Maho Bay on St John is one of the most beautiful and serene bays in the world. As compared to the more popular and more heavily photographed Trunk Bay, Maho has a more laid back vibe.
The bay was once full of beautiful palm trees that leaned into the ocean but since hurricane maria in 2017 nearly all of those trees are gone.
Even still, Maho Bay is a jaw-dropping spot, well worth the visit. Crystal blue/turquoise water, white sands, sea turtles, and palm trees comprise this stunning destination. Visitors also can rent kayaks here and swim with sea turtles.
- Tips & Things to Know
- Best time to Visit
- Getting to Maho Bay
- Post-hurricane Maria
Things to Know Before Visiting Maho Bay
Please, Wear Sunscreen.
- SUNSCREEN: Many sunscreens have been outlawed in the Virgin Islands due to reef-damaging ingredients. Goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway – wear sunscreen! The Caribbean is unforgiving on unprotected skin. We’ve made that mistake enough times to make lathering up a top priority. We highly recommend this one (which is reef-safe).
Sandals are your friend.
- FOOTWEAR: There’s nothing like the feeling of warm sand between the toes. There’s also nothing quite like the feeling of something sharp and pokey in the toes. The walk to the beach from the parking lot is short but best attempted with something between your feet and the ground, like these sandals that we love. and these sandals which have straps.
Goggles and flippers for the win.
- SNORKEL GEAR: There is an actual underwater trail in Virgin Islands National Park – how cool is that? In order to best experience it along with so many other amazing underwater spots, you need snorkel gear! This is the inexpensive set we used. We also liked this cool American Flag swimming cap
Underwater camera housing… to ruin, or not to ruin.
- UNDERWATER CAMERA HOUSING: So here we must add the caveat that we lost a camera to the depths in Virgin Islands National Park (at Maho Bay). Anytime you get your camera near water, let alone saltwater, you’re taking a risk. With that being said we have used this underwater camera housing in the past and had luck with it.
Rash guards are great for extra UV protection, especially after that inevitable burn.
- RASH GUARD: We were told to be sure and pack rash guards for this trip not so much for the coral etc but for extra UV protection (especially for Will who burns easily). We got these inexpensive ones off amazon and we were sure glad to have them.
Do not touch our dear friend, the sea turtle.
- Sea Turtles: Green Sea Turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Believe it or not it is a felony to touch one. As tempting as it might be, resist the urge and admire from a distance. We’ve all gotten pretty good at social distancing – best to apply these practices to our sea turtle friends as well.
Where to Stay Near Maho Bay
Visiting Virgin Islands National Park? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on visiting Virgin Islands National Park for tips. Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite place to stay on St John.
Due to the long term closure of Caneel Bay (the only resort in the park destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes) and the ensuing battle with the park service over the future management of the property, the closest hotels & resorts are back in Cruz Bay.
Best Time to Visit Maho Bay
The best time to visit Maho Bay is in the morning when crowds are at a minimum. With that being said, there is rarely a bad time to visit this stunning spot. Day time is great for relaxing on the beach and cooling off in the warm ocean.
Sunsets at at the overlook can be spectacular as well. Low clouds frequent the area making for ideal conditions for dazzling colorful displays.
Where is Maho Bay?
Maho Bay is located on the island of St. John in the Caribbean and is part of the US Virgin Islands National Park. To get there, one must take the ferry from St. Thomas or boat over to St. John.
Getting to Maho Bay + Map
Maho Bay is a 15-minute drive from Cruz Bay where the main island ferry lands. It is easily accessed from the parking lot via a paved path that is a few steps from the parking area.
Snorkeling in Maho Bay
The bay offers warm, crystal clear waters and abundant sea life making for excellent snorkeling opportunities. The bay is home to sea turtles and rays which makes for especially cool underwater viewing. The bottom of the bay is mostly sandy without much coral.
If you’re looking for an underwater camera rig, we used this underwater camera housing in the past and had luck with it.
Kayaking Maho Bay
Maho Bay offers kayak rentals via a vendor (reef2peak) on the beach. We highly recommending taking one out for a spin. The vantage from the water is really unique and well worth the go.
We were able to watch sea turtles, fish and rays beneath our kayak as we paddled across the bay. If you’re feeling up for a little bit more of a paddle you can kayak over to Whistling Cay and snorkel the reefs around the island.
Best Photo Spots Maho Bay
The best spot to photograph Maho Bay is actually from America Hill Ruins which overlook the bay from high above. If you’re not into a big hike, there are other options.
There is a small pullout off of the main park road which provides an overlook of the bay. Alternatively, Maho Bay Beach is an excellent spot to capture the stunning beauty of the bay.
Maho Bay Photos
Maho Bay After Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria had a devastating impact on the Caribbean islands, especially St. John, home to Virgin Islands National Park. Many of the photos of the park you’ll find feature locations that have been totally changed since the hurricane hit the island in 2017.
Few spots on the island were as devastated as Maho by the storm. An beach that was once world famous for it’s leaning palms was completely denuded of them. Mangrove trees were also stripped from the area.
With that being said, this spot is still stunningly beautiful and well worth the trip!
*all of our photos of the park feature it in its current condition, post-2017 hurricane Maria damage
More Great Spots Near Maho Bay
Watch the Virgin Islands Video Featuring Maho Bay
We created a video featuring Maho Bay along with many other stunning destinations from the park. If you’re planning to visit we recommend you take 3 minutes to give it a watch!
Looking for more about the Virgin Islands?
We created a beautiful, comprehensive guide on Virgin Islands National Park chocked full of breathtaking photos, videos, tips, and tricks from our extensive time in the park.
Why Listen to Us About Visiting National Parks?
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us national parks experts.
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
If you’d like to follow along our journey we’d be delighted to have you!
And a bonus! Tips for Visiting a National Park
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs