If you’re heading to St. Thomas, chances are you’re going to want to do a little (or a lot) of snorkeling while you’re here. Luckily, the island has some of the most vibrant reefs in the Virgin Islands and are home to a huge diversity of marine life. You could snorkel every beach in St. Thomas and still see something new! The reefs here are easily which is perfect for being able to drive to the beach and walk right on into the water. In this guide, I’m going to give you the run-down of the best snorkel friendly beaches on island and all they have to offer.
TOP 5 BEACHES TO SNORKEL IN ST. THOMAS
1. Brewer’s Bay
Up first is arguably my favorite snorkel spot on island- Brewer’s Bay beach. Located on the west side of the island, this beach sits directly next to the airport runway. When you’re flying in, look out the left side of the plane and the beach that kisses the runway is Brewer’s. This is the most notable snorkel spot on island for finding green sea turtles because they live here 24/7/365. The sea turtles are extremely used to people and will pay you no mind. They are all over the bay and you don’t have to swim very far out to see them either- some will be in waist deep water. It goes without saying, but do not touch the sea turtles or any other marine life. Sea turtles are an endangered species and you can actually be fined for touching them. Not to mention the harm you can do to marine life by touching it or how it can harm you. Snorkeling is all about spectating, so play it safe and don’t touch anything.
Brewer’s is also home to another awesome marine species, the common Octopus. These guys are champions at hide-and-seek so they are usually to hard to spot. However, they’re easy to find at this beach given there isn’t much coral for them to hide in. What this beach lacks in coral, it makes up for with other marine life and sea turtles. They are usually the #1 thing people want to see when they come snorkeling here and nowhere else are you going to have such a close encounter with multiple turtles at one time.
Brewer’s is also known as a local’s beach, meaning there’s fewer people here all at once. Talk about a bonus! There is very little shade on the actual beach though and there are no beach chairs or umbrellas. Therefore, make sure to bring personal sun protection and chairs if you plan on getting a tan after snorkeling.
Wildlife: 4 Shade: 1 Parking: Yes Food/Drink: Yes (food trucks) Bathrooms: Yes Outdoor Shower: Yes
2. Secret Harbor
This cove is tucked into the southside of the island, meaning it’s hidden from the waves and currents of the open ocean which makes for easy snorkeling, especially for beginners. Even though there is a small resort and restaurant/ bar on the beach, you are still allowed to snorkel there. All beaches in St. Thomas are public, so resorts cannot restrict access to outside guests. Keep in mind that while you will have access to the restrooms, bar and restaurant, you will not be able to use the beach chairs which are reserved strictly for guests.
The are 2 reefs on either side of the cove at Secret Harbor and one in the middle. There are also scattered seagrass patches where you’ll often times find stingrays and more turtles! For beginner snorkelers, I would recommend sticking to the middle and right side of the cove. The reef on the left pours out into the open ocean which is susceptible to strong currents and swells that could make for a tiring swim, even to experienced snorkelers. In the middle there are groups of coral heads that hide a large amount of marine life in relatively shallow water, which makes it a great spot for beginners or kids. However, all the reefs will have colorful coral, schools of tropical fish, moray eels and sometimes even squid.
Wildlife: 4 Shade: 3 Parking: Yes Food/Drink: Yes (restaurant/bar) Bathrooms: Yes Outdoor Shower: Yes
3. Sapphire Beach
This beach is on the eastern point of the island facing St. John and the BVI’s and it is one of the most breathtaking views on the whole island! The water here is that idyllic turquoise blue color that you imagine when you think of the Caribbean. Sapphire is a pretty large cove and the beach extends the length of the whole property. Sapphire beach is another beach resort, but again you are allowed to use the beach and restrooms, just not the beach chairs. There is also a restaurant and bar on site if you work up an appetite after all that snorkeling.
The reef at Sapphire is located on the left side of the beach. Even though the beach extends the length of the property, the right side is very shallow and rocky and there really isn’t much to see. The main reef though has very healthy coral and a diverse population of fish.
Two things to watch out for while snorkeling here are sea urchins and fire coral. Fire coral is a mustard-yellow coral that is found pretty much on every reef but can feel like your skin is itchy or burning if you rub up against it. If you need to adjust your snorkel gear, make sure you aren’t doing it directly over the reef in case a wave knocks you into the coral. Just give yourself plenty of distance between you and the reef and you’ll be good to go! As far as the sea urchins, they do not shoot their spines at you and they only move a few inches a day. Therefore, the easiest way to avoid them is to once again make sure you give yourself enough distance and depth from the reef.
Wildlife: 3 Shade: 3 Parking: Yes Food/Drink: Yes (restaurant/bar) Bathrooms: Yes Outdoor Shower: No
4. Hull Bay
If you want to experience a local’s beach off the beaten path, this is it! Hull Bay is located on the Northside of the island and is a classic island hideaway. Being this is not one of the main tourist beaches, you will practically have the whole beach to yourself. The main section of the reef that you’ll want to snorkel starts in the middle of the cove and wraps around to the right. Getting to the reef is a little bit of a swim though. It’s about 30-40 yards from the beach, so if you are not a strong swimmer make sure to bring a snorkel vest or noodle.
Even though the reef isn’t right off the beach, it has some of the largest coral heads on island which are definitely worth the swim. Hull Bay has a huge diversity of marine life from sea turtles, fish, lobster, nudibranchs and even the occasional nurse shark (don’t worry, they’re harmless). You could go to Hull Bay for one snorkel and see all the marine life that the island has to offer!
The actual beach has plenty of shade from trees and even a few picnic tables which makes it a great spot to hangout before and after your snorkel session. Being it is a stand alone beach (not part of a resort) there aren’t beach chairs laid out for guests. So again, make sure to bring some if you plan on spending time hanging out at the beach.
Wildlife: 4 Shade: 4 Parking: Yes Food/Drink: Yes (restaurant/bar) Bathrooms: Yes Outdoor Shower: No
5. Buck Island
If you get the chance, Buck Island is also a popular snorkel spot that should be on your list! Buck Island is about a mile or so off the southside of St. Thomas and is a popular destination for boat trips. There are multiple coves to snorkel that have reefs full of tropical fish, sea turtles and stingrays. The most exciting part of Buck Island though is snorkeling in shipwreck cove! Get your Pirates of the Caribbean theme music ready because there is an actual shipwreck that you can snorkel out there teeming with Yellowtail Snapper and other tropical fish.
The Cartanza Senora was a 190 foot freighter originally used to transport goods in WWII. It was sunk in the harbor of St. Thomas and for years it was considered a navigational hazard until it was brought out to Buck Island. It remains there in 3 pieces and acts as an artificial reef for diving and snorkeling. Boat trips to Buck Island run almost every day of the week and usually last a few hours long.