When I told an inquiring cab driver that I was in search for the best snorkeling spots on St. John, he was adamant that Waterlemon Cay was where I needed to go. For those snorkelers looking for a premiere experience, taking a hike into Leinster Bay and a swim out to the Waterlemon Cay snorkel is a must.
To get to this famous north shore location, follow the signs for the Annaberg Ruins and park in the lot when you arrive. From the parking lot, it’s about a 20 minute walk to where you can swim out to Waterlemon Cay. There’s a well-marked and wide trail that will take you to this secluded snorkeling spot. The hike is fairly mild, albeit longer than I had anticipated (practically a mile). It also took a little longer than anticipated because of the heavy rainfall that morning and the subsequent puddles and muddy patches where there weren't rocks lining the path.
As far as the beach goes, it’s mostly a pebble laden shore with only a small patch where there is sand so it’s not as kid friendly an avenue, in addition to the significant walk in. I saw a family taking two small kids onto the trail just as I was heading out and I couldn’t help but think they were not in for a fun afternoon.
Once I finally arrived at the entry point in Leinster Bay, I put my gear just off the very narrow, rocky beach and began the swim out to Waterlemon Cay. This is another little island that’s a fair swim away (a few hundred meters), so more advanced snorkelers/swimmers are going to be more equipped for the trek than those who are less experienced, particularly if you get caught in the current near the shore. If you have a less advanced swimmer who can make the hike into the bay but who doesn’t want to swim out to the cay, there is plenty of good snorkeling just off the shore. I even heard a woman near the beach shouting “octopus!” while I was hiking out.
Waterlemon Cay was a beautiful place to explore, with elkhorn and plume coral formations that attract lots of fish. There are also said to be sea turtles that nest in the area, although I wasn’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of any. Spend enough time in the water, though, and you’re sure to spot a plethora of species in and out of the rocks around the cay. It really is a very cool spot to explore, especially if you’re willing to do a little adventurous exploration.
Keep your eye out for stingrays, starfish, and other marine life!
Know Before You Go
A good general rule would be to not make the trek from the parking lot at Annaberg Ruins in flip-flops. I made this grave mistake and almost lost my footing on more than one occasion. Unless you are on St. John on a completely dry day (which doesn’t happen too often—they get at least some rain almost daily), you’ll be slipping in mud and jumping through puddles. Don’t be a dummy like me. Wear either a pair of water shoes or some secure, strap-on sandals. That way, when you scramble up the one or two small rocky hills on the trail, you won’t be diving backwards to catch your arrant flip-fop or slipping forward out of your shoes. Learn from my mistake.
Beach Accessibility: 4/5
This was by far the most difficult location to get to that I visited. The hike to the beach and swim to the cay are enough to deter children and casual sand dwellers (seeing as there's not much of it). Make sure your gear is in a backpack or bag that's easy to carry for the 20 or so minute scramble to the beach.
If you have the time, patience, and visibility, Waterlemon Cay is an unparalleled place to snorkel. To me, it seemed like it had the best sea life from all the other great snorkeling spots on the island all in one location. And while it's probably less exciting to some, I really loved looking at the awesome coral formations that surround the island.
The beaches weren't busy at all; I think I saw one chair set up along the small stretch of sandy beach. But even though I was there on an overcast afternoon, Waterlemon's popularity was apparent by the fair number of snorkelers in the water surrounding the cay. It's not enough to be deterring--just try to stay aware of the people above the water even when you're engrossed with the life beneath it.