Colorful fish, coral highlight dive sites

CRUZ BAY, U.S. Virgin Islands— Colorful fish, rare coral and crystal blue waters can all be found within the vast snorkeling sites at Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay in the Virgin Islands National Park.

According to the National Park Service Trunk Bay is considered to be one of the Caribbean’s most photographed beaches. On St. John, it is the most popular beach not only for its clear water, white sand and mountainside view, but also because of its underwater snorkeling trail.

Cinnamon Bay’s white sand beach offers views of the other islands surrounding it (Photo by Laura Funk).

This unique underwater trail attracts visitors from all over the world.

“We get tourists visiting from Europe, Germany, France and even China,” Alberto Samuel, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands and an eight-year veteran Trunk Bay lifeguard, said.

Guided by buoys, the trail begins not far from the shore and continues about 225 yards out into the water running along a small mountainside.

Located about five to 15 feet beneath the surface are various plaques that provide snorkelers with a picture and a brief introduction about the coral and fish that can be seen throughout the trail.

“The plaques under the water are the only things that are man-made,” Samuel said. “Everything else is natural.”

Cinnamon Bay is about a mile long and is the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park’s longest beach (Photo by Laura Funk).

A Trunk Bay visitor from New York, 15-year-old Rachel Baez, said she really enjoyed snorkeling and the trail made it really easy to follow.

“The plaques were interesting to read and the pictures helped me find the different fish and coral in the water,” Baez said.

Coral that can be seen are various hard corals including staghorn and elkhorn that provide shelter for many of the reef creatures.

Snorkelers can expect to see a wide variety of fish when in the water. Among them are trumpet fish, trunk fish, sergeant major and parrotfish. The fish’s stripes, spots and neon colors help them stand out from the coral and blue of the water.

“There’s a lot of fish and different kinds I’ve never seen before,” Baez said.

Samuel said the reason why there are so many more fish is because of the vast distribution of coral that is present near the bay. The more coral there is, the more fish will come.

Trunk Bay is one of the most popular beaches on St. John due in part largely to the snorkeling of the underwater trail (Photo by Laura Funk).

“It’s all God’s creations,” Samuel said.

Baez said she has gone snorkeling before and is used to having to take a boat to the snorkeling site.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. “Being able to swim right off the beach and into the coral was really cool.”

In addition to the guidance of the underwater trail, Samuel said Trunk Bay also attracts visitors to its reef because it is the only bay that allows for big groups to snorkel at the same time. Other beaches try to regulate it.

However, with bigger snorkeling groups around the coral reef comes a higher chance some of it may get damaged from the snorkeler’s flippers or the snorkelers themselves.

“We are here to protect it and make sure people don’t disrupt or hit the coral,” Samuel said. “Thankfully most people are respectful of it.”

A more secluded beach that also receives a lot of attention for its coral reef is Cinnamon Bay. For those who are looking for a more remote snorkeling adventure, Cinnamon Bay is the better choice over Trunk Bay.

Trunk Bay is considered by the Virgin Islands National Park Service to be one of the Caribbean’s more photographed beaches (Photo by Laura Funk).

“My husband and I wanted to go somewhere to relax without a lot of people around,” Cinnamon Bay visitor Jan Manski said. “This place is perfect.”

Unlike Trunk Bay, however, Cinnamon bay has no underwater trail to guide snorkelers. Yet, there is a wider area available to snorkel as opposed to the limitations of the trail at Trunk Bay.

“There is no trail on Cinnamon Bay, but there sure is a lot of nice fish to see,” Cinnamon Bay shop clerk Clarendia Emmy said.

USVI National Park Chief Resources Manager Rafe Boulon said the beach doesn’t get as many visitors as Trunk Bay, but it does get a decent amount of people admiring the reef during tourist season, which is from November through April.

A short swim from the shore leads snorkelers to a wide range of coral that can be admired (Photo by Laura Funk).

“No matter which beach visitors decide to go to, there’s plenty of beauty to see at both,” Emmy said.


If You Go

  • Trunk Bay offers a bathhouse along with lockers, a snack bar, souvenir shop and snorkel gear rentals are available. Lifeguards are on duty daily. There is a day-use fee collected from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for adults of $4. Children age 16 and under are admitted free.
  • The underwater trail is great for beginners, children, or anybody that wants to learn about marine life. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to snorkel the entire length.
  • Cinnamon Bay provides a bathhouse and has a water sports center that rents kayaks, mountain bikes, snorkel gear and windsurfers. Visitors can arrange day sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving lessons. Volleyball is also available. There is no charge to enter the beach.
Underwater plaques provide snorkelers with a picture and information about the coral and fish that can be seen  (Photo by Laura Funk).
  • There is also a campground with bare tent sites, prepared sites and cottages adjacent to the beach along with a camp store. Call 340-776-6330 or 800-539-9998 for camping reservations. The campground closes to unregistered guests at 10 p.m.
  • Across from the beach and campground entrance/parking area, there is a 1.1-mile hiking trail through the Cinnamon Bay Plantation ruins.
  • Visitors can take a taxi from the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park Visitor’s Center in Cruz Bay to either Trunk Bay of Cinnamon Bay for approximately $7 to $10.
  • For more information contact the National Park Service by visiting the website at or call 340-776-6201, ext. 238 or fax to 340-775-9592.
Trunk Bay’s clear waters allow snorkelers to see the fish and coral that are near the surface as well as on the bottom (Photo by Laura Funk).


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