Puerto Rico is home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world: Mosquito Bay. Many have seen the beautiful images of the glowing bioluminescence in photos that show lapping waves as glowing electric blue, but don’t always know what causes this phenomenon. You’ve witnessed bioluminescence if you’ve ever seen a firefly or trapped one in a jar to watch it blink its yellow light on and off. The function of the luminous glow for some organisms is to lure prey, warn against predators, and for other forms of interspecies communication.

What is bioluminescence?

Many people have seen the beautiful images of the glowing bioluminescence in photos that show lapping waves as glowing electric blue, but don’t always know what causes this phenomenon. You’ve witnessed bioluminescence if you’ve ever seen a firefly or trapped one in a jar to watch it blink its yellow light on and off. The function of the luminous glow for some organisms is to lure prey, warn against predators, and for other forms of interspecies communication.

The glow is created by a chemical reaction that occurs externally or internally in bioluminescent organisms. Although it appears magical to our eyes, bioluminescence occurs all over nature. We have observed it in many animals and organisms, including fungi, squids, sharks, fish, jellyfish, and bacteria. 

Much of known bioluminescence occurs in marine life. When you see beaches or surrounding water glowing, you witness thousands of dinoflagellates: tiny, single-celled organisms, glowing when they or the water is disturbed by external forces. 

In bioluminescent bays, these dinoflagellates are packed into concentrated areas where the sheer number creates enough light to be visible to the human eye. These organisms can be found all over the ocean but are rarely visible due to the lack of organism concentration.

  

Why is Puerto Rico Famous for Night Kayaking?

Out of the world’s five recorded bioluminescent bays, Puerto Rico is home to three of them. Puerto Rico is a great place to find this phenomenon due to several factors:

  • The mangrove swamps provide a nutrient-rich diet for the dinoflagellate plankton to feed on 
  • The lack of light pollution
  • The protected reserves that act to conserve their delicate environment  

Because of the abundance of this natural occurrence, you might want to experience this glow-in-the-dark wonder for yourself. Taking a kayak or boating tour after dark is highly recommended and will likely be more breathtaking than you can imagine. 

Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays are located between one and a half to two hours away from San Juan. So you’ll want to plan your nighttime excursion in advance to arrive with enough time to enjoy the tour. Also, keep in mind that there are ideal times of year to visit to make the most of your tour. 

Cobblestone streets in Old San Juan

Top Puerto Rico kayaking spots

The best time to take your tour is between December and mid-April, which provides the best weather and viewing conditions. Ideally, you will want to wait until after 6 PM to head out on your night kayak ride. You’ll have the best experience if your tour takes place in the dark of night with little to no moonlight to obscure the glow at one of the following bays: 

  • Mosquito Bay: Located in Vieques, an island about seven miles boat ride from the main island, Mosquito Bay was named the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world in the 2008 Guinness Book of World Records. Schedule your bay tour during a “New Moon” phase for the best experience. Mosquito Bay is the number one choice by many and can only be accessed via boat or kayak tour for those who want to see this magical event.

Be sure to plan in advance due to the popularity of this particular location. We also recommend visiting Vieques for more than just the bio bay, as it is a picturesque little island you will want to enjoy for longer than just the night. This is a destination you will want to enjoy during the daytime, so check out all the island offers and make the most of your visit.

  • La Parguera: A two-hour drive from San Juan is the southern town of Lajas. La Parguera is the only bioluminescent beach that allows tourists to swim in the glowing waters. This, unfortunately, may be contributing to the diminishment of the bioluminescent brightness over the years. 

Additionally, the exploitation and lack of conservation at this particular bay have impacted the bioluminescence. On the other hand, this area of Puerto Rico is not as overrun with tourists and will likely be your number one choice if you seek a quieter and more thoughtful experience with the dinoflagellates. Take the opportunity to visit this area and enjoy the nightlife, nature, and coffee industry in addition to your nighttime bay tour.

  • Laguna Grande: Fajardo is roughly an hour and a half drive from San Juan. Their bioluminescent bay, Laguna Grande, was once considered magical but has lost a bit of its shine (literally) due to an increase in light pollution on the bay. The bay is situated by a mangrove forest, an essential source of nutrients for light-creating organisms. 

While this bay doesn’t get as much attention as the other two, there are some advantages to going this route. A bonus for those who choose to tour Laguna Grande can select the option to go on a tour that includes an afternoon walk to the La Mina Falls in El Yunque National Forest nearby.

San Juan bioluminescent kayak tours

You can take a half-day excursion on a glass-bottom kayak to the Bioluminescent bay of Laguna Grande. This tour includes pickup and drop-off to certain San Juan tourist areas. After arriving in Fajardo, take the glass-bottom kayak through mangrove forests and learn about the ecosystem that the bioluminescent wonder calls home.

Cocktails on the beach at Numero Uno Beach House, San Juan

LED Night kayaking in the Condado Lagoon

If you’re looking for something fun to do right around San Juan, look no further than the LED Night Kayak guided tour in the Condado Lagoon. With this unique experience, you will start by applying your “War Paint,” which is glow paint, take some photos, then kayak around the lagoon and watch your kayak’s LED lights make the surrounding water glow. 

You can also enjoy viewing the beautiful city lights around the lagoon from your kayak. This is an urban excursion and does not include sighting natural bioluminescence, but it is still a fun way to experience the lagoon and city at night.

What to wear when kayaking at night

You’ll want to be prepared to get wet, even in a kayak. Also, mosquitos will be out at night, so be prepared. As a result, it’s a good idea to leave the bikini or swim trunks behind for this. 

Conservation efforts have revealed that visitors’ harsh chemicals and oils can pollute the waters in Mosquito Bay or La Parguera because the water does not get cycled out by the open ocean as often as it does in Laguna Grande. With that in mind, we recommend that you consider the following when preparing for your night ride:

  • -Water shoes
  • -Relatively water-resistant Clothes
  • -Wearing pants and sleeves will help combat the mosquitos
  • -Bug repellant, but use one that is Deet free 
  • -Avoid clothing that is reflective or glows in the dark 
  • -Avoid using harsh chemicals like body lotions, shampoos, sunscreen or suntan oils, and harsh bug repellent

Since photos don’t do the bioluminescence any justice, we recommend that you leave your camera behind in your room. Instead, enjoy this unique and awe-inspiring gift of nature by remaining present and in the moment. You will be glad that you did!

Numero Uno Piñones and Beach House both offer great jumping off points for outdoor adventures. Piñones secluded lagoon hotel sits right at the edge of a state wilderness preserve, and offers numerous watersports activities and rental on-site.