St. Croix, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands, gifts visitors with glittering beaches and abundant coral reefs that offer a variety of experiences and places to go snorkeling.
Explore a gem of the Caribbean, Buck Island Reef National Monument, and protected reefs in a coastal preserve. You can snorkel above shipwrecks, in the bay where Columbus anchored in 1493, or at close-in reefs where you can rent kayaks or kick back with cocktails.
Here are 13 of the best places to go snorkeling in St. Croix.
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument, one of the best places to go snorkeling in St. Croix, lies one and a half miles off St. Croix’s coast.
The jewel of St. Croix’s snorkeling sites, Buck Island Reef National Monument so impressed President John F. Kennedy that he praised it as “one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea,” elevating the Buck Island site to National Monument status.
To further safeguard the area, President Bill Clinton greatly expanded the monument to its current size of 19,000 acres of land and submerged areas.
To explore the Caribbean coral reef, you follow a guide along a 20-minute underwater trail highlighting the brightly-hued fish—blue tangs, parrotfish, striped angelfish, and wrasse—as they swim past the massive elkhorn and brain coral.
After your water tour, relax on Buck Island’s stunning white sand beach. There’s a trail you can hike to the 400-foot peak for sweeping sea views. Be sure to bring sneakers and long pants so you can comfortably walk the path without being scraped by the cactus and underbrush.
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Cane Bay Beach
Cane Bay Beach, another of the top places to snorkel in St. Croix, is located on the island’s north coast. The site rewards fin and mask enthusiasts with two snorkel areas.
At the reef nearest the shore, you’re likely to see parrotfish, other rainbow-colored beauties, turtles, staghorn, elk and other coral. It takes a strong swimmer to reach the fabled Cane Bay Wall, a popular snorkel and dive site some 600 feet from the shore.
Joining a boat tour is the recommended way to reach the wall. At the first drop, about 30 feet or so, you might spot lobster, flounder, eels, and shrimp. Divers who go deeper can catch sight of reef sharks and squid.
For snacks or lunch, head to the waterfront Landing Beach Bar. The eatery plates tuna bites, crab cakes, burgers, veggie wraps, chicken sandwiches, and salads.
Read: Best Beaches in St. Croix
If you prefer to snorkel for a few minutes and then laze in a beach chair under an umbrella with a cocktail, then Rainbow Beach is for you.
Although you can find coral and fish at this popular West End beach, the snorkeling is more adequate than awesome. But the beach’s amenities make for a good day at the shore.
The beachside Rhythms at Rainbow Beach gets a lot of buzz for its cocktails, especially those made with island rums. Locals, who flock to Rainbow Beach on weekends, dig into the sandwiches, burgers, and salads.
Davis Bay, on the north coast of St. Croix, offers two reefs for snorkeling, one shallow and one deep, making the bay one of the best places to go snorkeling in St. Croix for beginners and more advanced snorkelers.
To reach the shallow section, 10 to 15 feet below the surface, swim to the cliffs on the beach’s west side. In the clear water, you catch sight of yellow French grunts, blue tangs, trumpetfish, and the other tropical fish darting among the brain, elkhorn, and stag coral.
To reach the second reef, good swimmers and advanced snorkelers can kick their way to a dive buoy that marks a drop-off to 25 feet below the surface. You might spot turtles, spiny lobster, and Bermuda chub.
Afterward, sun on Davis Bay, a palm-tree-lined white sand beach. For snacks or lunch, there’s a nearby café.
Shoys Beach, on St. Croix’s East End, draws snorkelers looking for a quiet swath of sand edged with palm and sea grape trees.
Since the sea grass near the shore attracts turtles, you can often quietly float near these graceful swimmers. At the reef at the beach’s eastern end, you might find conch, lobster, and fish.
Be sure to bring water as Shoys Beach has nowhere to get snacks. To reach Shoys Beach, drive toward the Estate Shoys residences and inform the guard you are headed to the beach.
Read: Best Things to Do in St. Croix
A popular dive site with five sunken wrecks, Butler Bay, on St. Croix’s northwest coast offers a unique experience for snorkelers who are strong swimmers: the chance to float above two shipwrecks.
Depending on your stroking speed and strength, you reach the first wreck off the beach’s south end after a 15- to 25-minute swim. The healthy brain and staghorn coral indicate the reef is regenerating. To reach the second scuttled vessel, you swim for another 15 to 20 minutes further out.
The reward at both sites is the spectacle of barnacles and colorful coral attached to the boats, plus sharks, snapper, lobster, and lionfish weaving in and around the wrecks.
Because Butler Bay is a rocky beach, wear beach shoes to get to the water. Sometimes, if there’s room and enough staff, dive boats may welcome snorkelers aboard. That way you avoid the long slog to the sites, but you should still be a good swimmer to explore Butler Bay.
Jack and Isaac Bay Preserve
Jack and Isaac Bay Preserve, an off-the-beaten-path surprise, is a less-visited place to snorkel in St. Croix. The preserve protects 300 acres of hills, beaches, and underwater reefs on the island’s East End.
Every July and August, green and hawksbill turtles clamber ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. At those times, the beaches are closed to visitors.
You can only reach the beach by hiking from Point Udall, the U.S.’s easternmost land and a place that attracts those looking to experience the U.S.’s first sunrise of the day.
From Point Udall, continue past East End Bay until you reach stairs that lead down to Isaac Bay, a pristine stretch of Caribbean beach nestled between the green hillside and the turquoise sea.
You might only see a handful of others on this gorgeous strand, a rarity in the Caribbean.
At Jack and Isaac Bay Preserve, you can snorkel above sea fans, elkhorn, brain coral, and schools of tropical fish at the close-in reef. You often see turtles, attracted to the seagrass, drifting underneath you.
Many local snorkelers prefer Isaac Bay over Jack Bay, the beach in the next cove, since Isaac requires less hiking and the water has fewer rocks. To go on to Jack Bay, take the trail from the west side of Isaac Bay.
Be aware that both beaches lack shade and have strong currents at times. It’s wise to bring a picnic lunch and plenty of water since there are no services.
Salt River Bay
Snorkeling at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, on St. Croix’s north, is different and unique.
In the less-visited 1,015-acre St. Croix park that protects the land and surrounding mix of sea and river, you snorkel at one of the known sites at which Christopher Columbus anchored his fleet in 1493.
Searching for fresh water, Columbus sent a longboat of sailors into Salt Bay. When they encountered Carib natives in a canoe, a fight ensued. The skirmish was the first documented armed resistance to Europeans in the Americas.
The mangroves edging the bay serve as nurseries for hatchling turtles, juvenile fish, and shrimp that later move into the coral reefs.
In the bay’s undersea canyon, snorkelers and divers can view coral attached to the canyon’s wall and fish swimming near the surface. Deeper in the canyon, divers often spot hammerhead sharks, yellowtail snapper, and other fish.
For some Virgin Island food on your way back, consider stopping at Flyers Bar and Grill in the Salt River Marina for conch fritters, jerk fish tacos, or black bean veggie burgers.
On St. Croix’s west coast, Dorsch Beach offers two places to snorkel. Both reward beginners with sightings in relatively shallow water.
Close to shore, you can spot lizardfish and other creatures darting among the rocks. Swim further out—the water is typically calm—to a depth of 20 feet and you might see cowfish and sergeant majors.
White sand Dorsch Beach is a great place to relax, post-snorkel. Choose to sit beachside or on the benches shaded by palm trees that dot the promenade overlooking the strand. Locals like Beach Side Café at Sand Castle on the Beach
West Best near Frederiksted is a good spot for novice snorkelers as you can see schools of fish as you float in shallow waters less than 10 feet deep.
It’s best to visit on a calm day since the wind whips up the surf and sand, reducing visibility. Bring water shoes to walk across West Beach’s rocks.
Snorkel around the pillars of the old dock at Smugglers Cove, a less-visited beach on St. Croix’s East End known for its turtle sightings. To find the critters, swim out from the dock to the seagrass beds, where they feed.
For items for a beach picnic, head to nearby Ziggy’s Island Market, a convenience store with a kitchen inside.
Cramer’s Park Beach
The calm, clear water at Cramer’s Park Beach, on St. Croix’s East End, near Point Udall, makes snorkeling rewarding.
To reach the reef, swim over the rock ledge and beyond the seagrass. You’ll likely see various colored starfish, sea cucumbers, squirrelfish, and other tropical creatures.
Cramer’s Park Beach, part of a public park, is relatively quiet during the week and livelier on weekends when locals meet up on the white sands.
Bring a snack and water to enjoy at the shaded picnic tables or under the sea grape trees. Alternatively, you could always stop at nearby Ziggy’s Island Market on your way back.
Pelican Cove Beach
Palm trees shade scenic Pelican Cove Beach, also known as Cormorant Beach. Not just a pretty strand, Pelican Cove has Blue Flag status, earned in part, for excellent water quality and safety.
On a snorkel outing, look for blue tangs, parrotfish, and other rainbow-colored fish as well as turtles. A café and bar are nearby.
Excited to explore the underwater world of the island? Find your snorkeling idyll by browsing Celebrity Cruises’ cruises to St. Croix.