Located just east of Puerto Rico, St. John is the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands; the other two being St. Thomas and St Croix. It's land mass of 20 square miles, was dotted with mostly plantations of cotton and sugar cane in it's early history under Danish rule. It was purchased by the United States from Denmark in 1917 but it wasn't until the 1930's when it began to gain recognition for tourism.
Laurence Rockefeller (1910-2004) purchased 5,000 acres of land on St. John following a stop there during a Caribbean cruise. Being somewhat of an environmentalist as well as of a philanthropic nature, this acreage was turned over to the government in 1956 becoming part of the Virgin Islands National Park. It more than doubled the original acreage slated for the park. Legislation by congress in 1962 expanded the park to include over 5,000 acres of offshore land beneath the water in an effort to preserve and protect the beauty of the coral reefs and their inhabitants. This expansion is one of the reasons St. John is one of the popular snorkeling destinations for visitors worldwide. We will show you the best snorkeling in St. John and what you can see at each location.
Waterlemon Cay has been the highlight of many snorkeling trips for island visitors. Getting to the access area does involve a little bit of a walk along a trail that parallels the beach. The trek is a little over a half mile from the Annaberg Ruins parking lot and the Cay itself is about a ten minute snorkel. The fringing reefs around it are home to a wide array of reef fish. Stingrays and Hawksbill turtles are some of the other marine life that you may encounter.There has been coral bleaching reported but this is still an excellent choice for your snorkeling adventure. There is a small beach on the Cay on which you may rest before beginning your snorkel back to shore.HAULOVER BAY (NORTH)
If you don't mind a pebble beach instead of a sandy beach then Haulover Bay, located on the eastern end of St. John would be worth the journey. This has become a popular place for the locals and snorkelers alike. It is reported that snorkeling along the western portion of the bay is best for the marine life and corals. There are many large rock and coral outcroppings to explore with the prettiest being in depth ranges between 5 and 20 feet. Queen parrot fish, Wrasses and even Trumpet fish may be seen in and among the Sea fans or even nibbling on the elkhorn or brain corals. Make sure that you wave back at the anemones as they welcome you to your aquatic adventure. It is not advised to swim past the western point due to the possibility of stronger currents being present. The best time of day for snorkeling here is early morning when the winds come in from the south. This area is best left to the experienced snorkeler. There is limited road side parking and when it is found getting to the beach area does involve about a 5 minute hike along a trail.
Salt Pond Beach which faces the bay can be considered secluded but does have some amenities such as picnic tables and BBQ pits as well as an outhouse. Hikers will enjoy the five minute trek down the steep trail that leads to the beach itself. When facing the water it has been reported that the best snorkeling is around the rock outcroppings in the bay's middle as well as along it's left side of the bay.KIDDEL BAY
To the west of Salt Pond Bay lies another snorkeling opportunity which is Kiddel Bay. The coral rubble beach is just steps away from parking. There is not much in the way of amenities so bringing a picnic lunch is advisable. There are a series of rocks sticking out of the water along the western shore where the reef extends out. The reef inhabitants cavort among the arches and tunnels that lie between 15 and 20 feet below the water's surface. This is a great opportunity for the experienced free diver but caution is recommended. For the novice snorkelers, both sides of the bay offer an abundance of marine life.CANEEL BAY
Caneel Bay is one of the more popular spots for snorkelers and public access to the best portions of the beach is through the Caneel Resort. There is a charge for parking which is about $10.00 and the use of chairs, towels is reserved to the guests of the resort only. The Bay is part of the U.S. National Park System which prides itself of protecting the delicate ecosystem of the bay,which means look is wonderful but touching is bad. Angel Fish, banded butterfly fish, octopus and parrot fish are some of the marine life that you may encounter. The corals are stunning and you may even see a spotted eagle ray or two. You may also choose to enjoy a wonderful lunch at the resort restaurant before embarking on your adventure.HURRICANE HOLE
The mangroves of Hurricane Hole should be a must for the snorkeler visiting St. John. The mangroves play an important part in the ecosystem as they provide shelter and act as a marine life nursery as much of the marine life you will see there are in their juvenile forms. Many people look at the prospect of snorkeling mangroves to be muggy, buggy and smelly but Hurricane Hole is part of a Mangrove Fringe Forest which is not as extensive at a true Mangrove Forest. This means it won't be buggy and smelly. It is preferred that fins not be used when partaking of this adventure as to avoid kicking up the sediment. Conch, baby crab and baby barracuda are just some of the youngsters you will see.
St. John is a wonderful getaway for snorkelers from the United States and there are many repeat visitors. It is easy to get to and no passport is needed for U.S. residents because it is part of the United States. Find out what Laurence Rockefeller saw and determined to preserve for future generations.
By Roy Jamason
Updated February 26, 2015