not like in past years.
Indians – (not in snorkeling guide) my updated ranking: 4 snorkels – Still a great snorkel area with unique features. Noticeable damage, but it remains one of the best sites reachable by boat.
The Caves – (not in snorkeling guide) my updated ranking: 3 snorkels – Fun to explore with some very large fish to see at the drop-off points. Saw the biggest barracuda I have ever seen here.
Spyglass Wall – (not in snorkeling guide) my updated ranking: 5 snorkels – The healthiest coral patch I saw during the entire trip. Impressive coral towers and large fish off the deep end of the wall. A very fun snorkel, but you need good conditions as the area is very exposed.
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Nicole and Galen – Jul 24, 2019 – Thank You!
Perry, thank you so much for taking the time to share this wonderfully detailed report of what you found snorkeling in St John, USVI after the hurricanes in 2017! Our St John Snorkeling Guide eBook was researched and written before the hurricanes. The rankings referenced above are from that guide. We want to give the reefs a little more time to recover before we revisit, but your report gives us some hope.
Here is another visitor page with info about snorkeling in St John after the 2017 hurricanes.
Susan B – Jul 24, 2019 – Corals at Waterlemon?
Waterlemon had some of the best large Elkhorn Corals in the islands. I notice that you mention the fish but no mention of the corals. Were the large Elkhorns still there?
Perry – Jul 25, 2019 – Waterlemon
I don’t recall seeing a large patch of Elkhorn Coral at Waterlemon, but I could have missed it. There was an impressive area of soft coral (particularly fan coral) on the east side of the cay before making the turn to the exposed north side. Unfortunately, the coral you referenced may have been impacted by the hurricanes. Overall, it is still a very nice snorkel. Especially early in the morning before the winds pick up.
Laura – Aug 4, 2019 – Turtles at Maho
We snorkeled Maho at least three times in July 2018. It was an easy entry from the beach and if you get there in the morning you are guaranteed to find turtles (some quite large) and rays. It is super easy for kids and teens as the cove is fairly protected and calm.
Perry – Aug 1, 2021 – St John 2021 Snorkeling Update
We just returned from two weeks on the island. Our first trip to St John since 2019. The island continues to recover from the hurricanes. There is a vast improvement in the two years that have passed in terms of infrastructure, vegetation recovery, and business openings.
One thing that has also changed is the amount of people visiting the island. This was by far the most people I have seen on St John. Between the COVID restrictions in the BVIs and the limitation of other options (cruises, etc.), the island was busting at the seams. This is great for the local economy, but I will welcome back when volume hopefully returns to a more manageable level of activity for both the locals (everyone we spoke to said they were exhausted) and the aquatic ecosystem.
As far as the reefs, I continue to see recovery with hope for a return to the top-notch snorkeling that the island offered prior to the hurricanes.
Most of the ratings I provided in 2019 still hold with the following changes.
Long Bay and Pelican Rock – I adjust my rating down to 3 snorkels from 4. All the activity on Hansen Beach and boating has had a negative impact on this site. The coral seems to have taken a bit of a beating and the sea life appears to have decreased in the area.
Waterlemon Cay – On the flip side, I will increase my rating to 5 snorkels from 4. The soft coral is in abundance on the north and east side of the cay. In addition, the sea life was fantastic. We saw octopus, Spotted Eagle Rays, moray eels, Peacock Flounders, and a variety of grouper just to name a few. Well worth the journey, hike, and long snorkel.
I also wanted to include a few new spots not previously listed.
Jumbie Beach – guide ranking: not rated – my ranking: 1 snorkel – Jumbie is a great little beach that is nice to experience if you are lucky enough to find a parking spot. The snorkeling is nothing special. The abundance of coral has been dead for some time. There is some soft coral life of the left side, but the visibility can be poor. I saw a number of squid and a few grouper but going here is not worth the effort for the snorkeling alone.
North Haulover – guide ranking: 3 snorkels – my ranking: 4 snorkels – This site had several well-developed reefs with a significant amount of healthy coral including an impressive area of Elkhorn. We saw a great amount of sea life including Nurse Sharks and a very large Porcupinefish. Worth stopping in while driving to the far east side of the island. One point to note was that the sargassum was pretty heavy when we were there, so that could be a negative at times.
Yawzi Point – guide ranking: 5 snorkels – my ranking: 4 snorkels – This area is very exposed, so it did experience a significant amount of damage from the hurricanes. However, the canyons and walls are still full of sea life. Like nearby Grootpan, the physical layout of this site is very dynamic. Also, the snorkel area around the point is very large, so there is a lot to explore here on a day with the right conditions.
Nicole and Galen – Aug 4, 2021 – Thanks Again Perry!
Thank you Perry for taking the time to share your 2021 snorkeling updates for St John. It is a great service to our readers.
Mark and Jennifer from Templeton, CA – Sep 26, 2022 – Question – Accommodations and Getting Around St. John
Does Perry or any others have some tips on accommodations and/or how to get around to the snorkeling spots on St. John? Do you have suggestions for spots to stay with easy access for shore snorkeling?
We were there about six years ago and stayed at Camp Bay which is no longer around. We walked and used the local public transportation. Do we need to rent some sort of transportation to snorkel other suggested sites?
Nicole and Galen – Sep 26, 2022 – St John Accommodations and Transportation
Hi Mark and Jennifer, one of your questions is answered on our St John page, linked to at the top of this page. You need to rent a vehicle, preferably a Jeep to get around the island. As for accommodations, we took down our page about that because so many of the places were destroyed by the hurricanes in 2017.
But in our eBook snorkeling guide, linked to above, the old recommendations are still in there. As for accommodations right on a beach with good snorkeling, we don’t think that is easy to find.
Hi Mark and Jennifer –
We were snorkeling in St John for two weeks in May 2022. We rented a 4WD SUV for the middle seven days of our trip, and used the public taxis for the front and back ends of our trip. We’ve done that on other trips and it works well for us – gives us a few days to get acclimated to the roads from the safety of the taxi before venturing out on our own. The roads on St John are very steep and twisty, and driving is on the left side.
On the days we had the car we snorkeled the farthest sights, out towards the east and south ends of the island. Taking the public taxi to those sights would have been costly and also not as convenient logistically to do, regarding wait times. Getting to the snorkeling sights closer to Cruz Bay, where we stayed, was super easy and inexpensive (and a blast!) via the open air taxis. An SUV was fine for us, it had high clearance and navigated some pretty wild dirt roads without grounding out.
We stayed at Battery Hill in Cruz Bay, which was lovely. There are eight or so units there, most of them listed on VRBO. It was a short walk down the hill into town.
Cinnamon Bay on the north shore has camping and cottage options. It is a big, lovely beach. We saw huge turtles and rays there, also squid and several huge Permit.