8 Best Caribbean Islands for Snorkeling AND Hiking
Each Caribbean island has its own personality. Some are renowned for their pristine beaches, others are celebrated for their flavorful cuisine, and some are distinguished for outstanding snorkeling and hiking. We live in the United States, so the majority of these islands are just a brief flight away. In our quest for exceptional outdoor adventures, here are our top 8 picks for the best Caribbean islands for snorkeling and hiking!
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Snorkeling + Hiking Caribbean Islands Map
#1- St. John USVI
ST. JOHN USVI SNORKELING
Turtle at Francis Bay in St. John USVI
By far, St. John U.S. Virgin Island is my #1 pick for having both the best snorkeling and hiking in the Caribbean.
We specifically seek out snorkeling destinations and often structure a whole vacation around this adventure.
Click here for all of our favorite “snorkations around the world.”
What’s unique about St. John USVI is you do not need to book an excursion to access these snorkeling spots. 2/3 of the island is protected parkland, which allows for some incredible shore snorkeling.
See too many turtles to count and sting rays in Maho and Francis Bay. Witness some beautiful coral and sea fans in Haulover Bay and Little Lameshur Bay. You may even get to see an occasional nurse shark and squid family in Waterlemon (not Watermelon) Bay.
I rate all of the snorkeling sites we visit along with detailed instructions on how to get there and where to snorkel. Check out my Ultimate St. John USVI Snorkeling Guide.
ST. JOHN USVI HIKING
Hiking the Ram Head Trail in St. John USVI
St. John is hilly and mountainous, so you know it’s got to have great hikes.
One of my favorites is the Ram Head Trail, which offers pretty epic panoramic views at the end.
Other fantastic hikes include the Reef Bay Trail and the Petroglyph Trail.
If you don’t already have it, get the AllTrails app.
It has 400K+ trails from around the world including St. John, all rated by actual hikers with their trail tips. Never get lost with this app as your guide. You can download the trails offline before you start.
Sharptail eel at Boca Slagbaii in Bonaire
I am genuinely surprised that Bonaire hasn’t received more attention as a top Caribbean destination.
Not that I’m complaining.
Yes, Bonaire is known for world-class diving, but it also has some seriously incredible shore snorkeling. We were blown away so much on a trip last year that we have already booked a second trip this year.
Stay tuned for my detailed Bonaire snorkeling guide, but some highlights include seeing very large parrot fish and a sharptail eel with these beautiful white spots at Boca Slagbaii.
Another favorite site is Klein Bonaire, one of the best drift snorkels we have done. It does require a short boat ride though. We saw turtles and beautiful French angelfish that were quite friendly (as seen in my featured photo at the top of this blog post).
Bari Reef is another great spot. This was my first experience getting caught in a bait ball. Glad there wasn’t a shark on the other end enjoying the chase. We also saw quite a few eels.
Washington Slagbaai National Park
One of the best hiking trails in Bonaire is Subi Brandaris, which is located in the Washington Slagbaai National Park.
It offers the best views of the island, but it will take some effort and a rock scramble.
It’s the highest peak on the island, and you may even see all the way to Venezuela on a really clear day!
Sea turtle checking me out at Tent Reef in Saba
I would be surprised if you heard of #3 on my list. Until recently, I knew I never had.
Saba is known as the Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean. It’s a nature lover’s paradise with very few tourists.
Access requires a thrilling 12-minute plane ride from St. Maarten that lands on the shortest commercial runway on the island. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Saba is best known as a diver’s paradise, but there are still a few snorkeling gems. We enjoyed snorkeling with multiple turtles and saw a few stingrays and nurse sharks deep below.
Sandy Cruz Hiking Trail in Saba
Saba reminds me of a baby St. Lucia with its towering mountainous peaks. Its topography makes for some great hiking trails, both easy and challenging.
Although the most popular hike is Mt. Scenery, one of my favorite trails is the Sandy Cruz Trail. If you time it right, you can actually see the little planes land on the small runway below.
#4- St. Croix USVI
ST. CROIX USVI SNORKELING
Coral and brittle stars on the pylon under Frederiksted Pier in St. Croix USVI
St. Croix USVI often gets overshadowed by its more popular neighbors, St. John and St. Thomas.
But for snorkelers and hikers, it offers some fantastic options.
One of our favorite and most unique St. Croix snorkel spots is Frederiksted Pier. As we snorkeled between the pylons, we saw a huge school of squid, a bait ball, and schools of tropical fish like blue tang.
Plus, the pylons underneath the pier were decorated with beautiful vibrant coral, sponges, and brittle stars. Other favorite snorkeling sites include Buck Island (saw a huge school of Jacks) and Cane Bay (lots of turtles!).
ST. CROIX USVI HIKING
Isaac & Jack Bay hike in St. Croix USVI
Hikers rejoice because you have two great options.
One is a beautiful coastal hike called Isaac & Jack Bay that involves a swim (and a snorkel if you are so inclined). Views are beautiful, but it gets hot due to the lack of shade. Go early.
The second (less well-known) is Mount Eagle. The trailhead was very difficult to find, but the hike itself is quite easy with a huge payoff at the end. Gorgeous views!
#5- Puerto Rico
PUERTO RICO SNORKELING
Shutterstock: Beautiful lagoon at Culebra in Puerto Rico
My family and I had booked a trip to Puerto Rico years ago and had to cancel due to the devastating Hurricane Maria.
We hope to book again in the near future, but I wanted to include it on this list because Puerto Rico is known for great snorkeling and hiking.
The best snorkeling sites are on the two islands right off of Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra, which are known for their turtles, rays, and nurse sharks.
PUERTO RICO HIKING
Shutterstock: El Yunque National Park in Puerto Rico
Some of the best hikes can be found in El Yunque National Forest, which is the only tropical rainforest managed by the U.S. National Forest System.
Discover Puerto Rico offers an excellent description of all the incredible hiking trails to explore in the cloud forest from easy to hard. Expect cascading waterfalls, rivers, and natural pools depending on the trail you pick.
The highly regarded company Spotin Tours will even show you how to slide down the Natural Waterslide if you are adventurous.
Chainlink moray eel at Mangel Halto in Aruba
One of the main reasons we spent several days in Aruba before heading to Bonaire was to hang out at some of the best beaches in the world! The pictures don’t lie.
What did surprise me though was the snorkeling. Aruba has good snorkeling? Yep.
Two of our favorite spots were Mangel Halto and Catalina Cove.
Mangel Halto was our favorite Aruba snorkeling site, where we saw massive starlet and lettuce coral in addition to many schools of beautiful fish like blue tang. We even saw several eels!
Shutterstock: Arikok National Park in Aruba
Shipwreck snorkel at Carlisle Bay in Barbados
Although the snorkeling is not as spectacular as the above Caribbean islands, Barbados does have one pretty unique snorkeling site: Carlisle Bay.
This snorkeling site has 6 shipwrecks to explore, which are always fun to swim over and slightly creepy at the same time.
Tropical fish such as the usual Sergeant Major, coral, and sponges love to take up residence on these sunken boats. We even got to see turtles and rays in the seabed below.
You could swim from shore to access the wrecks if you are a confident swimmer or take a tour with the highly-rated company, El Tigre Catamaran Sailing Cruises.
We did the snorkeling tour with Snorkel Wid Nevil, but I don’t think he’s running tours anymore.
Rugged coastline at Bathsheba in Barbados
There are several beautiful hiking trails in Barbados that don’t require too much effort. One is the Bathsheba Coastal Walk, which stretches from Bath Beach to Bathsheba.
Another relaxed trail is walking along the sea on the Richard Haynes Boardwalk. There are a few beachside cafes for a drink or snack along the way.
Snorkeling at Guadeloupe Islands
I cannot wait to visit the Guadeloupe Islands. Besides its famous Rhum Agricole and delicious French food (it was a French colony!), it is known for its JUVENILE LEMON SHARKS.
I am obsessed with sharks but not scary sharks.
Although we did cage dive with a great white shark in Cape Town, South Africa that was behind the protection of steel bars (or so I thought, lol, I did live to tell the tale).
One of the Guadeloupe islands is Petite Terre. This island offers a unique snorkeling experience to snorkel in shallow water (we’re talking like knee-deep!) with juvenile lemon sharks.
It’s also known for turtles and rays.
Tarzan Excursion has exceptional reviews and can make this experience happen.
La Soufrière Volcano hike on Guadeloupe in the Caribbean
There are several fantastic hiking routes to choose from including the challenging hike up to the volcano, La Soufrière.
Another difficult but well-loved trail is the Carbet Waterfall hike, which requires a few technical parts involving ropes to go up or down. According to fellow hikers, the 2nd fall is easy and the 1st one is hard.
We love getting outdoors, and snorkeling and hiking are two of our favorite adventure sports. It’s hard to find Caribbean destinations that offer both, but these 8 islands check the boxes!
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