As the self-proclaimed “Official World’s Foremost Authority on St. John Beaches,” it has become my job to uncover those fine nuances that separate one St. John Beach experience from another. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Today we’ll talk about Maho Bay.
Maho Bay was named after the Hibiscus tiliaceous or beach Maho, a tree commonly found on the St. John shoreline and throughout the tropics. The beach Maho has a distinctive heart-shaped leaf and produces attractive yellow flowers that later turn purple. The small green fruit of the maho is not edible, but bush tea can be made from the leaf.
In a nutshell, Maho Bay is the beach of choice for families with children and novice swimmers and snorkelers who want to seek out calm, shallow waters to enjoy our tropical wonderland without the anxiety of choppy seas and quick drop-offs into deep water.
How to Get There
Maho Bay is located about 1.25 miles past Cinnamon Bay or 5.2 miles past Mongoose Junction, going east on Route 20.
Maho Bay Facilities
There is a Virgin Islands National Park pavilion on the extreme western portion of the beach. A permit must be obtained from the park in order to use this facility. This permit will also entitle you to use the bathrooms to the west of the pavilion, which is otherwise locked and not available to the general public. The park will explain the rules and conditions pertaining to the use of the pavilion.
Maho Bay is the most geographically protected of all the north shore beaches., surrounded on the windward side by high steep hillsides. This keeps Maho Bay calm even when the trades pipe up and other north shore experience choppy conditions.
Maho is not completely immune to winter ground swells that come out of the north and west, but it is certainly less affected than most of the other beaches.
The downside of this geographical protection is that mosquitoes and sandflies are more active where there is no breeze. The wetlands behind the beach also contribute to a higher-than-usual mosquito population. Therefore, during times of mosquito activity, after a rainy spell, for example, it would be advised to bring along some mosquito repellant along with your usual beach gear.
The entry into the sea from the beach at Maho is gradual. There are no steep drop-offs into deep water, and you can walk out quite comfortably to find a water depth that suits you.
Maho Beach sand is hard-packed and not quite as sensual as the soft white coral sands found on other beaches in the north. This hard-packed sand extends into the sea, where there are patches of areas with scattered small rocks making it not quite as comfortable for those, like me, with ultra-sensitive feet. Of course, you can choose you can just as well choose a spot on the beach without small rocks, and the problem is solved.
Interestingly, Maho Bay, now a relatively narrow beach, was once one of the widest beaches in St. John. The horseback riding enthusiasts of St. John took advantage of this characteristic, as well as the great length of the beach, to have horse races on the sand.
The narrowing of the beach came as a result of the removal of sand by the government to construct Cruz Bay roads and the Julius Sprauve School. This was done at a time when the dynamics of sand production and sand loss were not yet understood.
Maho is the only beach on St. John’s north shore that you can drive right up to. It’s the very informality of this beautiful and often-photographed beach that makes it so special. It’s right there by the side of the road, with no parking lots or signs, just the beach. Stately groves of coconut palms line both sides of the road. Just pull over under a Maho tree, and there you are!
Maho Bay has some nice shoreline vegetation. On the south, there are some coconut palms, and bordering the rest of the beach is beach Mahos, sea grapes, and some scattered Mangroves and genips. Good for finding shade and hanging hammocks.
Snorkeling In Maho Bay
I’ve changed my mind about snorkeling at Maho and would list it as one of St. John’s best snorkel destinations, especially for novice snorkelers who are looking for sea turtles.
You can snorkel along the rocks on the north end of the beach to the large boulders on the point between Maho and the next beach Little Maho, where you can expect to encounter lots of reef fish, interesting rock formations, and some nice corals.
Snorkeling over the seagrass can also be very rewarding. Your experience will, however, depend on luck, time of day, and time of year. Give it a chance, and you can find sea turtles, rays, even spotted eagle rays at times, and occasionally conch and starfish.