Seeing bioluminescence is an incredible and unique experience. Bioluminescence can be found all around the world and these 16 locations are some personal favourites that will give you a unique experience.
There are many natural wonders around the world, that will leave you speechless. Bioluminescence is amongst the best of them. It is possible to see it at many different locations as there is bioluminescence all around the world. There are different forms of bioluminescence and all of them will easily fill you with wonder and astonishment.
I have only been fortunate enough to see bioluminescence once and it is one of my favorite travel memories. And as I knew that there are many places in the world to see bioluminescence, I decided to ask fellow travel bloggers for recommendations. Everyone that contributed shared their favorite location to see bioluminescence around the world. And as nearly every continent is covered by this list, you might discover that there is a spot close to you.
Bioluminescence around the World
Where to See Bioluminescence in North America
San Diego, California, USA
Seeing bioluminescence in San Diego is an incredible experience, so if you’re looking to see the bioluminescent phenomenon for yourself then you should definitely add the beaches of San Diego to your list of possible locations!
When to see bioluminescence in San Diego
Unfortunately, bioluminescence in San Diego is not predictable enough to say when exactly it will happen. But when it does show up (often in the warmer months and about once every year or two) it shows up beautifully. It can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or more.
San Diego Bioluminescence
One of the cool things about the San Diego bioluminescence is that it is caused by algae blooms of Lingulodinium polyedra. But (unlike in some places) these dinoflagellates do not usually produce yessotoxin in San Diego. But what does that mean? It simply means it is usually safe to swim, surf, etc. in the water while it is glowing!
But even if you don’t feel like getting in the water to experience the bioluminescence, San Diego is still an excellent place to watch this phenomenon because the beaches here are incredibly beautiful. You can observe the glowing waves from Sunset Cliffs and watch as the rocks on the shore glow when the waves dash down on them, or you can choose a beach like La Jolla Shores where you will find the waves glowing in the open expanse of the ocean.
With so many options of where to see the bioluminescence when it happens, it really is a treat to experience this phenomenon in San Diego. So next time you hear a whisper about someone seeing bioluminescence here, get yourself to San Diego to explore one of these beautiful beaches at night. And you just may get to see the bioluminescent waves for yourself!
Contributed by Abi from Happy Go Abi
The Best Places to See Bioluminescence in Central America and the Caribbean
Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica
Bioluminescence is a phenomenon that can only be seen or experienced in a handful of places around the world. One of these places is the Luminous Lagoon in Falmouth, Jamaica, where the bioluminescence is said to be the largest and brightest of all, thanks to the consistent climate in the region. This incredible spectacle can be enjoyed on a short boat tour that will take you to the heart of the lagoon.
After arriving at the optimal location, your guide will advise when it is safe to jump in. Waters are shallow at a mere 4 to 8 ft, and you will definitely want to bring along a camera that can take good pictures in the dark.
Whilst not apparent at first, after diving into the water you will soon begin to see an eerie electric blue glow. This is emitted from the millions of dinoflagellates that live in the lagoon, that glow when disturbed.
The whole tour only lasts around 45 minutes so be sure to make the most of it! Admittedly, the drive to Falmouth may take longer than the actual tour if travelling from Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, but the experience is otherworldly and comes highly recommended!
Contributed by Sarah from Dukes Avenue
Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
As a dive instructor that has been traveling around the world for 7 years, I have been privileged to see bioluminescence at several locations, but a spectacular night dive from Little Corn Island in Nicaragua was unique.
We saw three different kinds of fluorescence during that dive. We were very excited on the boat ride seeing bioluminescence on the surface as the boat disturbed the water. This blue fluorescent light on the water is the result of light produced and emitted by fluorescent plankton on the surface.
It was a dark night and at certain point during the dive our dive leader showed that we must all turn our lights off, we saw small strings of light flashing everywhere in the dark! The Roatan String of Pearls phenomenon happens after sunset on very dark nights. It is the mating display of ostracods, these tiny organisms attract a mate by emitting fluorescent light, when they attach to each other during mating to form the ‘strings of pearls’ in the water. If you wave your hands in the water it looks like sparks flying! All over the reef coral and some of the organisms were fluorescing neon colors.
Our dive leader was diving with a fluorescent light and the neon colors were the result of biofluorescence, fluorescent proteins in an organism absorb light of a specific wavelength from the light and re-emit that light at a different wavelength resulting in crazy neon color all over the reef.
Contributed by Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads
Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bioluminescence tours in Bocas del Toro aren’t an activity that are widely promoted. I only saw them offered one place and thought it sounded pretty sketchy at first, but tried it anyway and it turned out to be totally worth it. The tour was offered on Isla Colon, the main island in the Bocas del Toro region.
While I only saw them offered one place, there may be more now. Some will go anytime at night and others only on the new moon. If you can time it right, the new moon will be the best time to go since it will be way darker and easier to see.
The type of algae that you’ll see here is phytoplankton, some of the best bioluminescent stuff to see since it glows when it’s aroused by movement. So anytime you swish your hand through the water, a trail of glowing phytoplankton will follow. It feels like you’re doing magic with the blue glow. These tours will even let you get out and go for a swim in the best secret and most active places.
I absolutely loved seeing this here because it was the first time I ever got to see it, but we were also the only two people on the tour. It was so cool getting to just be in the water swirling my arms around seeing the phytoplankton glowing all around us. When I first noticed it as the boat was still moving I did not even realize it, but the water just looked a little brighter and I was so excited when I realized that’s what I was here to see.
Contributed by Megan from Red around the World
Vieques, Puerto Rico
My husband’s family lives on the enchanted island of Puerto Rico. My family has the privilege of experiencing this island like a local a couple of times a year.
The most magical experience we have had is kayaking the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world located on Vieques Island, a tiny island situated on the west side of the main island of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Mosquito (Mosquito Bay) on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, was officially named the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world by Guinness Book of World Records (2008). Sadly, after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, Mosquito Bay went dark. But it has since recovered and is now brighter than it ever was.
Mosquito Bay is full of tiny unicellular organisms called Pyrodinium bahamense, dinoflagellates “dinos.” When the dinos come in contact with another organism, a human, a fish, or your oar, the interaction creates a burst of starry blue light.
Book a tour with a licensed tour company during the new moon phase for the most mesmerizing experience as the bay shines the brightest on the darkest of night.
And be prepared to be in awe when your oar agitates the dinos, and you see this brilliant blue explosion. When a fish swims by lit up in blue, it is a little scary because there are big fish out there.
Advice for your Mosquito Bay experience
- Plan your tour for the New Moon. You need a pitch dark night for the brightest experience.
- You will get wet, so dress accordingly (and pack a towel and change of clothes).
- Wear DEET free insect repellent.
- Do not swim in the bay; it is against the law.
- Bring your waterproof or underwater camera and hope for the best. It is challenging to capture the beauty and glow of the bio bay; if you do, please share.
Contributed by Jenny from Traveling Party of 4
The Best Places to see Bioluminescence in Asia
Koh Lipe, Thailand
One of the most beautiful bioluminescent displays I’ve ever seen was on the island of Koh Lipe in Thailand.
After watching a spectacular sunset on Bulow Beach I decided to take a long walk along the beach back to my resort. I started walking south, carving a path at the edge of the waves. The moon was barely a sliver in the sky and ocean was a dark, undulating body. Barely half a mile into my walk, I saw a faint blue glow at the end of a tiny wave. It took my brain a few moments to process what my eyes were seeing.
As I came closer the waves lapped my toes, and the blue glow seemed to pulse. The more ripples that I created in the water the more light appeared.
I did so much research about this island yet never came across the fact that it is home to millions of bioluminescent plankton. Maybe that is what made the moment so special. It took me by surprise.
I was so unprepared that I did not have the proper camera equipment to capture this beautiful phenomenon. But the feeling of being THAT present in THAT moment is a memory that I will always treasure.
Tips for those that wish to see bioluminescent plankton on Koh Lipe
Here are a few tips for my fellow travelers who want to see the bioluminescent plankton on Koh Lipe:
- The darker the environment the better so you will want to get away from sources of light pollution.
- If you want to capture the moment, you’ll need a camera that can do long exposures at a low f-stop.
- You will also need some form of camera stabilization (like a tripod) so you can do a long exposure without blurring the image.
Contributed by Alana from Course Charted. If you are interested in slow, sustainable, savvy travel and even more travels in SE Asia and beyond, you can join the adventure on Course Charted and connect with her on Instagram @AlanaInWanderland.
Cat Ba Island, Ha Long Bay Area, Vietnam
Cat Ba in the Ha Long Bay area is one of the best places in the world to see bioluminescence. It is a rather unknown location when it comes to this amazing natural phenomenon. Therefore you might just be lucky enough to have an entire beach for yourself. There are four beaches on Cat Ba that are best spots to observe it, but Hair of the Dog Beach is the best. Its’ Vietnamese name is ‘Tung Thu beach’. And unlike at the three Cat Co beaches, the beach access at night is not restricted.
Like in many other locations, the bioluminescence in Ha Long Bay is caused by noctiluca scintillans. Therefore it is more likely to observe bioluminescence here when the weather is calm and the water is warmer. Based on what locals told me, the best months are those around September, but there is a chance to see it every month around new moon.
Head to one of the beaches around 11 PM and you will see it. Chances are, that you will only see it once you enter the water. However this is what makes me love this specific locations. As there are very few waves, the person in the water is the cause of this natural spectacle. Therefore being in the water will make you feel like Tinkerbell.
Swimming with in a sea of stars was one of my highlights of my Vietnam trip. And I can only recommend it to you. There are few things that are better than ending a day of cruising Ha Long Bay with this experience.
Read More: Bioluminescence in Ha Long Bay – Swimming in a Sea of Stars on Cat Ba
Koh Rong, Cambodia
If you are looking for bioluminescence, the island of Koh Rong in Cambodia is the place to visit. The secluded island is situated in the south of Cambodia in the province of Sihanoukville. Getting to the island can be painful as things in Cambodia often run late, but once you get to the islands, it is completely worth it.
The only way to get here is by getting on a ferry from the port of Sihanoukville. Once you get on the island, you will find various local tour agencies offering a late evening plankton tour. On this tour, the boat takes a group of people to certain spots in the sea to swim with the plankton.
Once you get to the spot, everyone on board slips into a life jacket and gets into the sea with their snorkeling gear in place. It is an amazing and exhilarating experience to swim with plankton in the dark. These tours normally cost 5$ from the island of Koh Rong and include the snorkeling gear and lifejacket.
Contributed by Merryl from MerrylsTravelandTricks
Koh Tonsay ‘Rabbit Island’, Cambodia
Every time you do or see one thing for the first time, you will remember it forever. That is exactly what happened when I first saw the bioluminescence phenomenon.
Some years ago, I lived in Cambodia. And one of my favourite destinations during the weekend was Koh Tonsay (or Rabbit Island, as it is more renown). A few hours away from Phnom Penh, it is the perfect spot for two days of relax.
The island has only a dozen little bungalows without electricity, two places serving food during the day, and no more tourist structure. On the other side of the island, reachable with a comfortable walk of one hour, there is a tiny village of local fishermen. In the middle there is nothing but jungle.
At night, we decided to have an extra swim. We entered the sea and started moving towards the open water. But just twenty metres from the sandy beach, some lights in the water captured our attention: the bioluminescence phenomenon was right in front of us! I was hesitant at first, I had never witnessed such a surreal show. We were swimming in the dark waters of the Indian Ocean at night, with a plethora of little lights just around us.
I was then told that it was the plankton that used the light as a defensive measure: when they feel threatened by a fish, they released light to attract predators of the original predator. I was so astonished by finally seeing bioluminescence that, despite having seen it other times in my life, I have a very clear memory of that first time!
Contributed by Mario from Rest and Recuperation
Matsu Islands, Taiwan
One of the best places in the world for you to see some bioluminescence is at Matsu Island near Taiwan. If you come around the summer months of April through August, you can usually find the bioluminescence located all around the island. The locals actually call this phenomenon “Blue Tears” because it looks like the water is actually crying with tears flowing down.
While the phenomenon might look like some kind of alien creation, it is actually caused by something a lot less harmless. An algae known as “noctiluca scintillians” is the reason why you see these bright blue colors in the waters. The algae is actually quite aggressive as they eat other types of bacteria and plankton. However, their presence is totally normal as they are harmless to humans and the surrounding environment.
The reason I pick Matsu Islands as the best place to view this phenomenon is because of its relatively low key presence. Not many people actually travel to this island which means that nobody will be able to bother you or get in your way when you are trying to explore the island. It is the perfect place for you to be alone with this phenomenon and be able to take all the pictures you want.
Contributed by Wayne from The Traveling Asian
Vaadhoo Island ‘Mudhdhoo Island’, Maldives
The Maldives is a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean between India and the African continent. They are the only land masses for hundreds of miles and this attracts plankton as well as large pelagic animals that feed on the plankton. In the Maldives, bioluminescence is produced by dinoflagellates, a tiny plankton that produces luciferin when it becomes agitated.
Vaadhoo Island in Raa Atoll, also known as Mudhdhoo Island is the best place in the Maldives to see this phenomenon. This island is easy to reach as it is only 8km from the capital, Male. It is one of the smaller islands, home to just 500 people and can be reached by speedboat from Male in about 15 minutes. The best time to see this activity is between June and October although it can be seen at other times.
This is one of the best places around the world to see bioluminescence as the warm beaches and ocean provide lots of options both at night for beach walking and swimming in the glow and during the day.
In the daylight hours the Maldives are the perfect place to scuba dive and enjoy the clear waters that surround the atolls and islands and relax on the sandy coral beaches.
Contributed by Suzanne from Meandering Wild
Kumbalangi, Kerala, India
Kumbalangi is located in the Ernakulam district close to Cochin, Kerala. It is considered India’s first eco-friendly tourist island village. The people of the village make a living through fishing and tourism. The Chinese nets used for fishing are a popular tourist attraction here. Kumbalangi is also famous for its backwaters. This is one of best places in India to indulge in a typical village life.
The beautiful blue bioluminescence phenomenon can be witnessed in and around these backwaters of Kumbalangi. This happens usually during the months of March and April which is summer in Kerala. The phenomenon can be commonly seen closer to the sea and is produced by bioluminescent microplankton called Noctiluca scintillans.
These organisms produce blue bioluminescence upon touch or stimulation. Most visitors step into the waters to witness this beautiful natural wonder. It is said that the increase in salinity and viscosity of the waters during summers contribute to the increased intensity of the bioluminescence.
This phenomenon is called ‘Kavaru’ in the local language. This became quite famous after it was featured in a Malayalam movie called ‘Kumbalangi Nights’.
Contributed by Athul Menon from Our Backpack Tales
One of the lesser known tourist attractions on Goa, Betalbatim beach in the south of the state holds an amazing secret. 4 km away from the much acclaimed Colva beach of South Goa, Betalbatim flaunts beautiful golden sand and only a handful of shacks serving sumptuous Konkoni meal. The beach is dotted with flanking palm trees and located in between Colva and Majorda beach.
However, locals say the sea here reflects moonlight on certain days! Unaware of the underwater phytoplankton, living creatures illuminate the coastal area at night at the stroke of a magical wand!
Bioluminescent phytoplankton are visible during high tide. They live on the cusp of surging waves of tidal sea water, illuminating the surrounding area with a vague blue-green glow. Firstly, they are visible on the wave at a distance. However, as the tides approach the beach, the entire nature’s canvas is lit in an ethereal glow. At the horizon, the sky and the sea blend with each other. Plan your trip around a full moon night and stay up till 1 am.
Besides this beach, you may witness this magic at the Querim beach at North Goa or the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. However, I love Betalbatim especially for its quaint vibes.
Contributed by Madhurima from Orange Wayfarer, a Cultural Travel Blog
Bioluminescence around the World: The Best Locations in Oceania
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, New Zealand
About 200km’s south of Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand is a small town called Waitomo. This town is home to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic attractions. This unique cave exploration experience involves a 45-minute guided tour into the depths of the earth. The attraction is not really the caves though. It is the glowworms. When the lights are switched off while you are deep in the caves, the glow worms light up, covering the ceiling and walls.
What makes the Waitomo Glowworm Caves truly unique though is the last section of the tour, a 5-10 minute boat ride. Depart from an underground jetty, in the dark, and bear witness to one of the most spectacular underground sights in the world, the glowworm grotto.
As your boat slowly meanders out of the cave, you could be forgiven for thinking you are witnessing a star-studded sky. The cave ceiling and walls are completely covered in glowworms. Glowworms that also reflect off the still water to completely immerse you in a near-silent, out of this world universe like you are floating through outer space.
I’ve seen plenty of caves with glow worms, but never anything like the boat portion of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. I absolutely love this remarkable, galactic experience!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves is open all year round from 9 am to 5 pm.
Contributed by Matt from Still As Life
Where to Find Fluorescence in Europe
Without any doubt, bioluminescence is one of the world’s most magnificent wonders. The almost ethereal light emitted from phytoplankton is a phenomenon mostly associated with the tropics. But if conditions are right, then you might also be lucky enough to experience this magical sight in Ireland too.
For a truly incredible experience, a visit to the Lough Hyne Nature Reserve in County Cork in the south of Ireland is a must. Designated as Europe’s first Marine Reserve, this unique salt water lake located on the world famous Wild Atlantic Way is renowned for its biodiversity and unique underwater habitats.
It is also an amazing location to view bioluminescence. The type of this shimmering blue plankton at Lough Hyne is Noctiluca scintillans. Take to the water by kayak to explore the nocturnal wonders of this special habitat. The Atlantic Sea Kayaking company offers a special Starlight Kayaking Experience. When conditions are calm and the sky is dark, there is a chance that the water comes alive with the sparkling light. Generally July and August are the best times to see this amazing spectacle. However it is also possible at other times of the year.
The limited light pollution also makes this area superb for stargazing. Sometimes you will have an incredible sight of the Milky Way. All this makes the Lough Hyne Nature Reserve a truly special place that is absolutely worth a visit.
Contributed by Emer and Nils from Let’s Go Ireland
Zeebrugge is one of the places in Europe where you can witness the fantastic phenomenon of bioluminescence. It is a village in Belgium that lies along the North Sea. Furthermore it is also the main port and seafront resort in the Bruges subdivision. This explains why the name Zeebrugge literally means “Bruges at Sea”.
The bioluminescence or “Milky Seas effect” can be seen on the yacht port of Zeebrugge. This type of bioluminescence is caused by Noctiluca scintillans or “sea sparkle”. Noctiluca scintillans is a marine-dwelling dinoflagellate species that sparkles in the sea when you create any kind of disturbance around it by swimming or splashing. The dinoflagellates are mostly different types of plankton. Their lights can be of various colours – blue, red, and even green!
The bioluminescence is clearly visible during high tide when the waves are glowing due to the sea-sparkling species in action. And during low tide you can see them only if you step on them as the planktons get stuck on the sand at the beach. So with each step that you take, the sand illuminates and makes the floor look surreal. You get to see this effect generally during the spring season and the onset of the summer season.
I like this specific location as firstly, it looks otherworldly and fantastically beautiful. It’s like Norway‘s Northern Lights but underwater. Secondly, the plankton doesn’t hurt or harm you if you get in touch with it. Do include the place in your Europe itinerary if you get a chance. You won’t regret it!
Contributed by Vaibhav Mehta from The Wandering Vegetable
Have you ever seen Bioluminescence?
Seeing bioluminescence with ones own eyes is a unique experience. It is something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime as this natural magic allows us to connect with nature. Have you already had the chance to see it? And if so where?
Tell everyone of your own experience in the comments. Share your own tips so this list can continue to grow.