The US Virgin Islands Best Guide

Maho Beach, St. John

Maho Bay Beach Guide

Everything You Need to Know Before You Go.

Maho Bay is located on the North Shore of St. John, in the US Virgin Islands.

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.

Maho Bay, St. John

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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 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.

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.

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 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 gives natural shade to beachgoers. Plant restoration areas are usually cordoned off; please respect them and give the trees a chance to grow.

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.

Know Before Your 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.

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

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.

You can bring your own snorkel gear or rent snorkel gear at the watersport’s booths across the street.

Know Before You Go: Sea-Turtle Visitation Etiquette at Maho Bay

You have likely heard advice like, don’t feed wildlife, don’t harass wildlife, and appreciate wildlife from a distance. This all applies to the sea turtles at Maho Bay. Keeping your distance is a good thing to do for the turtles’ safety and wellbeing. 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.

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 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 colorful 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.

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