The largest underwater national park in the United States is in St. John. Almost half of the Virgin Islands National Park is submerged and boasts spectacular snorkeling and diving. Pack up your snorkel gear, towels, some fresh rinsing water, and head out. If you see a spot, pull over and jump in. Here is our tour of the beaches starting from the west side of the island.
Great Cruz Bay: The Westin is located here on the west side of the island. Because boats moor here outside the national park, the water is murky. However, kids love the water trampoline and climbing hill.
Cruz Bay: Downtown St. John where most of the boats and cruise ships moor is not a good place to snorkel but a terrific place to stroll and catch a sunset.
Hawksnest Bay: Some say Hawksnest Bay has the best snorkeling because of the reef. But the coral and the waves made for tough swimming. The coral grows in shallow water so be careful not to harm it or yourself. If you snorkel here, go during high tide so that you snorkel safely above the reef.
Maho Bay: This long stretch of powdery sand felt as if I was walking on velvet. The long beach contributed to the calm water. We saw fascinating animal life despite the monotonous sandy bottom. Fish congregate along the rocky left side of Maho. Rays and a sea turtle meandered by as we hovered over them. As an added surprise, a wild donkey stopped by to say hello as we were leaving.
Waterlemon Bay: If you snorkel here, be prepared. My husband called the only restroom here one of the scariest experiences of his life. He likened it to the Flukeman episode of The X-Files. The 15 minute walk is enough to deter someone. The hike is easy on flat ground but becomes unstable over the rocks. Note that brush and dense forest lies behind the beach, making a humid home to mosquitoes. Here I received most of the mosquito welts from our trip. The snorkeling was fair due to the boats moored in the bay. But we saw several turtles due to the abundance of sea grass, and spent two hours there.
Salt Pond Bay: We drove to Salt Pond Bay on the south side. This was the last stop on the paved road. We parked in the small lot at the top of the hill and walked 10 minutes down to the beach. The hike is easy but sloped so don’t carry too much equipment. Note there is little shade so have sun protection. The snorkeling here was eventful as there was a black tip shark sighting when we were in the water. We saw our first ray and followed it along the length of the bay. We found most of the fish at the rocky area on the left. Unfortunately, on the day that we went, the visibility was approximately 8 feet.