We ended up in Puerto Rico at the beginning of our Caribbean cruise. One of the best adventures in my past was randomly finding phytoplankton in Santa Barbara, California. When I saw that Puerto Rico is one of only a handful of places in the world with these organisms, experiencing them again was a priority on my trip. Although the illumination of the plankton was not as extreme as in Santa Barbara, my son and I loved the whole experience. I now consider it one of My Best Adventures Yet and highly recommend it!
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What is Phytoplankton?
Phytoplankton are any number of floating organisms that emit light, most likely as a defense mechanism. The microorganisms in Puerto Rico’s bays are Pyrodinium bahamense or Dinoflagellates. They live in lakes surrounded by mangrove forests. Jellyfish eat the organisms, then also glow. They don’t float around lit up, that would take too much energy. Instead, they light up when they are disturbed or shaken. They appear as sparkling glitter. Since their strobe is so short, it was near impossible to get a decent, real picture.
Where in Puerto Rico Can You See Phytoplankton?
Puerto Mosquito (Mosquito Bay)
Mosquito Bay is on the southern shore of the island of Vieques, which is about an hour offshore Fajardo. It is said to be the brightest lit of the bioluminescent bays. At the time of this writing, you are still allowed to swim or dive with the bioluminescence but may get stung by the jellyfish. It is said to feel like a bee sting but has no lasting effects.
Laguna Grande (Bio Bay)
Bio Bay is in Fajardo, about one hour away from San Juan on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. It is very easily accessible from San Juan and the airport. It is said to be the second brightest bay, but swimming is not allowed.
This bay in the town of Lajas is the least bright due to a lack of conservation efforts. It is located inland of southeast Puerto Rico.
What are the Best Conditions for High Phytoplankton Activity?
The phytoplankton are brightest during a new moon, low tide, and during drier periods. It is also best to have a cloudless night to reduce glare from city lights.
Our Experience Kayaking in Bio Bay in Puerto Rico
Why I Chose to Kayak in BioBay, Puerto Rico
After much research, I decided to use the tour company, Pure Adventure, for our visit to the Bio Bay. We chose this bay as it is very convenient from Puerto Rico, where our ship left us, and we only had 24 hours to enjoy Puerto Rico that day before we flew out the next morning.
The tours run as a first tour around 6 pm and a later tour around 8 pm. Even though it shortened our day a little, I am so glad we chose the earlier one. Read on to see why!
Where to Stay in Fajardo, Puerto Rico
I also really liked Fajardo and would gladly return to the area. We stayed at the incredible El Conquistador Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which has a private island for guests to enjoy and enough included activities to keep my family busy for a week.
Where Does the Tour Start?
All the tour companies have kiosks where you meet up in La Parguera Biobay. This park is very active and an enlightening window into Puerto Rican life. You will hear music, see locals fishing and picnicking. There are many food trucks and restaurants right around to enjoy dinner after the tour.
Do You Need to Know How to Kayak?
Before our tour started, the tour company outfitted us with life vests and bug spray. There were about 30 others on the tour, ranging in age from 6 to 70-years old. Some people knew how to kayak, and some were new to the sport. I took part in the tour with my ten-year-old son. We are both in good shape and like to boat. If you are feeling trepidation about kayaking, there are tours available in glass-bottom motorized boats.
How to Get to Bio Bay
Rent a car, Uber, or get a taxi. If you take a cab, arrange for a time for them to pick you up, because no taxis are driving around for you to catch when you want to leave. You can now also call an Uber. The tour company is terrific about communicating. They even sent a pin for us to find them among the many companies in the park.
We got to Fajardo from San Juan by a hired van. If you would rather not stay in Fajardo, but still take this kayak, book a Bio Bay kayak directly from San Juan.
The kayak into the bay is one mile each way through mangrove forests. Even without seeing the light from the plankton, my son and I loved the beauty of this paddle. On the way to the bay, you will be traveling with the current, so it is an effortless way to get used to maneuvering the boat. Because we chose the first tour, our paddle into the lake was in twilight and was a unique experience to the trip back. If you haven’t been in a mangrove forest before, the trees form a canopy around you, and the roots are visible. It is a thing of beauty.
On the Lake
You will exit the forest into a large lake. If you are on the early tour, the sun will just be setting, so you can relax in your boat and watch an incredible sunset. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that is one of my favorite things to do, and this one will remain in my mind as one of the most memorable sunsets I have seen.
After the sunset, the marine biologist guide will educate the group on how this phenomenon occurs. They then do some interesting manipulating to get it dark enough for you to see the bioluminescence.
The Trek Back
This paddle in the dark is an adventure, and it helped to know already how to kayak and be in decent shape. Once you are under the mangrove canopy, the journey back is in almost complete darkness. The only light you can see is on the boat, which you are following. You will be paddling against the current. The dark, sound of paddles going through water and loud croaking of all the Coqui frogs was so surreal.
Many people were hitting the sides of the canals, but you aren’t in a hurry, so that is kind of fun. I didn’t understand the people who were treating this like a race. People and their idea of being first in line don’t necessarily mature since first grade. So be cool. There is always a guide in the rear of the line so that everyone will make it back to the starting point.
The End of Our Journey
When we got back onshore, the company provided us with water and Puerto Rican snacks. Everything you brought on the boat will be pretty wet, so bring a change of clothes in a waterproof bag. We then headed to dinner in one of the restaurants surrounding the park, where we had mufungo. Mufungo has smashed plantains with meat. Interesting and yummy.
This paddle among sparkly water, with sunsets and darkness, was definitely among my favorite kayaking I have ever done. The sounds and sights of the mangrove forest and lake are stunning. Although the bioluminescence wasn’t as profound or interactive as what I had seen in Santa Barbara, it is a unique experience, and Pure Adventure did a great job at enhancing our viewing and educating us about the phenomenon. I would highly recommend this experience.
Book your kayak trip with Pure Adventure here.
Be sure also to check out 47 Cool Things to do in Puerto Rico and my Guide to Old San Juan.
12 thoughts on “Bucket List Highlight: Bioluminescent Kayaking in Puerto Rico”
bioluminescent in PR , interesting. Thanks
Looks like a fantastic trip!
amazing article!! Thanks for sharing. We are planning a trip in April. Do we need to worry about Mosquitoes and Zika virus at this time?. We have two kids(7 and 5) and we are confused if we should make a trip or not. Thanks for the help in advance!!
There are some mosquitos and the virus is present there. We wore natural bug spray and didn’t have any problems. Good luck with your decision.
Looks like you had an amazing trip! I’ve been wanting to experience something like this for a long time now but sadly, I can’t afford to travel to Puerto Rico just yet. 🙁
It is a worthwhile place to save for. I hope you get there soon and keep dreaming.
I am a big kayaker so I could do it anywhere, but in a bioluminescent bay sounds really amazing. I would love to try it one day.
What is your favorite place to kayak?
Great post! Is there any safety issue for my kids? I am thinking about to joining you!
My son came with me. He can swim and, of course, they should always wear a life preserver.
We would love to do this!! I’ve never seen bio luminescence yet!