The day I had been waiting for now for about 3 1/2 years. The last time we were here we went to Sapphire Beach and it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. We had the best day there. The scenery was so beautiful and the snorkeling was excellent. We couldn't have ask for a better place to go. However, over the years, things at Sapphire has changed (with closing the snorkel shack & food and pretty much the condo association wanting to stop tourist traffic to the area IMO). So we decided even though you can still go to Sapphire, it wasn't worth the hassle. It was time to try somewhere else.
Coki beach comes highly recommended for an excellent place to snorkel and a pretty nice beach. It has had it's bad publicity over the years with drugs, shootings, and just a shady place to go. After the shooting in 2010 of a cruiser (by accident due to a gang related activity going on during a funeral), the efforts of St Thomas to clean the place up, make it more presentable and tourist friendly seems to have worked.
So we headed off the ship and toward the gates to catch a cab to Coki.
We were immediately put into a VERY nice van (again, another with huge rims....I'm seeing a pattern here lol). We had 3 others going to Coki and a couple that was going to the Marina. We dropped the couple off first and then on to Coki we went. Our driver was seriously driving like a mad man. There are some pretty scary turns on the roads and some very close calls. At one point there was a huge industrial truck working on the side of the road, which forced our side of the road to go around it onto the opposite side of the road. Our driver went ahead and crossed over WITH ONCOMING TRAFFIC and the car coming our way hit the side of the van. It wasn't a bad hit, but you felt it and you knew someone lost a mirror with that as well. Neither of them stopped, but I can guarantee our driver was furious (by the look on his face) because he seriously had a nice van. However, IMO it was his fault. Just a thought...maybe slow down a little and give right away???
We were passing the cemetery and I immediately knew that we must be close to Coki. We pulled up at 9am and got out to discuss with the driver what time he would be back to pick us up for the return drive back to the port.
Looking directly across the street from Coki, you will also see water. We were introduced to a lady who gave the impression that she ran things (we found out later she was just one of the runners that got you food and drinks), but she quickly claimed our group. She started telling us about Coki and umbrellas/chairs and where things were. At this point, I completely zoned out because I was not interested in a slow walking tour and listening to what things were...I just wanted to head down to the beach and get in the beautiful water and sand. I like to explore on my own.
I have to admit, the "vision" I had in my head of what the entrance of Coki and Coral world was like with the steps walking down to Coki beach was completely different than what it was. But I was not disappointed.
We made it down the steps and to the beach. We were trying, once again, to figure out how many chairs and umbrellas we needed this time. There was plenty of room on the beach and we decided to just take the prime location at the front of the beach and close to the entrance and we ended up with 6 chairs and 2 umbrellas. The guys setting up the umbrellas were totally different than the servers and you paid them separate. There are not chairs and umbrellas lined up and down the beach to pick from. They set everything up as you rent them. The chairs were $5 each and the umbrellas were $10 each.
As they were getting things sat up (and our server was yelling at the umbrella guy "no, you take that crap back and get good stuff") I was standing at the beach taking it all in and taking pictures of this beautiful paradise.
Brayden, my grandson, was checking out the water.
We quickly unpacked and headed for the crystal blue water. The hubby was enjoying himself. I ordered a soda ($2.00 each) and just needed something to quinch my thrist before getting started. Then we were off to play (notice I'm the smart one with a tee shirt on. I wasn't about to get burned anymore today). The hubby and I took some pictures in the water. What the heck? Where you seriously making funny faces while I was trying to get a picture? REDO!!
So time to put the snorkeling mask and snorkel on and see what all is under us. You could tell there were some friendly fish, but I had no idea just how many until I ducked my head underwater. There were thousands of these little fishes everywhere you went. It was funny to see them all grouped together and there was like this invisible line that magically told them "stop here".
My daughter Kendra always likes to pose for me...this time it was underwater. Then I managed to get a picture of Kolin swimming "as one" with the fish.
There were a lot of Ballyhoo fish here. They must just like St Thomas because the only other place that I recall ever seeing them is also in St Thomas at Sapphire Beach. They are silver and really long. They have a very long sword fish like nose.
I REALLY struggle with taking pictures straight forward in the water. I'm not sure if there's a certain technique to it or not, but if there is, I haven't found it yet. These Ballyhoo fish like to swim at the top of the water and they are quick. They usually won't let you get anywhere close to them. So, it makes it really hard to capture a picture of them.
Now that I'm home and going over my pictures, I know the Ballyhoo is the top fish, but there's another fish under it (which I didn't see when I took the picture). It might be a barracuda, but I'm not sure since I was so far away and couldn't tell in person.
By now, it's starting to get a little more action on the beach and more people are arriving.
I drank the rest of my soda and geared completely up for snorkeling...fins, mask, snorkle, snorkeling socks, and snorkel vest. Away I went.
Since we were situated as soon as you enter the beach, I figured I would head to the right side first since it was the closest.
***DISCLAIMER*** I try my best to take multiple pictures over and over of things. No matter what, I always end up with different pictures with different outcomes in the quality and color. Sometimes I'm lucky and get excellent pictures and clarity. Other times not so much. It's really hard to focus on something when you are underwater...after all, this is a point and shoot camera with just a viewfinder. You have to hope that what your camera is focusing on is the same thing you are trying to capture. A lot of things depend on the shots you get as well. If the sun is out or there's a cloud going by. How deep the water is. If you are pointing head on to the subject versus straight down. Even the movement of the water and those around you stirring things up with have an effect on your picture. I took hundreds and hundreds of pictures. I tried to narrow it down to just the ones I thought worth sharing. Some are excellent. Some are not but I still wanted to share. Hopefully you enjoy them. I really think I need more vacations so that I can "practice" my underwater photography skills. hehe I'm sure I would get the hang of what settings to have on if I practiced enough.*****
Just a warning...you are about to see TONS OF PICTURES!!! This should give you an idea of how great the snorkeling was there. There were Young parrot fish, Juvenile Beaugregory, Sergeant Majors, Blue Tangs, A beautiful yellow tail damselfish was below the coral wondering why I wasn't taking his picture....so I did. Purple sea fan with blobs of some type of spongy sea coral (I have yet to find out the names of these yellow blobs).
Sea worms, better known as "feather dusters". You will find that I take a lot of pictures of the sea worms. I absolutely love them. The reason why is I use to have a huge 150 gallon salt water tank. The story goes...my mom use to live in Myrtle Beach on the ocean. One summer we went down and was collecting rocks along the sand and we brought them back home with us to use to give my tank some scenery. Well several months later there were tons of "feather dusters" all over the place. They were beautiful and really added to the aquarium. I had no idea this would happen. Needless to say that when I sold my tank years later, the "live rock" was worth hundreds and hundreds since the aquarium stores sell them by the pound.
I have honestly not seen so many black long spined sea urchins snorkeling before as I did this entire cruise. They were just everywhere here and St Maarten. A huge boulder brain coral with some pretty orange Christmas tree worms on them. This place had more Christmas tree worms than I have ever experienced before. They came in a lot of colors and I was just amazed by them. I have only previously spotted a few of them on my Western Caribbean cruises and there were by mistake and I found them after I got home and was looking at my pictures once. Tons of both black and red spiny sea urchins.
So I'm still in this area, and I'm still checking out the cute little sea worms and all of a sudden I see this huge mouth come out at me!! I kinda jumped back (the best you can jump back in water) and it was a spotted moray Eel. Eeeeekkkk. IT'S MY FIRST EEL!!! OMG! I'm so excited. I was so excited that I completely forgot that I had a camera in my hand. I was pretty close to the Christmas tree worm (trying to get a close up of it) when this eel came out and totally caught me off guard.
I guess I was getting a little too close for him and he swam up the rocks. By that time, I realized I was not catching this on camera. I'm also tugging at Kendra and talking in my snorkel (which I admit, it's sometimes hard to understand when you do that), but I'm frantically waving my hands at her and pointing. (She has seen an eel before last May when they stayed back at Mahogany Bay in Roatan and we went to Little French Key). But this was my first time. Eeekkkk.....I'm so ecstatic. Oh my gosh. Can you imagine had I been prepared and caught him coming out from under the rock the first time with his mouth open? That would have been an awesome shot. Darnit. Still kicking myself for freezing up with the camera.
Yea, yea, yea, ok, back to worms I guess. Some feather duster worms and some yellow and brown christmas tree worms and more coral and fish of course.
I absolutely love when I find these types of coral...the ones with the holes in the middle. You don't see them often. I'm not sure the name of it. I'm really not good with coral names and have not taken the time to research them in the past. It's a soft coral. There were also some very beautiful green coral. I really wish I knew the names of coral. They are so beautiful. I had never seen one like this before.
I popped my head up for a minute to see where I was in relationship to the beach and area. The seagulls were enjoying their day on the rocks in the sun. Then I went back to snorkeling.
I'm honestly not sure what these stripped fish are. At first, I thought they were just the now sergeant majors that you see everywhere. However, they did have a different shape to them and they were really huge compared to normal sergeant majors. So I'm not sure. If anyone knows, please let me know.
Elkhorn coral...the only other type of coral (other than brain coral) that is an obvious one. Some pretty neat coral was growing on top of some other coral. It was a beautiful bright orange color.
I also managed to find a trumpet fish (love them).
I always try to punish myself by tryin to accomplish one of these above water and below water pictures. LOL I think they are awesome...WHEN they turn out. They are very hard to do, especially considering the small lens on a point and shoot camera doesn't give you much of an area to shoot above AND below the water. None the less, I always give it a try. This was the best one I could get. It really takes some very calm water to do this in. Otherwise you are just putting the camera down at the edge of the water while the waves are going back and forth and pulling the trigger over and over hoping for the best. LOLIf it wasn't for that huge sun glare on the water, this one would have turned out at least a little better than normal.
Eeeeekkkk. More christmas tree worms....and different colors. I was trying to get a close up of more of the beautiful christmas tree worms and the awesome coral they were on. Orange, yellow and pink for the win! They remind me of the cleaning brushes you get for the tips of baby bottles. LOL
I managed to find the valley of doom....black spiny sea urchins lined the rocks at one point.
There was seriously so many things to see and places to explore. My mind was blown how awesome this place was.
There were a bunch of Ballyhoo fish off in the distance. School session is in! Everyone pick a partner for todays activities...the sea of fish. School of fish and a trumpet fish together... I don't think I have ever seen this many trumpet fish on any one snorkeling adventure either. More tangs and parrot fish were found. Do you notice the huge black marking on this tang surgeon fish in the picture below? I wonder if it's his birthmark? I have never seen anything like this before on one of them.
The various kinds of coral just amazed me. I was able to see so many things I had never seen snorkeling before. I also managed to find the cutest little smooth trunk fish. I think they are just adorable! I thought the pastel pink either soft coral or sea fans of some sort were so beautiful. There was some dark red coral was absolutely stunning to look at. Too bad it didn't have a lot of family members in this area. A bunch of them would have been nice to photograph.
Then Um yikes...a barracuda came along.
Now I don't know what I came up on next. I wasn't sure if it was coral? A growth? Or rock? I'm not sure. It was almost shaped like one of those hard shelled crabs you see at the zoo. But it didn't move, so I have no clue.
Now I want you to take a look at this. Do you see anything with the most beautiful color ever? (It's Sakari's favorite color)
Are you ready to find out what it is up close and personal??? Are you ready for this? It's stunning!
The absolute most beautiful purple color I have ever seen. Eeeekkkkk! Would you look at that? I have never seen such a beautiful colored coral and never purple!!! I was so excited. They were everywhere along the left side of the beach by the wall.
I found more pink spongy things and I got this parrot fish to smile for the camera. Then I came across a rock that looked like someone got sick and had an accident on this coral (it was the coral), more dark red coral, more brain coral and christmas tree worms. I think one of them looks like they went SPLAT! Or he was just stretching at the time I snapped this picture.
I came up for air to see where I was at. Then contined snorkeling along the other side of the wall. The wall here at the left side of Coki "kinda" reminds me of West Bay in Roatan. They call it the iguana wall. This was something like it (only on a smaller magnitude scale of course), but it had iguanas crawling all over it. The kids were going crazy (not mine, they were back at the camp)
As I was coming back and and getting ready to head back to camp, the kids came along to snorkel. Yea guys, perfect timing...not. They wanted me to go back out, but I was beat. I had been out there for a long time and wanted to get back to order something to eat and I needed a drink. I handed off my snorkeling equipment to Courtney and away they went.
Back to the chair and ordered me a Bushwacker ($9.00) and Sakari some chicken nuggets and fries ($12) and the kids ordered cheeseburgers and fries ($11). I seen how big the plates were and knew I wasn't hungry enough to eat an entire plate, so I munched on Sakari's fries and Kendra had ordered some type of seafood platter with shrimp and she gave me a few of those. It wasn't the best shrimp for sure. I'm glad I didn't order it.
The bushwacker was great and then I had to try a Dirty Monkey, which was awesome as well. Although we had people stopping by all the time to see if we were "ok" and if we needed anything. I hadn't seen the lady that brought us our first drinks in awhile, so I ordered the bushwacker off of him.
Later she came by and was a little furious about it. She said we are to order only off of her! We replied that everyone was stopping and asking for us to order drinks and said that we can order off of any of them, so don't blame us for them giving us this information.
She told us that she wasn't going to "go over and have beef with him" because he was lucky it was her son that we ordered off of. She said she would "settle up with him" later in the day.
Our feisty red head server Michelle.
I had finally ran my battery dead on my Olympus (which I knew I would with as many pictures that I took). It was time to pull out my Canon D10 to take a few final pictures.
Sakari spent most of the day making friends with others in the water. I don't think she came out but a few times to get a drink. Some people there had brought dog bones to feed the fish and they gave her one and it pretty much kept her busy for most of the day.
She loved swimming and looking at all of the fish.
She is so good at holding her breath for such a long period of time. I think she can probably hold hers longer than me. I can't wait until her gets big enough to get an actual snorkel in her small mouth to be able to learn how to use it and snorkel for long periods of time. She goes snorkeling with us every where we go and usually goes out when we are at the reefs. She was perfectly happy snorkeling around the rocks to the right of the beach and she remained there most of the day.
Even when she wasn't over by the rocks, there were plenty of fish for her to see.
A school of Palometas swimming by.
We watched a lot of divers going out. They would be in the shallow end (usually a group no more than 5) and get demonstration there, then away they would go. You could tell where they all were because they took a buoy tied to a rope to signal their location. Maybe some day I'll try this. I don't know. I'm just too scared of going deep for some reason.
I came out of the water after taking just a few pictures because I could no longer get my camera to take a picture. It was like it was frozen. I had no clue what had happened. When I got back to the chairs Kolin opened it up to remove the battery to get it to turn off. For some reason he decided to blow in it??? Well it was only minutes later the screen turned gray!!! The camera was officially DONE. Water logged and unusable. The bad thing is, I had taken the SD card I was using in the Olympus and put it in the Canon to continue using the same card for that day. I quickly put the SD card back in the Olympus and it would NOT WORK! YIKES!!! Oh my. Did I also ruin my SD card with all of my beautiful pictures on it? I had been using this card for days. This meant I would lose my pictures from not only St Thomas, but also St Maarten.
I have to say this is the FIRST time I have ever done this (take the same SD card from camera to camera or reuse it). I always bring my small 10" laptop with me and download the pictures daily on it so that I will have 2 copies...just in case. I didn't bother to bring my computer with me this time. Would this be a lesson for me? I was heartbroken and not in the best mood after this.
A pano of the beach area:
We did see they had banana boat rental there and it was $25 per person.
Our driver was due to pick us up at 2pm. We settled up our bill with Michelle and when our driver arrived, a guy came down and told us that he was waiting for us in the parking lot.
They did have several water hoses that you could wash all the sand off of you up on the deck at the entrance, which was nice.
We got in the van and the driver did a head count but kept waiting saying that he was missing 2 people he was waiting on. When we figured out that he was waiting on the "original" group he came with, we informed him that the other 2 people got off at the marina...remember? Oh yea. So off we went. Driving like a crazed person of course. We made it back without incidence this time and intact. Guess what...he was from Jamaica as well. Does everyone migrate to the Virgin Islands from Jamaica or what?
I can't begin to describe how good this snorkeling is here. Like I was amazed. I have snorkel from the beach and from boats all over the Caribbean, but I don't think that I have ever seen the amount of different things I was able to see at this place. The coral was absolutely AMAZING...and by amazing I'm talking about the various colors (and especially the beautiful purple and reds), the shapes and types and both hard and soft coral. I managed to see the "normal" fish you see when snorkeling and an abundance amount of some of the fish "I" personally consider "rare" and you're lucky to see one at any given snorkel (or even the entire week when cruising). Then I managed to see an eel for the first time and that was a treat too.
Now I know people say it's not the best beach and it's not really a HUGE beach either, but the snorkeling more than makes up for it. I would go here in a heartbeat again. I did not feel unsafe, we were not bothered, we did not smell any "funny" smells the day we were there (since it's always reported...and I'm sure it's true, but it wouldn't have been a big deal if there were some "smells" as long as they don't bother us).
If you like snorkeling, you MUST go here!