How To Snorkel: Newbies’ Guide To Snorkeling

How To Snorkel: Newbies’ Guide To Snorkeling

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The experience of snorkeling while surrounded by the magical underwater world is second to none. However, despite its reputation as a thrilling activity for travelers, it involves much more than just diving in the water with goggles or a snorkel.

For those who are not 100% sure about swimming around the open ocean, snorkeling may also seem overwhelming and intimidating. But, with a few expert tips, your underwater excursion will surely turn into a safe, comfortable, and memorable experience.

With numerous snorkeling guides on selecting the right equipment and understanding basic snorkeling techniques, it can be daunting to know which to follow. To make it easy for you, we’ve compiled here everything you need to know before setting out on your marine adventure:

Two Types of Snorkeling

Snorkeling is a popular water activity that allows you to explore underwater by swimming on the surface while wearing a snorkel and mask. It is a great way to observe marine life and admire the beauty of the ocean without the need for scuba diving gear. There are two main types of snorkeling:

1. Surface Snorkeling

SJI-Surface snorkeling

For many snorkelers, staying on the surface of the water is the most comfortable and safe option, especially if they lack experience as a swimmer or diver. Surface snorkeling is also a great choice for families with young children.

When snorkeling, we suggest wearing a full-face snorkel mask as they provide excellent visibility and are easy to use.

2. Skin Diving

SJI-Deep water snorkeling

Deep-water snorkeling, also known as skin diving, is a more advanced technique that requires extensive skills and experience. Having diving experience and being familiar with entering the water at various depths is crucial, as the environment can change dramatically in deeper waters. Fading sunlight and the deep, dark ocean can potentially be intimidating for inexperienced snorkelers.

How To Snorkel

While snorkeling is a fun and thrilling way to explore underwater trails, it can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time snorkeling. But with the right tips and techniques, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Let’s get started!

1. Preparation Before Diving

Before embarking on your snorkeling journey, you must familiarize yourself with the proper gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here’s a newbie’s guide on all the requisites you need before setting out:

  • Diving Mask or Goggles – Crucial snorkeling equipment that keeps water out of your eyes and allows you to see underwater.
  • Swim Fins – This swimming gear helps you swim faster while conserving energy. They also come in handy when swimming against a current.
  • Wet Suit or Dive Skin – Ideal for protecting your body against colder waters. They come in various sizes, from short to full-length suits.
  • Flotation Device – An inflatable snorkeling vest that provides added safety when diving. This should be easily inflated and deflated.
  • Snorkel Keeper – Secures the diving mask to the snorkel and keeps them safely connected.
  • Snorkel – A shaped breathing tube that allows you to stay underwater and take in the views for an extended period.
  • Dry Snorkel – A specialized breathing tube that prevents water from entering your nose but is not meant to allow you to breathe underwater like a scuba tank.
  • Purge Valve – Drains the water that enters the snorkel.

2. Improving Your Swimming Skills

SJI-Swimming and snorkeling lesson

Even if you’re already a good swimmer, swimming lessons can help you fine-tune your snorkeling techniques and build strength and endurance when moving underwater. Practicing freestyle techniques is especially beneficial as the kicking motion can help you conserve energy while swimming.

Improving your swimming endurance and strength will not only make your snorkeling experience more enjoyable but also safer. Additionally, you may also feel comfortable enough not to use your snorkeling vest, which sometimes restricts your movements and hinders your ability to dive deeper and fully appreciate the world underwater.

3. Holding Breath Underwater

Taking slow and deep breaths is essential when snorkeling, especially when using a full-face snorkel mask. This helps to maintain a low heart rate, allowing you to relax and conserve energy while exploring underwater.

If you want to take short dives, start by relaxing on the water’s surface and taking a few moments to get your breathing under control. Breathe deeply to reduce the risk of hyperventilation. When ready for your descent, immerse yourself at a 90-degree angle, allowing your torso to be vertical and submerged in the water.

Gradually increase the amount of time you spend underwater with each dive. Over time, you’ll develop an understanding of how long you can safely stay underwater, which will likely be much longer than your initial dives.

4. Surfacing After Snorkel Diving

As you conclude your underwater excursion and prepare to resurface, make sure to ascend slowly and rotate your body to get a full view of your surroundings. Extend one arm straight in front of you to ensure a safe ascent. Before reaching the surface, tilt your head slightly downward and forcefully exhale to clear your snorkel.

Top Snorkeling Tips for First-Timers


Snorkeling is an exciting activity that allows you to explore the underwater world and its diverse marine life. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced snorkeler, here are a few tips and tricks on how to snorkel better to enhance your experience and make the most out of your time in the water:

1. Glide and float when snorkeling.

Snorkeling is more about floating than swimming. To conserve energy, stay relaxed, fold your arms across your chest, and let your fins do the work. Keep your pace slow and steady, allowing yourself to breathe normally. If you’re tired or out of breath, take a break and float on your back. You can also consider wearing a life jacket for added buoyancy.

2. Choose a suitable location.

When snorkeling for the first time, it’s essential to choose a location with calm waters and no strong currents. Avoid waves as they can make it more difficult to swim and breathe. Gradually swim towards a depth you’re comfortable with, and choose a spot with plenty of interesting sights and marine life.

3. Relax and enjoy the adventure.

The most important part of snorkeling is enjoying the experience. The world beneath the ocean is truly breathtaking, and there are unique trails to explore. From snorkeling with whale sharks and sardines to swimming with giant manta rays, the possibilities are endless. So, embrace the adventure and experience the beauty of the ocean.

Best Places for Snorkeling

SJI-Reef trails

The United States Virgin Islands offers a unique blend of underwater attractions and breathtaking scenery, making them ideal for snorkelers of all levels. Whether it’s exploring the coral reefs, observing various species of marine life, or simply enjoying the solitude of a remote beach, the USVI truly offers something for everyone.

Here are the best places for snorkeling in the US Virgin Islands:

1. Cow and Calf Rocks, St. Thomas

This snorkel and scuba diving site can be reached by boat and is a 45-minute journey from Charlotte Amalie. Visitors are drawn to the spot for its elkhorn coral, lobsters, and occasional sea turtle sightings. Divers often point out the harder-to-find creatures deeper down, such as eels and stingrays.

2. Shoys Beach, St. Croix

Located on the island’s east end, just 10 minutes by car from Christiansted, Shoys Beach is loved by locals for its sea grape trees that line the shore and provide shade. Visitors enjoy easy access to reef trails that are home to spotted moray eels, lobsters, stingrays, and many other marine creatures.

3. Leinster Bay, St. John

Leinster Bay, also known as Waterlemon Cay, is a hidden cove along the north shore, about 25 minutes by car from Cruz Bay. Although taxi drivers will take you to the spot, it is often free from crowds, as only a few travelers take advantage of the diving site. Here, you may encounter angelfish, trumpet fish, barracudas, and even green sea turtles in the seagrass beds.

4. Great Lameshur Bay, St. John

For those spending at least one night on the island, Great Lameshur Bay on the south side of St. John is a must-visit. This wide flat beach opens up to a bay where you can spend the afternoon snorkeling among larger marine life, including eagle rays, nurse sharks, turtles, and various reef fish. Keep in mind that this remote spot is far from commercial centers, so bring a picnic lunch, water, and reef-safe sunblock.

5. Jumbie Bay, St. John

This hidden gem has limited parking for just six cars at a time, making it a peaceful place for underwater sightseeing. The snorkeling site features unique limestone crags and crevices 100 feet offshore. This allows divers to witness a mix of marine life, including crabs, eels, and schools of sergeant major and Creole wrasse fish.

Key Takeaways

Snorkeling, either surface or deep-water snorkeling, can be equally thrilling and overwhelming for beginners. But with proper swimming, diving, and breathing techniques, as well as consistent practice, the right gear, and a suitable snorkeling destination, anyone can ensure safe, successful, and enjoyable underwater excursions.

Relish the majestic underwater world of St. John Island.

Now that you’re done learning how to snorkel, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test! Pack your bags and take a dive into the crystal clear waters of St. John Island and be greeted by a kaleidoscope of colorful coral reefs, vibrant marine life, and breathtaking underwater landscapes. Book your trip now and make memories that will last a lifetime.




The history of St. John is diverse and chaotic. Learn more about the lives of early settlers and how the area eventually became part of the National Park in 1957 at the Archeological Museum at Cinnamon Bay.



Some of the other attractions in St. John that could be of interest include the St. John Animal Center, Bordeaux Mountain Overlook, and the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum.

Reef Bay


Reef Bay Trail is the perfect way for you to discover the secrets of St. John’s ancient petroglyphs, sugar mill ruins, and tropical forests. This two-mile-long St. John hiking trail features a steep rocky path and lets you explore the inner depths of the island. Near its end is a freshwater pond.

Annaberg Hiking


If you want a relaxing experience, hiking on St. John, USVI, Annaberg Hiking Trail is the one to tackle. It’s more of a walk than a hike, so it’s excellent for first-time hikers and beginners. This trail contains paved paths that wander around the ruins of historical buildings. At the top of the trail, a stunning ocean view awaits you.



Hire a personal water taxi ride to and from your destination. A relaxing and comfortable way to go.

Cruise Ship


A comprehensive list of the major cruise ships and their schedules, arrival and departure times.



One thing to remember is that here people drive on the left side of the road. You may wonder if it is better to rent a vehicle in St. Thomas or St. John. Get the opinion of a local. There are several car rental companies to choose from.

Virgin Islands National


60% of St. John is a national park. This means that the island enjoys untouched beauty and splendor, preserved for many years, and will continue to be so for future generations to enjoy. 



With its history as rich as its landscape, you can visit and explore the many plantation ruins and archaic buildings still existing in St. John.

Lind Point


This short St. John hiking trail is perfect for all ages. It’s the best trail for families looking to experience a great bonding experience while surrounded by nature. At the trail’s end, breathtaking Salomon Beach awaits. Should you decide to walk for another half a mile, you will witness the clear blue waters of enchanting Honeymoon Beach.



St. John island has the best beaches in the Caribbean. Along the famous North Shore of St. John visitors will find several miles of award-winning national park beaches, each one more enticing than the next. Be sure to view our comprehensive Beach Guide.



You can extend your exploration by visiting one of the British Virgin Islands near St. John.

Spas &


St. John offers many ways to pamper and boost your spirit. Book an appointment with one of the salons, spas, and massage therapists in the area and feel rejuvenated like a whole new person.


in Cruz Bay

There are multiple shopping centers in St. John where you can shop till you drop and enjoy a search for that truly unique curio find.



With many local shops on Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay offering rental equipment for snorkeling and diving, you will have no problem finding the right equipment for your aquatic adventures.



You can go scuba diving and experience the amazing aquatic world beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea.



St. John has dozens of well-maintained trails where you can go strolling, running, or hiking while enjoying the tropical breeze and stunning views of the island.

Petroglyph Spur


Featuring a steep climb and narrow path, Petroglyph Spur Trail offers a bit of a challenge. However, the reward is indeed worth all the sweat and exhaustion. Aside from a freshwater pond, this trail offers viewings of petroglyphs from as early as 300 A.D. You might even see newly discovered ones.

Francis Bay


Francis Bay Walking Trail is among the easiest of St. John hiking trails to traverse, and it’s also wheelchair-accessible. While the vegetation is a little brushy in some spots, the views are undeniably picturesque. It also features the Salt Pond and a dry tropical forest for you to explore



Cinnamon Bay is the longest stretch of white sandy beach on St. John Island. Private ceremonies can be held on the beach with a tranquil, relaxing and intimate atmosphere. There are no fees for entering or using the beach.Cinnamon Bay is the longest stretch of white sandy beach on St. John Island. Private ceremonies can be held on the beach with a tranquil, relaxing and intimate atmosphere. There are no fees for entering or using the beach.



In 1969, NASA along with the US Navy and the Department of Interior (DOI) launched a study at Lameshur Bay to evaluate what would happen when people live and work underwater. The first structure that was built for this experiment was called Tektite, and the Tektite Trail follows the original quarter mile road used to deliver supplies to the aquanauts. Unmarked and barely visible, the entrance to the Tektite Trail starts at the bottom of the concrete paved road that leads to both Great and Little Lameshur bays.

The first Tektite experiment was a success and a second experiment, deemed Tektite II, was launched later that year that included the world’s first all-female team of scientists to live underwater. Tektite and Tektite II were each built of two cylindrical tubes about 12 feet wide and 18 feet high that sat 50 feet underwater throughout the mission.

Today the structure is gone, but the underlying foundation underwater remains, as does the trail to the entrance. The original base camp is now the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station (VIERS), located between Great and Little Lameshur Bays and run by Clean Islands International on behalf of the University of the Virgin Islands. Visit the Tektite Museum at VIERS for some cool artifacts from that crazy time in 1969.



Trunk Bay is the most popular beach and considered one of the top beaches in the world. There is a $4.00 charge per person daily from 7:30am – 4:30pm. Trunk Bay is a picturesque location for weddings any time of the day. It is most noted for sunset weddings.



Hawksnest Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand. It is an unforgettable place for a wedding. It offers restrooms and a place to change clothes for the Bridal couple and their guests. Hawksnest Beach is best for morning weddings because the lighting is absolutely phenomenal for photographs. There are no fees to enter or to use this beach and there is plenty of parking. Ceremonies of St. John offers canopy and chair rentals.

Annaberg Plantation


Annaberg Plantation Ruins was once a Danish sugar mill and plantation back in 1780. It was named after William Gottschalk’s daughter. Annaberg translates to Anna’s Hill. There are many charming settings for a wedding ceremony to be held within this elegant historical plantation with breathtaking views.

The ruins are open to the public and protected by the Virgin Islands National Park. If you are interested in having your wedding here you would want to schedule it in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat. Since the plantation is open to the public, it can get very crowded during mid day.

Peace Hill


Clearly marked and accessible from North Shore Road (Rt. 20), the Peace Hill Trail offers far more than the obvious. A small parking lot allows for only about eight cars and is rarely full. Follow a wide path straight up from the parking lot to a flat knoll where lies an old sugar mill ruin. Great 300 degree view of the North Shore of St. John and across to the British Virgin Islands, those who only go this far are missing the best part.

From the parking lot on the way up to Peace Hill is an unmarked entrance to a half mile trail that takes you directly to Denis Bay beach. The trail and the west area of Denis Bay are park land, while the land to the east with a residential dwelling is privately owned. The west side of Denis Bay is the most interesting, with large black volcanic rocks, warmed sitting pools, and a small rocky island just off the shoreline with excellent snorkeling all around. Denis Bay also offers interesting sights and sounds. Boats cruise along the North Shore of St. John (Windward Passage and The Narrows) heading through Sir Francis Drake Channel to the British Virgin Islands, which can be seen from Denis Bay beach in the distance. Water crafts range from small motored dinghies to multi-hulled sailing vessels, and there’s never a shortage of things to watch. Visitors to Denis Bay beach are guaranteed an active view and a classic tropical beach environment.

Bordeaux Mountain


Heading down the Bordeaux Mountain trail is a breeze, and puts hikers at Little Lameshur Bay for a refreshing dip in the clear Caribbean Sea. Heading up, you’ll wish you had made other plans!

Bordeaux Mountain trail is accessible at the top of Bordeaux Mountain Road, from an often unmarked trail head, and descends steeply a little more than a mile to the bay below. Head west to the Lameshur Bay trail to get to Reef Bay, or head east down the road to Great Lameshur Bay. Remember, only the latter will have any jeep traffic, so if you’re tired and looking to hitch, don’t head to Reef Bay!

Europa Spur


Along the Lameshur Bay trail is a spur trail to Europa Bay, about a half mile in. When the Lameshur Bay trail reaches the Reef Bay trail, make a right up the Reef Bay trail just 50 yards to the Petroglyph spur trail, or make a left down the Reef Bay trail about a mile to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins, Reef Bay beach and greater Genti Bay.

Yawzi Point


Surprisingly named for a disease called Yaws, Yawzi Point marks the location where natives who were stricken years ago were isolated. Accessible from the Lameshur Bay beach road (between Great Lameshur Bay and Little Lameshur Bay), the Yawzi Point trail is just over a quarter mile and offers hikers a great sampling of local vegetation and breathtaking waterfront overlooks.

Lameshur Bay


Almost two miles from Lameshur Bay to Reef Bay, the Lameshur Bay trail offers many points of interests to hikers. Accessible from the end of Rt. 107 (Lameshur Bay road), the trail is wide and wanders through deep forest for the first half mile, then follows a ridge called the White Cliffs for the second half, ending about a mile up from the water at the Reef Bay trail. Hikers will find massive hollow trees still standing, wild deer and mongoose, and dozens of different birds enjoying the day overhead. Hiking along the White Cliffs of Lameshur Bay trail will bring you into bright sun, so remember the sunblock when you pack that extra water.

Cinnamon Bay


One of the trails that are open year-round is Cinnamon Bay Trail. Dogs are allowed, but they must be on a leash. With its shaded loop, this trail is beautiful and pleasant to visit anytime. This trail offers a close-up look at the old sugar factories, echoing the island’s history.



You won’t find this trail on the national park hiking maps for St. John Island, but L’Esperance is one of the most interesting. Catch the entrance to L’Esperance trail on the south side of Centerline Rd. (Route 10) about a quarter mile past the Virgin Islands National Park sign at Catherineberg. Round trip, the L’Esperance trail is almost six miles, so bring plenty of water and start your hike early in the day to ensure you will return before dark. L’Esperance trail follows the Fish Bay Gut, with at least four different ruins sites not seen by many visitors. The trail veers east about halfway down and crosses over the Mollendal gut along the Sieben Ridge and down to Genti Bay, the greater area of water of which Reef Bay beach lies just to the east. You’ve hiked this far, might as well walk on over to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins, just beyond the forest line at the beach, and down the Reef Bay trail about a mile to the Petroglyphs spur trail.

Brown Bay


Untouched and unspoiled are two of the best descriptions for the Brown Bay Trail. While it’s among the list of St. John, USVI, hiking trails that are not very well-maintained, it has its own charm and beauty. It leads to a private shallow cove that offers a peaceful escape. You will see starfish, conch, and loads of fish there.

Johnny Horn


Considered a moderately challenging route, Johnny Horny Trail takes about two hours to complete. It features a clear path, thanks to the foraging feral donkeys and goats in the area. This trail is steep and exposed to the sun, so you might want to bring plenty of water and snacks to keep you energized. It leads to historical sites and amazing views.

Turtle Point


With the rugged natural setting of Turtle Point Trail, you are sure to experience refreshing tropical breezes and witness impressive views. It follows Hawksnest Point’s rocky shoreline and passes through a dry forest and coastal terrain. Along the path, there are strategically placed benches where you can sit and relax.

Salt Pond Drunk Bay Spur


If you’ve opted to head out to Salt Pond, one of the national park beaches along the south shore of St. John Island, and you’re looking for a nice surprise, hike the short Drunk Bay spur trail, which starts at the far east end of Salt Pond bay and follows the Salt Pond along the north side for a half mile to Drunk Bay. A flat, and sometimes hot, walk from Salt Pond, Drunk Bay offers visitors who make the trek a fun surprise.

While the rocky, rough shores of Drunk Bay are not conducive to swimming, the famous bay clearly supports, and some say prompts, creative expression. While you may not see them at first, look closely to discover dozens, then hundreds, of coral statues along the rocky beach. Using the various formations of coral along the shoreline, inspired visitors for decades have created a bevy of “coral people” using the stones to create heads, torsos, arms and legs. Partially shredded coconut for hair, sargassum weed for clothes, and crooked pieces of drift wood allow for unlimited artistic opportunities. Add your creative two cents and build your beauty at Drunk Bay.

Drunk Bay Spur


If visiting Salt Pond, take an easy, quarter-mile flat hike over to Drunk Bay. Drunk Bay shore is rocky with rough waves, but also has a surprise awaiting all who visit. It takes only some coral with a little flotsam and jetsam thrown in to make the island’s most creative outlet. Hike the short distance over to Drunk Bay to find out for yourself what everyone is talking about!

Ram Head


Being one of the most unique and visually stimulating St. John, USVI, hiking trails, there’s no way you should miss Ram Head Trail. This one takes you on a rocky path that leads to a blue cobble beach, the hillside, and then finally, an overlook that’s 200 feet above the Caribbean Sea.

Rental & Charter


There are a number of boat rental places in St. John that offer various cruising options, including sightseeing tours, island hopping tours, and snorkeling and diving tours. Come and enjoy the dazzling blue waters of the Caribbean while observing the splendid views and relaxing in the refreshing sea breeze.