As my kids have gotten older, we’ve come to really love snorkeling together as a family. It’s more exciting than floating around in the ocean, but not as time, money or labor intensive as scuba diving. We’ve invested in snorkel gear for the whole family, so whenever we’re at the beach we’re ready at any moment!
Jamaica boasts over two hundred miles of beaches – however these beaches can vary greatly in terms of quality and the clarity of the water. So it’s important to know where to go. The island is surrounded by a coral reef, which meanders quite near to the shore in some spots to about 20 minutes off shore in others.
If you’re heading to Jamaica, or thinking about a Caribbean beach vacation (let’s talk!), here’s what you need to know about the best beaches in Jamaica for snorkeling.
The town of Negril, on Jamaica’s Western coast, is considered to have the best beaches in Jamaica for snorkeling. Here you’ll discover the world-famous Seven Mile Beach, a golden stretch of perfect, powdery soft sand that’s popular with both locals and tourists.
About 15- to 20- minutes off shore is the protected 2-mile coral reef. It’s too far to swim to from the coastline, but it’s super simple to catch a boat, of which there are plenty in the area for you to rent for a few bucks. If you are traveling to Jamaica during the summer, this is a must visit location due to the hordes of (harmless) tiny thimble jellyfish that flock to the reef. You’ll literally be swimming through small blobs of gel, which is a pretty unique experience! Even if you don’t visit during summer, rest assured that you’ll usually be able to catch glimpses of sea fans, urchins, conch and vibrant tropical fish.
Alternatively, head to the beach near the Grand Lido in Negril. Here, you can find great snorkeling right from shore to your left if facing the beach around the rocky point.
Some of the best snorkeling in Jamaica is found near the city of Montego Bay. Doctor’s Cave Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the entire island of Jamaica, also features one of the most easily accessible areas for snorkeling. This is a great beach for families with small kids as the water is very calm and safe even for the youngest kiddos.
A hot spring flows into these waters, which brings the already warm water temperature up a bit higher, while also making the visibility even clearer. Underwater, you will be able to take in the gorgeous reef full of colorful, abundant coral.
Cornwall Beach in Montego Bay, located within walking distance to Doctor’s Cave Beach, is a much more private stretch of sand with equally nice snorkeling. Expect to pay about $3 per person to hang out on this well-maintained beach. Here you’ll also find a decent restaurant and bar and plenty of space to stretch out on the sand.
Another good option for the best snorkeling in Jamaica is Montego Beach. This underwater area has shallow reefs and steep vertical drop-offs, which will allow you the ability to see a variety of marine life, such as angelfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, rays and many species of coral.
Half Moon Beach
Half Moon Beach, located just north of Negril on the road towards Montego Bay, is perhaps the best beach in Jamaica for snorkeling right from the beach. This is a private beach with a rustic hotel on site, but you can pay a small fee to use the beach for the day.
When you reach Half Moon Beach (by taxi usually), a boat takes you from the shore to the little island, and will drop you in the water at the far end of the shallow water reef and then you can swim back. Here you can expect clear visibility, lots of live coral of all the various types found in Jamaica, forests of purple sea fans, and mostly small fish like damsels, tangs, wrasses, and juveniles of other types (seems like a nursery of sorts).
Boston Bay Beach
Boston Bay Beach is one of the best swimming, surfing and snorkeling beaches on the eastern side of Jamaica. It is near the town of Port Antonio and visitors will find some of the biggest waves, making this the island’s premiere surfing beach. It also features powdery white sand and clear water. When swimming or snorkeling, look for less-crowded areas to stay out of the path of surfers. Another reason beachgoers flock to Boston Bay is the jerk pork sandwich stands that line the beach. Stop by for a quick lunch and a sample of authentic Jamaican fare.
Here you’ll find lots of picnic tables where you can enjoy local jerk chicken, pork or a wide variety of other local fare. Ironically, despite the fact that proponents of windsurfing sometimes cite Boston Bay Beach as potentially the best beach in Jamaica for the pursuit of this sport, it never really caught on here, and is practiced far less frequently than you’d have expected, given the favorable conditions.
Located on the North coast of Jamaica, Runaway Beach is a more secluded option for snorkeling. The beach has bathrooms, chairs and umbrellas so that you’re able to find comfort and relax when you need a break from snorkeling. You can literally walk into the water and begin snorkeling at Runaway Beach, with sea urchins, tropical fish, kidney and brain coral right off shore. Tours are also offered, which take you farther out from shore, giving snorkelers the ability to see lionfish, stingrays, barracuda and bountiful corals.
Around the island, you’ll be able to check out an array of marine life that includes barjacks, blue and brown chromis, spotlight parrotfish and yellow-headed wrasses.(Just remember not to wear shiny jewelry under water as there are barracuda in Jamaica.)