Undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist attractions in Puerto Rico, the Bioluminescent Bays draw many tourists out on dark nights to witness a unique effect first-hand. Only a handful of places in the world are home to bodies of water with tiny dinoflagellates which produce a glowing effect when moved. I recently toured one of the Bio Bays on my trip to Puerto Rico. While the experience is something I would absolutely recommend, there are a few things to know before you go.
Of Puerto Rico’s three bays, two are frequently accessed from San Juan. The first is Laguna Grande in Fajardo on the east side of the island. The second is Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques off the east coast of the country. Mosquito Bay is often regarded as the better spot to witness the effect since it has less light pollution and a larger concentration of dinoflagellates, making it appear brighter than Laguna Grande. However, a trip to Vieques will require a night’s stay and a flight or ferry ride making it a more time consuming and costly option. Vieques is still worth looking into if you have the time, since the island has famous beaches and many other sights in addition to the bio bay.
Ways to See the Bays:
By Kayak – Kayaking is definitely the most popular way to see the bay and was the tour I chose. The tours begin in the open bay before kayaking through a narrow waterway to get to Laguna Grande. The path to get to the Lagoon is lined with mangrove trees making the journey essentially pitch black. The guides have dim lights on their kayaks so you can follow them, but otherwise you are quite literally left in the dark. I have a fear of both the dark and the ocean and while I was expecting the tour to be dark it was much darker than my expectations. Embarrassingly enough, my friend and I had to be tethered to the guide’s kayak after we kept getting stuck in mangrove trees since we couldn’t see. You don’t have to be an expert kayaker for the tour but I would be cautious if you are a beginner or have reservations about your kayaking ability or the dark.
By Electric Boat – If you’re unable to kayak (or too terrified, like me), you can still go out on the bay by way of electric boat. The boats are very low riding, so you can still touch and play with the water and are able to see the effect just like you would on a kayak. You can also devote all your attention to the bio bay instead of having to focus on keeping up with your tour guide and not getting in fellow kayaker’s ways.
By Foot – If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, Para La Naturaleza offers walking tours to Laguna Grande. A guide will take you to experience the Bio Bay from a boardwalk over the Lagoon where you can play with the water to create the glowing effect. The walking tour is also a steal at $22 ($12 for students), half the price of the other tours.
Things to Know:
Leave the cameras behind. Unless you have an amazing camera and get your settings exactly right you will not be able to get a picture of the effect of the Bio Bay. I brought my iPhone naively hoping I could get something on film and instead worried the whole time about getting it wet with nothing to show for my attempts. Plus the kayak company sent us a free picture after the tour to commemorate the journey.
If it is supposed to rain on your tour date don’t reschedule. It began to rain on our tour and it was by far the coolest way to experience the effect of the bio bay. Since the dinoflagellates only glow when moved, you typically only view them by the movement of the boat or your oars. The rain hitting the water made the dinoflagellates appear everywhere. Cheesy as it sounds, it was like being in the stars. Incredible.
If you’re kayaking wear water shoes and swim bottoms. In order to get into the kayak you wade into the bay just below your hips. Make sure your cover up is fast drying or water resistant fabric or you’ll be sitting in wet shorts for the rest of the evening.