Puerto Rico's bioluminescent bays are a sight to see.
The world's ecosystems are filled with incredible natural wonders of nature. Some of these wonders are isolated to just a few areas world-wide. One of the most notable that we have visited is Puerto Rico's amazing glowing bioluminescent bays.
After all, it is not every day you see glowing water, making this one of the most amazing bits of natural phenomenon we have ever witnessed in person.
There are only a handful of these bays in the world and three of them are located along the coast of Puerto Rico. These "bio bays" are among the top attractions for tourists year-round.
What is a bioluminescent bay anyway?
There are only a handful of these types of bays in the world with at least four of them being in the Caribbean. It is not the bay itself that gives the waters its unique glowing properties but Dinoflagellate microorganisms or marine plankton living there. While these tiny organisms are common throughout the world, ones that emit a bioluminescent glow are extremely rare. And even then, places where there is a large enough concentration of dinoflagellates to be visible to the naked eye are even rarer.
How these tiny organisms glow gets rather technical. All you really need to know is disturbing the water they are in activates the bioluminescent glow, causing a green or blue-green glow to the water. Because locations with a heavy concentration of the organisms are so rare, access to them is often strictly controlled. However, in Puerto Rico, there are several bioluminescent bay tours that will take you to see this rare natural phenomenon up close.
One thing to keep in mind if you want to see this amazing sight for yourself is to avoid a full moon phase. The brightness can easily overpower the tiny lights of the microorganisms. Try to schedule around a new moon if you can.
Puerto Rico's three bays.
The most notable of Puerto Rican bio bays is Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques. This one has the unique distinction of being recognized by Guinness World Records as the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. It helps the island is remote, light pollution is minimal, and the dinoflagellates are more common here than anywhere else. When Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, the bay briefly went dark before the water glow came back even brighter than ever.
The second bay is in Fajardo and is known as Laguna Grande. It is more of a lagoon than a bay according to Discover Puerto Rico. This bay probably sees more boat tour visitors than any other on the island. If only because it is the closest to San Juan.
The last bay is the one we visited during our Puerto Rico trip, and that is La Parguera in the town of Lajas. While tour companies operate in all three bays, this one has slightly easier access because it is the only one that allows motorboats. It is also the only bio bay tour where you can swim or snorkel in the bay. Whichever bay you want to see, the cool thing about Puerto Rico is the bays and the bioluminescence happens all year-round. This plankton is extremely seasonal in other parts of the world.
How to experience the bays for yourself.
As we have already mentioned, there are plenty of tour operators who take groups out to see this amazing natural phenomenon firsthand. As far as choosing which one to visit, that depends on the type of experience you want. Kayak tours are popular in all three. Some tour guides even rent out glass-bottom kayaks to better enjoy the experience. My trip to La Parguera was a snorkeling experience with Paradise Scuba. Captain Jorge Hilerio, who goes by "Cachi," is an extremely knowledgeable tour guide.
The entire experience of the bay began with a trip to a small island filled with mangroves where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset before motoring over to the bay in the dark. Paradise Scuba supplied masks and snorkel gear and we all jumped into the warm waters to see this plankton for ourselves.
Swimming in one of these bays is a surreal experience. As you wave your hands around underwater it almost looks like you have lightning shooting from your fingertips. In addition to the beautiful blue-green glow coming from the water, a look to the sky revealed a beautiful view of the stars, unmarred by any electric lights in the area.
Just remember that La Parguera is the only bay that allows you to enter the water. Also keep in mind that common chemicals like sunscreen lotion, bug sprays or repellents can be harmful to the microorganisms. Might be best to wash off at your hotel before you head off on the tour.
The great thing about these tours is how cheap they are for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most charge $40 - $75 a person to take you out and show you these natural wonders. I can tell you from my own experience the price of admission is worth it to see such a beautiful natural phenomenon up close. For more information on Puerto Rico's bio bays, check out the Discover Puerto Rico website.
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