From stunning coral reefs to an abandoned underwater laboratory, St John has plenty to offer scuba divers.
Whether you’re a first-time diver or you’re already certified, each underwater trip guarantees to be unforgettable.
But with dozens of dive sites and countless excursions to choose from, it’s tough knowing how to plan your dives on this Virgin Island.
In this St John scuba diving guide, we’ll show you the best dive sites, the most popular dive shops, and give you a sneak-peak at what you’ll see underwater around the island.
Why You Should Go Scuba Diving in St John
Saint John is a Virgin Island in the Caribbean Sea and an unincorporated territory of the United States. It’s a popular destination for scuba divers, and it’s easy to see why.
Since the mid-50s, two-thirds of the island has been protected as the Virgin Islands National Park. From the white, sandy beach to the ancient petroglyphs of the Indigenous Taino people, the island is breathtaking.
The island relies on tourism for its income, so you’ll find hundreds of villas, hotels, and resorts to stay in. There are also dozens of shops, restaurants, and eateries in Cruz Bay and Coral Bay that look out over the water.
World-Class Dive Operators
Whether you’re diving for the first time or you’re an experienced diver, the waters around St John are world-class. There are numerous dive operators who can teach you to dive and help get you certified or take you out on some incredible excursions.
When you need a break from diving, there is plenty to do on the island. A sunset cruise is perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway, while the nature trails around the island are great for hikers.
Of course, you could also spend your visit lounging on the soft, sandy beaches and sipping cocktails at the resort bars.
Vibrant Marine Life
The coral reefs around St John are part of the national park and are protected. Countless species call the reef home, including 90 known species of parrotfish. You’ll be able to spot them in the seagrass beds with their distinctive beak-like mouth and colorful scales.
You might also be lucky enough to spot a silver barracuda, damselfish, stingray, and even a green sea turtle or a hawksbill turtle.
Getting to St John
St John doesn’t have an airport, so you can’t fly directly. However, the island is served by Cyril E. King Airport in Saint Thomas.
Once you’ve flown into Saint Thomas, you’ll need to hitch a ride on a ferry at Red Hook, Charlotte Amalie, or Tortola. They run at different times throughout the day, so make sure to check the schedules.
If you’re planning on bringing a car, you’ll need to book a spot on a barge. These run from Red Hook to Cruz Bay, operating hourly during daylight hours.
Some rental companies allow their vehicles on the car ferry, but many don’t. Make sure you check with your rental company before making any plans.
You don’t actually need a car when visiting Saint John. Taxis are widely available across the island, and there’s also a water taxi service to help you island hop.
Finally, the VITRAN public bus service runs hourly on weekdays between Cruz Bay and Salt Pond Bay, giving you a cheap way to get around.
The Best Scuba Diving Spots in St John
There are almost a dozen top-rated scuba diving sites in St John that have everything from shipwrecks to massive caves. But if you’re short on time and want the best diving spots in St John, here are our top picks.
Carvel Rock is home to hundreds of exotic birds, making it an interesting spot to visit. Underwater, you’ll find the rock covered in sponges and gorgonians, perfect for non-divers and snorkelers to explore.
For more experienced divers, the north side of Carvel Rock drops below 80 feet, and it’s here you’ll see tarpon and stingrays feeding.
Over on the east side of the island is the quiet spot of Eagle Shoals. It’s filled with coral caves and deep channels to explore, rich with copper sweepers, jacks, and baitfish.
If you’re hoping to spot manta rays or a shark, this is the best place to visit. It’s exposed to the open ocean on each side, giving you more opportunities to spot larger marine life.
Eagle Shoals is also home to The Cathedral – a massive open chamber with different entry points. If you look up while submerged, it looks like a huge skylight high above. Because of its beauty, it’s a popular spot for underwater weddings.
This mysterious spot is home to an abandoned underwater laboratory once used by NASA and the US Navy. Anchored 50 feet off the seafloor, the empty facility is an eery site and well worth a visit.
You’ll find coral-encrusted tunnels and large caves, all hosting triggerfish, mackerel, tarpon, and squid.
Finally, Congo Cay is a popular spot for beginner divers going out on their first dive. There are plenty of shallow areas to practice with your scuba gear and a huge span of coral teeming with fish and marine life.
There are also numerous grottos to explore if you’re feeling adventurous, and you might just spot a sea turtle or shark if you’re lucky.
Which St John Dive Site Should You Choose?
The most well-known dive sites in St John are Congo Cay, Grass Cay, Arches of Tunnel, and Lovango Cay.
But there are also dozens of other lesser-known dive sites less than half an hour from the main harbor. If you’re a divemaster and want to get off the beaten track, it’s best to ask local dive shops for their advice on the best spots – they’ll be happy to share their favorite places with experienced divers looking for adventure.
Looking for the best places to dive around the world? Visit Dubrovnik in Croatia for impressive cliffs, crystal waters, and epic dive sites!
Cruz Bay Watersports
When it comes to dive shops in St John, Cruz Bay Watersports is the most well-known. They’ve operated on the island for over 30 years and provide a range of excursions and experiences suited to all skill levels.
They are a PADI-approved dive shop, and you’ll see them heading out most mornings on their dive boat, Sea Quest, to some of the best dive sites in the Northern Caribbean.
What To Expect When Scuba Diving In St John
Most of the dive sites in St John are shallow dives, only around 15-20 minutes away from the shore. If you’re looking for a quick and easy dive, any of the popular sites will impress.
However, there are some more challenging dives a little further out, including Flanagan Reef, Maple Leaf, Witch’s Hat, and Cocoloba. Make sure you talk with your dive operator about the different trips you can take.
- An introductory dive course in St John costs around $60 to $120, depending on the operator and dive site.
- If you’re already certified, two morning dives cost around $100.
- A night dive will cost around $100, and these are well worth the money.
If you’re hoping to get scuba diving certified in St John, it’ll cost between $260 and $400.
But whether you’re a newbie or an experienced diver, the water is warm and inviting, there is so much to see, and the instructors are incredibly welcoming.
Tips For Scuba Diving In St John
If this is your first time scuba diving in St John, here are some helpful tips to make sure you have a fun, safe trip:
- Don’t dive alone. Even if you’re an experienced diver, you should always have a buddy or instructor with you in case of emergencies.
- If you’re under the weather, don’t dive. Even shallow waters can cause damage to the lungs or ears if you’re suffering from congestion.
- Always make sure you have the right equipment when going out on a trip – you’ll be able to hire equipment from local dive shops.
- Wear a waterproof sunblock to protect your skin, but make sure it’s coral-safe to protect the fragile ecosystem.
- Never touch the coral, overturn rocks, or touch marine life. You’re always there to observe, not interfere in any way.
If you’re not already certified, St John is a great place to learn. The shallow waters are warm, the instructors are friendly, and some of your first dives will be in an iconic location.
Will You Go Diving at St John?
St John is a beautiful, incredibly interesting place to go scuba diving. It’s also a great mix of easy shallow dives and challenging deep dives, which means there is something for everyone.
For a relaxing trip filled with chilled dive trips and walks around a stunning national park, you can’t beat St John. Just remember to ask the local operators for their advice on excursions to get the inside scoop on the best dives the island has to offer.