The US Virgin Islands Best Guide

Maho Bay Beach Guide 2024, Everything You Need to Know Before You Go.

Maho Bay is located on the North Shore of St. John, in the US Virgin Islands. It is a favorite with visitors to the island. It is also a favorite with green sea turtles! More on that a little later. Maho Bay is part of the Virgin Islands National Park. The beach offers sun-seekers beautiful white sand, shallow entry, and calm, protected water. These qualities make it great for everyone, particularly kids and novice swimmers. There is some natural shade along the tree line at Maho Bay, and those who want more shade can rent an umbrella.

You can snorkel, paddle board, and kayak at Maho Bay. The stars of the snorkeling experience at Maho are green sea turtles. Right across the street from Maho Bay beach there are food, drinks, souvenir shopping, games, music, and watersports equipment rentals. With turtles, a picturesque bay, and all these conveniences, it’s easy to understand why Maho is a favorite beach with St. John visitors.

Let’s have a closer look at everything you need to know about Maho Bay, St. John!

Maho Bay Beach, St. John

Getting to Maho Bay, St. John

How Do I Get To Maho Bay, St. John

You can get to Maho Bay by car, taxi, and boat. If you have a rental car and are coming from the Cruz Bay area, then take Route 20, better known as North Shore Road. It’s about a 5-mile drive and takes about 15 minutes. You can take a taxi to Maho Bay, and it’s possible to catch a taxi when you are ready to leave – if you leave during regular hours for the restaurant and bar at Maho Crossroad. Another option is to arrange for the same taxi driver that brought you to Maho Bay to return to pick you up at a set time.

You can also visit Maho Bay by sea or on a boat. You have a few options for boating to Maho. If you have boating skills and captaining knowledge, you can rent a bareboat dinghy and explore the North Shore beaches, including Maho Bay, on your own. You can also rent a boat and hire a captain. And you can take a boat charter that includes a stop at Maho Bay.

How is the parking at Maho Bay?

The parking at Maho Bay is limited. If you have a rental car, plan to get to the beach early so that you get a parking spot. There are a couple parking spots on the beach side of the road. The National Park maintains a gravel parking lot at the east end of the bay. And there is a parking area at Maho Crossroads. The Maho Crossroads parking area is for their customers and for taxis. Pay attention to the parking and no-parking signs.

Is there an admission fee at Maho Bay?

There is no admission fee to access the beach or to park at Maho Bay. There is a rental fee for the gazebos, which must be arranged in advance with the Virgin Islands National Park.

Sea Turtles and Maho Bay

There are seven recognized species of sea turtles in the world today. They are all recognized as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered by national and international classifications. Four of the turtle species can be seen around the US Virgin Islands. They include green sea turtles, hawksbills, leatherbacks, and the rarest loggerheads. Green sea turtles are herbivorous, their primary food sources are seagrass and algae. The seagrass meadows that grow in the bay draw green sea turtles to Maho Bay. 

The opportunity to snorkel among sea turtles is a highlight for visitors to St. John, and its likely on your to-do list too. Here’s some turtle etiquette advice to help keep the turtles you want to see safe and healthy. Appreciate the turtles from a distance, don’t feed them, don’t harass them, and don’t surround, chase or touch them. Keeping your distance is a good thing to do for the turtles’ safety, and it’s also the law. Green sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Touching, riding, or disturbing a turtle is punishable with possible fines and jail time. The Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park have a great resource all about turtles on St. John. Learn about these much-loved animals at VINP: Sea Turtles.

(Photo Credits: Hawksbill Turtle and Green Turtle; Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park)

Hawks Bill Turtle Virgin Islands National Park
Green Sea Turtle Virgin Islands National Park

About the Beach & Snorkeling

Is Maho Bay Part of the Virgin Islands National Park?

Yes, Maho Bay beach is part of the Virgin Islands National Park. There are several park amenities available, including non-flush toilets on the far-left side of the beach, and a few small, covered gazebos with picnic tables. The gazebos are also on the left side of the bay, and they are available to rent.

What is the Seashore like at Maho Bay?

Maho Bay is a pretty, white-sand beach. The shoreline is narrow in some areas, particularly during high tide. There is some natural shade at Maho under the sea grape trees. The public road is very close to the beach, literally just behind the tree line. The proximity of the road is a plus for those who want easy, close access. For others who prefer a more remote feel to their beach experience, then they might find the closeness of the road to be a possible downside. Sitting on the beach at Maho offers lovely views out to the ocean; often there are boats moored in the bay, and the view includes Whistling Cay in the distance.

What is the water like at Maho Bay?

The water at Maho Bay is very calm because the bay is well protected on both sides. Some visitors have compared it to a small lake. There is a shallow entry into the water, and it deepens gradually. The entry areas near the shore are largely sandy, but there are some areas with pebbles mixed in with the sand. The seafloor within the bay is largely sand. The central area of the bay has large seagrass meadows, which attract green sea turtles. Green sea turtles are herbivores, and seagrass meadows, like the one at Maho Bay, are their primary feeding area.

How is the snorkeling at Maho? Will I see turtles at Maho Bay?

The big draw for snorkelers at Maho Bay on St. John, is seeing and swimming near green sea turtles. And yes, the chances are pretty good that you will see them. Maho Bay has a large seagrass meadow in the center of the bay. Turtles establish plots within these meadows, where they regularly forage. Look for the sea turtles by swimming over the seagrass meadows. Sting rays are also a common sight at Maho Bay, and occasionally snorkelers spot a shark; usually they are nurse sharks. You may also see starfish, squid, bait fish, and maybe tarpon.

Both the eastern and western coastlines of Maho Bay are comprised of rocks and rocky outcrops. The submerged crags and crevices have some coral, sea fans, and sponges growing, and fish live amongst them. The depth along the coastlines is around 3 to 10 feet deep, and the further you go away from the shoreline, the deeper the water becomes. There isn’t much reef to see at Maho Bay. At Maho Bay, you can bring your own snorkel gear or rent snorkel gear at the watersport’s booths across the street.

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Maho Bay amenities include the availability of watersports and beach gear. You can rent kayaks, paddle boards, beach chairs, umbrellas, snorkel gear, and noodles. Rent for an hour, 3 hours, 6 hours or for the week. Rent just what you want to use or book a day pass for access to a combination of gear. Check out and book your Maho Bay watersports gear and chair rentals below.

Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak Rental

FareHarbor

Experience the joy of kayaking at Maho Bay with top-quality kayak rentals, perfect for all ages. Explore the beautiful waters on a sit-on-top single or tandem kayak from Tribe's 2020 line. Enjoy a fun-filled day on the water, whether you're solo, in a pair, or with a small group. Rental terms include one hour, 3-hours, 6-hours, and weekly.

Single Sit-On-Top Kayak Rental

FareHarbor

Experience the joy of kayaking at Maho Bay with top-quality kayak rentals, perfect for all ages. Explore the beautiful waters on a sit-on-top single kayak from Tribe's 2020 line. Enjoy a fun-filled day on the water, whether you're solo, in a pair, or with a small group. Rental terms include one hour, 3-hours, 6-hours, and weekly. Seize the opportunity for a personal retreat or a shared experience and spend your day exploring the Maho Bay and neighboring Francis Bay.

Stand-Up-Paddle Board Rental

FareHarbor

Experience the thrill, relaxation, and fun of paddle-boarding at Maho Bay. It’s an unforgettable adventure into the island’s stunning ecology and wildlife. With a variety of board sizes available for rent, there's a perfect fit for everyone, making it an ideal activity for all ages. Rentals available for one hour, 3-Hours, 6-Hours and weekly. Grab a board and join the many who have found joy in the gentle sway of the waves—rent your paddle board today and make memories on the water that will last a lifetime!

Water Sports Day Pass

FareHarbor

Have an active and fun day at Maho Bay with this Watersports Day Pass. From 10am to 4pm you can use a stand-up paddle board or a kayak to explore. With every stroke of the paddle, navigate the beauty of Maho Bay and neighbouring Francis Bay, home to sea turtles and vibrant marine life. Your pass also includes 1 snorkel mask and snorkel tube set. Perfect for adventurers and marine life enthusiasts alike.

Everything Maho Bay Pass

FareHarbor

Your all-access ticket to aquatic adventure and relaxation on Maho Bay, St. John from 10am to 4pm. Your package includes access to 1 stand up paddle board or a kayak, 1 snorkel mask, 1 snorkel tube, 2 beach chairs, 1 umbrella or tent, and 2 noodles. Relax at Maho Bay, swim with turtles, and explore Little Maho Bay and adjacent Francis Bay. Whether you're seeking tranquillity or eager to explore, Maho Bay is your playground. Secure your pass now and experience the best of land and sea at Maho Bay!

Beach Gear Day Pass at Maho Bay

FareHarbor

The perfect way to relax at Maho Bay is on your own beach chair with an umbrella to provide some shade. This Beach Gear Day Pass cost $39 and includes 2 beach chairs, 1 umbrella or tent, and 2 noodles from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reserve your chairs today.

Snorkel Gear Rental

FareHarbor

Discover the underwater world at Maho Bay with our high-quality snorkel gear, available for all ages. Experience the wonders beneath the waves with our standard snorkel gear in adult’s and children’s sizes, as well as full face masks. Dive into a fun aquatic adventure, perfect for the whole family.

Food, Chairs, Gear, Toilets

Are there places to buy food, drinks, and souvenirs at Maho Bay??

Yes, right across the street from Maho Bay beach is Maho Crossroads, a dining and shopping area with a VW bus food truck called Furthest, the Paddle-In Tiki Bar, and the Love Maho Beach Boutique. The area also has some artsy backdrops for taking pictures, like colourful directional signs and turtle artwork. There are picnic tables, chairs, games like corn hole, and music. Maho Crossroads and its restaurant, bar and souvenir shop are open daily from 10:30 AM until 6:00 PM.

Can I rent chairs and umbrellas at Maho Bay?

Yes, you can rent chairs and umbrellas at Maho Bay on St. John, you can even book your gear in advance. Reserve your Beach Chairs and Umbrellas at Maho Bay.

Are there toilets at Maho Bay?

There are national park variety dry-toilet facilities at the far left of the beach, and the restaurant and bar area across the street from the beach has toilet facilities for their customers.

Are there any water-sports at Maho Bay?

Across the street from Maho Bay there are water-sport rental shacks. Reef 2 Peak offers kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkel gear for do-it-yourself water-sports fun. You can reserve them in advance. Book Your Kayaks, Paddle Boards and Snorkel Gear at Maho Bay

Kayaking and paddling in the bay at Maho is a lot of fun, good exercise, and offers a quiet and beautiful vantage point from which to enjoy the scenery of the bay and the hillsides. Depending on your stamina, kayaking skills, and, more importantly, your swimming ability, you can also kayak out to Whistling Cay and snorkel on the reefs around the cay.

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Tips & Things To Know Before You Go

Get Your Safe Sunscreen and UVF Protecting Sunwear.

In 2019, the legislature of the US Virgin Islands passed a bill that bans the sale and usage of sunscreens that marine scientists have identified as possibly harmful to corals and other marine life. Specifically, sunscreens that contain Oxybenzone, Octinoxate and Octocrylene.

Check your sunblock’s ingredients. Learn More at NOAA Article on Sunscreen and Corals 

A good choice for sun protection is using Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) sunwear, including a long-sleeve shirt and a wide-brimmed hat with a neck flap. This will protect your upper body, and you can focus the sunscreen on the exposed parts.

Buy Reef Safe Sunscreen

Rainy Months and Maho Bay

The area behind Maho Bay beach is a valuable and important ecosystem, a wetland. During the rainier months, September to November, the wetlands collect rainwater, which helps prevent flooding and erosion. The collection of water attracts a variety of animals and critters, including a proliferation of mosquitoes and no-see-ums. Both insects are always around, but they are more widespread in wet months and after rainfall. So, when heading to Maho Bay, pack some bug repellent in your beach bag just in case, especially if it’s been raining.

Winter Months on St. John

During the winter months in the Virgin Islands, ground swells can create waves at North Shore beaches on St. John. Maho Bay is one of the most protected of the North Shore beaches, so it is not as greatly affected. So, if the surf is up at Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay during your winter holiday to St. John, you might continue to Maho Bay to see if the conditions are better.

Maho Bay Beach Experience

Does Maho Bay get crowded?

Maho Bay can get crowded during peak times of day, usually mid-morning to mid-afternoon, and during peak season, which is December through April. You can try to avoid crowds by getting there before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. During the off-season months of June through October, expect fewer crowds. In addition to the beachgoer crowds, there is sometimes a boat crowd too. Maho Bay is popular with boat charters. The charter boats moor out in the bay and shuttle their guests to the beach to swim, snorkel, and hang out.

Best ways to experience Maho Bay Beach?

There are two big draws for Maho Bay Beach. The first is the pretty bay and high possibility of seeing green sea turtles in their natural environment swimming nearby. The best ways to experience this are to snorkel and look out for the turtles, and to rent a kayak or paddle board to explore the bay and keep a lookout for the turtles as they come to the surface to breathe.

The other draw for Maho Bay is the beach bar vibes available at Maho Crossroads. For taking in some of that beach party scene, head across the street from the beach and have lunch at the food truck and drinks at Paddle-in Tiki Bar, play some corn toss, and dance in the sand to the tunes playing—usually country, rock, or pop.

For those that prefer a quieter beach day at Maho Bay Beach, the best way for you to experience that atmosphere is to get there early, before 9am, or late, after 5pm. You can also try heading to the far left or far right on the beach to avoid being directly across from the food and drink area, and bring a picnic lunch and a cooler of drinks so that you are self-sufficient.

What happened to the famous Maho Bay kissing Palms?

Maho Bay beach was known for its beautiful coconut palms that leaned toward the water and, in some cases, toward each other. There were two palms that leaned particularly close, and they were frequently photographed by visitors and professional photographers. The Maho Bay kissing palms scene became an iconic representation of Maho Bay, and a popular spot for weddings and photoshoots of couples.

Those famous palm trees, and many other trees at Maho Bay, were uprooted and lost during the 2017 hurricane season when St. John was hit by two category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria. Since 2017, efforts have been made and are ongoing to plant native trees along the shoreline at Maho Bay to rehabilitate the tree line. A healthy tree line helps to protect the beach, prevent erosion, provide habitat for critters and birds, and of course, give natural shade to beachgoers. Plant restoration areas are usually cordoned off; please respect them and give the trees a chance to grow.

Story of Place: Maho Bay Historical Information

If you enjoy history and understanding the places you visit, you might like these references related to Maho Bay:

  • The word Mahoe refers to “either of two tropical hibiscus trees (Hibiscus elatus and H. tiliaceus)” and its etymology is French maho, from Taino. (“Mahoe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mahoe. Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.)
  • Map of St. John from 1780 by Peter Lotharius Oxholm, from the Rigsarkivet. (Tip: Zoom into the Maho Bay area of the map.)
  • History of neighboring Vaniniberg Estate by David Knight
    Trust for Public Land: 228 Acres in Maho Bay added to the VI National Park.

Photos of Maho Bay

Quick Reference

  • Location: Northshore
  • Shore/Sand: Sand/Pebbles
  • Natural Shade: Yes
  • Water: Clear/Calm
  • Snorkeling: Yes
  • Admission Fee: None
  • Food/Drinks: Yes
  • Chair Rentals: Yes
  • Watersports: Yes
  • Toilets: Yes

More St. John Beaches