Friday, August 8, 2014

Beaches and snorkeling on St. Thomas

After 3 cruises and 1 nine night stay on St. Thomas, I decided to make a blog of the beaches and our snorkeling adventures there.  All 4 times we were here were in late Fall.  We did get quite a bit of rain throughout our trips there.  The water temperature at that time was about 83.

Lindbergh beach, near Crown Port:
On our first cruise to St. Thomas, my husband and I wanted to snorkel, but all the snorkeling beaches were closed due to Hurricane Tomas which we happened to be following.  But they did say that Lindbergh beach was open for wading around in and hanging out at the beach.  So we went there.  We were the only ones who went there, but we had a great time bobbing in the water and resting on the beach.  The taxi dropped us off in front of the Best Western hotel and directed us to walk along the side of the hotel.  Although we knew there would be no snorkeling for us, we were happy to be at a beach we could play around in.  It was even a very pretty beach and quite close to Crown Port.

The other times we made it to St. Thomas, we rented a car and took off to the East side.  On our 9 night land vacation, we were able to check out a couple of the other beaches, too.  For the sake of order, I'm listing the next beaches as if we were  leaving from Havensight Port and heading east.  The first couple of beaches are actually on the south side.

Limetree beach, near Frenchman's Bay: 
This beachside resort property (Bluebeard's Beach Resort) is just past the Marriott on the south side of the island, not too far from Charlotte Amelie.  This is the view from the check in building to the Wyndham condos here.  This is a quiet resort without many people here.  There is a pool bar and a rental booth (the white building on the beach in this picture), but it only seems to have people from the resort going here.  Such a shame since it is such a beautiful quiet property.  We snorkeled both the left side and the right side of the bay and found both areas to be very good. 
View from the beach
the rental building
the area in the middle if easy entrance with lots of sand---and therefore, sting rays.
Heading to the left---urchins and sponge
yellow tail damselfish
french angelfish

squirrel fish with a parasite
 even saw sand dollars in the sandy area as we were swimming across to the right side.
 to the right--filefish and surgeonfish
 different kinds of grunts and a surgeon fish.
 big rocky area at the right point.
An idea of the depth by the points.

 typical terrain by the points.

smooth trunk fish
 a large Atlantic Triton Trumpet
a Permit Jack?  This guy was quite large.
 back to the Triton.
 empty sea biscuits---I would suspect an octopus may be nearby.
 a family of high hats
 one of the rays in the sandy area.

Bolongo Bay: Not far from Bluebeards Beach and still on the Southside is 
 Bolongo Bay.  It is also quiet and the home of Bolongo Resort. It has a restaurant and bar (Iggie's) available beachside for having lunch and a few drinks. The water is shallow and grassy near the beach.  This is the only place we saw a turtle---it was munching on the grass near shore.  The snorkeling was fair to good out around the rocks to the far left, but the day we were here is was a bit murky. This is also where we saw a nurse shark out around the point to the left.
From the parking lot, this is the walk to the beach
 This is Iggie's restuarant.
This is also an all inclusive resort with lots of water toys and boat tours.

The snorkeling is best way around to the point at the left of the bay.  That is also where we saw the nurse shark, but it swam away before we got a picture of it.
 Lots of conchs here.
The bay is very shallow and had a lot of juvenile fish in the shallows.

 looking back towards the resort from the point.  Although the snorkeling was better, it wasn't great, so we didn't spend much time there.
 heading back in.--banded butterflyfish
 The Hawks bill turtle that we saw in the grass near shore.
 a pan of the beach
It was much calmer then most of the places we snorkeled.  Perhaps the most protected beach.  But it was also the murkiest.

Secret Harbor was the next beach heading East. It is a small, lovely beach.  But the 1 time we tried to snorkel there the surf was coming in hard to the East side beaches churning up the sand and making visibility not so great, so we didn't snorkel there long.  There is also a restaurant and beach bar here.  I would like to have gone back there because I hear the snorkeling is really good, but just didn't get around to it this time.
This was the day we left St. Thomas.  Looked like it would have been perfect for snorkeling that day!
 Another picture from the day we left.
And another.  
 Most of the time we were on St. Thomas, it was cloudy and rainy.   This was the day we tried to snorkel here.
We decided to head to the right and snorkel by the rocks.
Looked promising.
 This is really deceiving since this picture makes the water look clear.  Amazing what a little photoshop can do for a photo!---grunt
blue tang
school of tangs
juvenile Queen Angelfish
 About as far as we got when we decided to turn around.
 Heading back in.

We weren't really able to snorkel here in 2013 due to rough, murky water.  So we gave it another try in 2016.

Another beautiful sandy beach.  It's a lot more crowded then Cowpet.
but just as beautiful beautiful bay.
We couldn't tell from shore if the dark areas were grass or coral and were happy to find it was coral.
Looking back at the Secret Beach Resort.  BTW----they will make you leave the chairs if you aren't staying here.
much of the underwater bay looked like this.
and this. 
Even saw a couple conch shells.
lots of coral and fish

love the designs on the brain coral
looks like Cornelli lace.
Don't know what this shell was housing, but it wasn't a conch shell.
more coral.
deep water around the point

a flounder swimming around.
Christmas tree worms on a brain coral
school of fish around the point.
large parrotfish
large wrasse.
scrawled filefish
a colorful parrotfish like I haven't seen in Hawaii
another view of him.
So glad we finally got to snorkel here.  I think next time we're on a cruise, we'll try to get back here.

Cowpet Bay:
 Just down the road about a mile or 2 from Secret Beach and before the Ritz is The Elysian Resort.  This is where we stayed in 2013 for 9 nights and where we did most of our snorkeling.  We were very impressed with the snorkeling here and the resort.   It is another very peaceful little bay lined with coconut trees and has 2 restaurants and a rental booth.  There is a roped off sandy area great for swimming (but shuffle your feet if you walk in there since sting rays like to hang out in the sand).  We snorkeled to the left and never tired of snorkeling there!  Just inches from shore there were plenty of fish.
The foreground here is where the swimming area is.  Even though there are a lot of boats here, we never saw any come or go in the 9 nights we were here, or the 2 times we came here from the cruise ship.
Some of the toys for rent.  Sangria's restaurant is the large building with the steps.  The concession stand is the little building just to the left of it. Not visible but to my far left is the Caribbean Fish Market Restaurant.  We heard it was very good, but didn't try it.
 Notice how empty this beach is!
The roped off swim area is to the right in this picture, we snorkeled straight out from here and along the rocks to the left.

 View from the dining area of Sangria's restaurant and bar.  The fancier restaurant is to the right of this picture.
 From the right of the beach, looking back towards Sangria's.  LOTS of shade and chairs, and nobody there!
On to the snorkeling!
 These first few are very close to shore---up to about where the raft was anchored.
young wrasse
  blue head wrasse
 another type of snapper?
 a high hat
  thousands of tiny fish.
Lobster hiding under the rocks
 This 1' or so barracuda made this shallow area it's home.
 several of these squirrel fish by the desalinization pipes.
an octopus that made home pretty much directly below the raft.
The desalinization pipes are pretty even with the raft.  Here's more of the soldier fish and squirrel fish there.
In the shallows near shore there are also patches of grass.
 a snapper
blue tang
another squirrel fish
trumpet fish
There are lots of rocks and ledges for fish to hide under.  This Porcupine fish has made this ledge his home.  Saw him here every time we went by.

past the raft up to the point---
green moray eel hiding.
a gray snapper
 Queen Angelfish
 coral out by the point
school of tangs
rocks at the point
more coral
urchin --- lots of urchins at all the beaches we snorkeled.
 a young parrotfish and a tang
 stoplight parrotfish
 another type of young parrotfish ?
 School of  Palometa fish.   These guys liked to follow us.
Christmas tree worms on coral
 Empty shells---near where we found the octopus
 colorful corals
looking back to shore from near the point
 Sangria's to the left of the raft
wide angle view  The building with the blue awnings to the left is the Caribbean Fish Market restaurant.
continuing around the point
 sleeping nurse shark
 purple fan coral
general landscape around the point
sponge and juvenile fish
I don't know what these are, but the one time we were here from a cruise there were quite a few of them.  Didn't see any when we were here for our 9 night land vacation.  I think they are a fire worm.
  4 eye butterflyfish
more coral
lots of healthy coral
 some sort of large clam?
brain coral
 elkhorn coral

one of the many squid 
 glasseye snapper?
 lots of rocks continuing around the point.  Would love to have that house!
scrawled filefish
only saw these guys here way around the point at Cowpet (and around St.Lucia)--Glassy Sweeper.
 these, too---more Glasseye Snapper.

 and this LARGE barracuda!
needle fish

Sapphire Beach:
This is one of the beaches a lot of the cruise ship passengers go to.  It is a beautiful beach with outlying islands.  It has vendors on the beach selling drinks and food (at least it did when we were there).  There was also a vendor there selling bead jewelry.  It's much larger then the other beaches I've reviewed so far.    There is lots of shade here, too, but we found the better snorkeling was quite a ways out to the point at the right.  There were some fish in close, but not much in the way of healthy coral until you got out by the point.  We did go here a few times and really enjoyed it, but I think a weak swimmer would have a tough time getting out to the point.
The beach with the shade trees and ducks 
 more ducks
looking to the right
 looking to the right
looking towards the left
 towards the left
 out to the islands
to the right
zooming in towards the point
 straight out

 zoomed in more to the point
 the point zoomed into again
heading out to the point.  Yes, there are fish, but the coral is sad.
 lots of parrotfish and tangs
 another type of worm--yellow fan worm?
 juvenile Angel fish
 more juvies.
 several good size stoplight parrotfish
 4 eye butterfly fish
Ballyhoo or needlefish
more schools of tangs

out by the point
 coral getting healthier and shallow
elkhorn coral
 schools of snappers or grunts in the elkhorn coral
nice coral
 more coral and french grunt
Looking back from the point (note the wave splashing over the shallow coral)
sergeant major protecting "his" eggs
general topography out by the point
nice fan coral
 another porcupine fish
 elkhorn coral

 resting trumpet fish
 From the top of the hill by the turn off that leads down to Sapphire.  It's definitely worth going to!  It's beautiful looking out at the islands.  There's plenty of room so even if there are a lot of people here I don't think it'll ever feel crowded.  In my opinion the snorkeling near shore wasn't the greatest, but that was mainly because of the dead coral.  The snorkeling out by the point was very good, but a ways from the beach.  We had no problem swimming out there, but we float very well.

Lindquist Bay:
 In 2006, the Government of the Virgin Islands purchased 21 acres of beachfront property around Lindquist for the purpose of protecting it as a park called Smith Bay Park. An admission fee of $2 per adult is collected, although one of the times we went there noone was around to collect the $2.  This is another not as well known tourist beach.  There are pic nic tables here and portapotties.  The parking lot is right on the beach practically.  It is another pretty little cove, but the snorkeling was best just past the swim buoys. 
Looking towards the left. 
 Looking straight out towards the buoys.  There was a nice little reef just past the buoys, but the lifeguards did not like people going to it.
There was some snorkeling to the far right by the rocky ledge.

A fish by the ledge.  About the time I got there, my daughter had discovered the reef just past the buoys and called me over there.
Juvenile French Angelfish
The first time we were there, no lifeguards were there so we eagerly snorkeled by the reef.
 To the far left was more interesting reef, but it, too, was just past the buoys. 
 We didn't have much time there since it was getting late so had planned to go snorkel the reefs again later, but later the water was cloudy.  We did see this bat ray in the shallows in the cloudy water, though.
another view of the beach/pic nic/parking area.

Coki Beach:
 Coki is a small, pretty beach located on Coki Point.  Natural shade is limited, but umbrellas and chairs are available for rent. A near shore rocky reef area on the right of the beach offers pretty good snorkeling, but the area is pretty small.  The fish are use to being fed here, so they will swarm you.  It seems to be a favorite beach of cruise passengers and can get pretty crowded.  There are lots of bar huts and beach waiters here.  If you want to be waited on, this is a good place to go.   To some the vendor's booths and shacks add to the atmosphere of the beach, for others it takes away from the scenery.
 Looking towards the small rocky snorkel area.
 Coral world is roped off behind the rocky area.
An idea of the crowds.
the crowded beach
 not so crowded on a time before the cruise ships passengers got there.
Snorkeling was pretty interesting for such a small area.
more by the rocky point
soft coral near the roped off area of Coral World.
the rocky point
schools of larger fish like these yellow tail snappers like to hang out here to be fed.
yellow tail parrotfish
 around the rocky outcropping
some of the small fish in the crevices. 
 another view of Coral World.  There is a fee to go there, but we didn't go.
 There were a few jelly fish here, but I don't think they sting humans--or if they do, it's not powerful enough to bother the normal person.
 the swarms of fish looking for food.
one of the sergeant majors.
a large lizard fish 

 some healthy fan coral on the rocks.
another colorful parrot fish
 small damsel fish
a wrasse and snapper
large Scrawled File fish
 spotted trunkfish
the filefish from a distance

We also swam across the sandy area to the left side of the beach.  Along the way we saw this school of young Palometa fish.
 some of the fish at the far left side
in the sandy area in the middle
 school of surgeonfish in the middle sandy area
also in the sandy area we saw a couple of these--- jelly fish?
Pluma Porgy
View towards the beach from the sandy area
We did find the views from shore really pretty and the snorkeling was interesting, but we didn't care much for the crowds so didn't stay here long the couple times we went here.

Megan's Bay:
 Leaving the East side and heading to the Northside we went to Megan's Bay.   This beautiful 1 mile stretch of beach is St. Thomas's most popular beach. The water is usually very calm with no waves or current, great for floating along and for swimming.  There is a fee to use this beach ($4 per person, I believe).  The cruise passengers and buses are directed to the right side of the beach.  Since we drove there in our rental car, we were directed to the left where there was practically nobody.  The sandy beach is immense with a very gradual depth.
Here's a picture of the bay from Drake's Seat.
zooming in from Drake's Seat.  I hear there are restrooms and a rental building and snack bar to the far right.  To the left, there wasn't.
A view of Megan's Bay from Mountain Top  (an interesting souvenir shop) .   This was taken between rain showers.
Now down to the beach.  Looked like we were going to get rained on, but it passed by quickly.
looking back towards the well shaded beach with lots of pic nic tables.
I didn't expect to find any snorkeling here, but the gate keeper told us to head to the rocks at the far left, so we did.  
 Much to my surprised, there were millions of fish!
 and a few areas of soft coral with juvenile fish hanging out there.
 But the tiny schooling fish in the rocks were fun to watch as they darted here and there.
 The whole side of the bay was covered with these guys.
Just a few more.
Megan's may not be the best snorkeling we've ever done, but it was different and I still really enjoyed it.

We did spend a day on St. John, too.  Only got to snorkel 3 of the places, though.
Trunk Bay:
Tourists looking for more active pursuits than sunbathing and snorkeling can explore the park on it's hiking trails, and the ruins of historic sugar plantations near by.  We went to snorkel the 225-yard-long Underwater Trail of reefs.  The water was super clear and very calm.  We went when it had been rainy and windy on St. Thomas and I guess people were afraid to head over to St. John's to snorkel.  It turned out to be great!  First view of Trunk Bay from the overlook above.
 an amazingly sparsely occupied Trunk Bay beach.
There was a $4/person entrance fee, but the facilities were really nice:  huge bathroom, shower rooms, lockers, a snack bar, and a little gift shop.

 pan of the bay
The island the underwater trail goes around.

 some of the underwater trail plaques.

 one very large yellow tail snapper.

 some of the soft coral
another very large snapper
 coral along the island
 black fan coral and butterflyfish
trumpet fish
more around the island
 far side of the island
spotted trunkfish
 school of squid
school of parrotfish
fire worm
Spotfin butterflyfish
sea worms
Juvenile Spotfin butterflyfish
Christmas tree worm on coral
 2 lizard fish
 a lobster
terrain to the far right of Trunk Bay

porcupine fish
large  grouper
 a type of Goby?
 topography to the far right

Trunk Bay from the shore
 We had a fish sandwich from the snack bar at Trunk Bay.
 While eating we were joined by a few wild donkeys.

Hawksnest Bay:  St. John's:
Heading back to Cruz bay,  we stopped to check out Hawksnest BAy.  It looked to inviting to pass up.  I don't recall there being any restrooms there.  No entrance fee, plenty of parking, too.

 pan of Hawksnest
 one of the large triggerfish here
 more fan coral and grunt
 school of fish

 another type of coral

Puddingwife Wrasse?
 lots of Elkhorn coral here.

parrotfish and adult French angel fish
adult Queen Angelfish
 I would love to spend more time on St. John's.  The size and quantity of the fish were larger then most of the other places we went to.    The beach was narrow and lined with lots of trees.   I really enjoyed both beaches we went to in St. John's.

In 2016, I was back on St. Thomas for 3 nights.  We were able to get back to St. John for another day of fantastic snorkeling!

 Maho beach was beautiful and the snorkeling was quite good.

We headed to the rocks at the far right and even snorkeled around the point.
Caribbean grouper.
school of tiny fish
French angelfish
another grouper
Even had a nurse shark swim just feet from us.
beautiful fish
butterflyfish in a forest of Christmas tree worms.
squirrel fish
reminds me of the emperor fish in Hawaii but I know they're not.  Will have to look him up later. (was told this is a sheepshead porgy)
more angelfish
don't remember seeing these guys before.
a parrot fish
a very large barracuda!
glad he was more interested in getting cleaned then taking a bite out of us!

lots of Caribbean groupers
squid or cuttlefish?
spotlight parrotfish
stingray with a cropped tail.
one more picture of the ray---still has his barb, though.
a grunt, squirrel fish and a couple soldier fish.

After snorkeling Maho for a couple hours, we headed over to Hawksnest.  We had snorkeled here once before, too, and really liked it, so wanted to snorkel here again.

more of Hawksnest.  Note the coral comes up right near the shoreline.
school of fish
blue headed wrasse
a sergeant major
this place has tons of elkhorn coral
blue tang

another kind of grouper  ( Graysby Grouper )
I believe this guy is a kind of grouper, too.
a wrasse
sea biscuit
another mystery fish.
another grouper and parrotfish
another ray
some sort of large crab
 another parrotfish

loved how calm the water was.  Nice change from the rough Hawaii waters we snorkeled in just weeks before.
another view of Hawksnest.

looking across from Hawksnest.
loving all the colors.
St. John definately has the advantage over St. Thomas when it comes to clearer water and better coral. Just wish it wasn't so inconvenient, time consuming, and expensive to get to.  If I were to go here while in port for a cruise, I would do a cruise excursion and not risk missing the ship.