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St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

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St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

I’m posting this same set of questions in the St. John and Virgin Gorda forums:

My wife and I will be visiting the Virgin Islands for the first time in May 2011. We’re both avid snorkelers but this will be our first time in the Caribbean. We’ve done a lot of snorkeling in Hawaii.

We’re splitting up our trip for 5 nights in St. John and 3 nights in Virgin Gorda. We’re looking to have the best snorkeling experiences we can on the two islands.

On St. John, we’re planning to snorkel various north shore beaches, including Waterlemon Cay and other commonly-recommended sites. I’m looking at taking a full-day snorkel trip with Fly Girl. Question: will taking a boat trip with an outfit like Fly Girl, which will visit other cayes off of St. John, offer quality snorkeling that I couldn’t get from the shores of St. John? Or would it all be for the pleasure of the sail (which we also love)? Any additional recommendations?

On Virgin Gorda, we’re planning to snorkel the usual suspects (The Baths, Mahoe Bay) and also take an additional boat trip with Double D charters. I’m torn on destinations: Anegada or Norman Island. I’ve read that the snorkeling on Anegada is anywhere between transcendent or disappointing. But the beach at Loblolly Bay looks like heaven and the thought of lobster on the beach there is hard to resist. The trip to Norman Island stops for snorkeling at The Indians and at the wreck of the Rhone, both of which I read are highlights of the BVI (although I don’t know if the Rhone wreck is too deep to see while snorkeling). Any recommendations?

Is there anything else, snorkeling-wise, that I should also look to include on the two islands on our trip?

Thanks!

ACB
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1. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

Sounds like you have an excellent trip planned! I have snorkeled in Hawaii too, and I believe you will enjoy the VI experience. The water is warmer and you have almost double the variety of marine life you have in Hawaii (the Hawaiian islands are isolated and average about 250 types of marine life. The Caribbean averages about 500).

I actually consider a day trip more important on Virgin Gorda than on St John. St John is a much larger island and has many more outstanding highend snorkeling locations than Virgin Gorda. You have already mentioned Waterlemon, which is one of the best. I would also recommend Blue Cobblestone, Yawzi Point, Haulover North, and Francis north towards Mary Point and Whistling Cay. Use the Singer book "St John" Off the Beaten Track" and the companion website:

http://seestjohn.com/

Also, don't underestimate snorkeling at Lameshur, Maho, Saltpond, Haulover South, Jumbie, Hawksnest and Cinnamon. Even Trunk has good snorkeling...just go early or late to miss the crowds. A first time visitor will never be able to snorkel all St John has to offer from the shore.

Virgin Gorda has some very nice shore snorkeling, but because it is a much small island han St John it does not have nearly the number of easily accessible shore snorkels. Notice I said "easily accessible". There are large sections of the island have no roads are are only accessible by boat.

Snorkeling the Baths area is fun, but it is not a reef area it is a boulder environment. It, like Trunk, is much better enjoyed before 830am and after 430 when the crowds are gone. Snorkel this area for the beauty of the environment not for the bounty of the marine denizens. Much better snorkeling is found at Savannah/Pond, and just around the corner from there (and really part of the same reef system) is the outstanding double reef at Mahoe, also already mentioned on your list. The reef system in this area is massive and competes with the best St John has to offer in my opinion.

The reason VG is a better "boat" destination than St John is because you have cleared customs and have easy access to an amazing collection of snorkel spots throughout the BVI. The Indians/Cave trip is the most common one mentioned, but there are numerous spots that are as good or better throughout the islands. Three days is not enough to see them all.

Anegada are the Indians...tough call! You are correct, depending on the weather Anegada can be ethereal or mediocre. The reef system there dwarfs anything St John or Virgin Gorda has to offer, but heavy surf can make it too challenging to enjoy. The Indians is a classic VI snorkel, one of my favorite in the area. The Caves are ok. My kids don't even want to stop there anymore. The Rhone is very impressive and somewhat creepy. Last time we were there the visibility was outstanding. If it was me, I would take the shorter trip to the Indians and spend the next two days snorkeling Savannah-Mahoe and the Baths area. I would then snag one of divebvi's late afternoon dive/ snorkel trips to the Dogs, a bargain for snorkelers at around $30.00. Also, if you can get Double D to go to Cistern Point instead of the Caves you will be glad you did. As an option, divebvi does a 1/2 day trip to the Indians which is snorkelers/divers and with equal attention payed to both. They will usually ask the people on the boat what they have done and want to do and make the trip work for you. Cost is $60.00 for snorkelers and includes stopping for lunch at WillyT.

http://www.divebvi.com/

Good luck with your planning!

San Francisco
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2. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

Thanks so much ACB for such a thorough and helpful response. I will really take your advice in planning. Thanks again!

ACB
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3. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

No problem, and sorry for the incomplete sentences. Multi tasking did not go well this morning.

I noticed on the St John forum that the snorkeling at Spring Bay was mentioned. Spring Bay is part of what I called "the Baths area".

I was in your neck of the woods about a month ago. Ah, the land of perpetual fall! Was in San Francisco just long enough to go to City Lights Book Store and grab some obscure "beat" literature then spent the rest of the trip in Monterey, Carmel Valley and Salinas.

Where are you staying on St John and VG?

West Hartford...
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4. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

Best way to snorkel the Baths area -- park at Spring Bay. From there you can snorkel all the way down to Devil's Bay and back. You'll skip the steep climbs up and down from the parking area that exist at the Baths and Devil's Bay and there will probably be only one or two other cars in the parking lot.

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5. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

ACB, it sounds like you did the Steinbeck circuit in northern California!

On St. John, we're looking at either Lavender Hill, Coconut Coast, or Estate Lindholm. I think Lavender Hill is edging out the competition on that one.

On Virgin Gorda, we're probably staying at Fischer's Cove but we're taking a look at Guavaberry also.

Decisions, decisions...

Thanks again!

ACB
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6. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

Here is another very reasonable property to look at on St John. Great location - very close to Coral Bay and the crossover road to Maho, Francis, and east to Leinster/Annaberg and on to Waterlemon. Also, since it is closer to Coral that means you are closer to the superior snorkel spots at Yawzi Point, Haulover North, and Blue Cobblestone. Price is outstanding!

http://sailviewstjohn.com/

ShAGA518
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7. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

anegadas reef system is not as impressive as st. johns coral, i snorkeled both alot. St. Johns has very good all around snorkeling, anegada is beautiful mostly because of the beaches, and is worth the trip is you like to walk desolate beaches. I have heard from a very knowledgable source that the indians are the best snorkeling in the BVI, he has been to the VIs for decades.

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8. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

Having mostly traveled to Hawaii, I'm used to doing my snorkeling all in the morning because of the calmer conditions. In Maui especially, I'm typically done with snorkeling by the afternoon because the winds pick up pretty strongly, making the water too choppy and murky for good snorkeling.

Should I assume that the same dynamic is in play in VG? I'm particularly wondering about post-crowd, late afternoon conditions at the Baths (as well as Mahoe and Savannah Bays).

Thanks!

ACB
Rhode Island
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9. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

Actually the dynamic is different. Obviously the best (visual) time to snorkel is when the sun is higher in the sky and the light is better. Other than that, it makes little difference. We usually are on the beach at Spring Bay no later than 9am and get good early morning snorkels in. I have snorkeled the Baths area as early as 8am and as late as 5pm and enjoyed both snorkels. I had a great snorkel at Saltpond on SJ last year at 700am. Good turtle action and a fully exposed chain eel (not just a head in a hole). The water was a tad chilly, but with your Hawaiian snorkel experience it would probably feel warm to you. Late afternoon snorkels are also the norm for my family. You will regularly see us out 3 to 6pm.

I don't know when you will be down there, but I had one of my favorite snorkels ever last year at Spring Bay. Full moon night, water was perfectly calm. My wife and friend shore spotted for me while I snorkeled the bay. My friend took some amazing time lapse photographs of my flashlights in the water, but the best part was when I turned my flashlights off. The water was incredibly clear and the full moon was right overhead. I could see a full fifteen feet in all directions just on moonlight. It was beautiful!

If you get a chance, look at alashas video posting of the giant lobster he spotted night snorkeling at Mahoe.

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10. Re: St John and Virgin Gorda: looking for the best snorkeling

Thanks again ACB for such a superb and helpful response. Since we're are only going to be in VC for three days/nights with a boat trip included, I'm definitely trying to figure out the best use of our precious few days.

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