Puerto Rico: Bioluminescent Bay

The promotions I saw for the bioluminescent bay tours seemed just too cool to be true. There are 5 of these in the world (3 of them are in Puerto Rico). Bays were algae live that glow when they get moved. So as you paddle through them at night, the water glows. I’m a sucker for anything glow in the dark, so how could I resist? There was a paired tour (rainforest in the morning, bio bay at night) that offered a discount, so I was sold. The rainforest (as I mentioned a couple of days ago) was incredible. Could the bioluminescence seal the deal?

Because we were going right after the rainforest, we took the first of the two tours the group offers. (They do one around 6:30 and one around 8:30.) I had thought at first that would be way too soon for it to be dark enough, but the sun set around 6:45 each day, and it was usually plenty dark by 7 or so. We left from a spot near Fajardo. (The specific bay we’d be exploring is called Laguna Grande.) To get to it, you paddle about a mile through a mangrove forest. We’d arrive on the bay in time for sunset, hang out until it was dark, and then see the cool glowing things and paddle back.

What could go wrong?

Well, actually . . . To start, we were in a group of about 20 kayaks (with 2 people per kayak). Many of these people had never kayaked before, and they were given about 10 minutes of instruction heading into the trek. Then we were told to kayak in single file. Seems easy enough on the open ocean, the channel through the mangrove forest was anything but straight. It twisted and turned like a snake. and there were roots jutting out all over the place to catch your oars (or your eyes, if you were unlucky). And we weren’t the only group of 20 out there. I saw around 4 other groups making their way through. They try to schedule it so that there aren’t too many people in the channel at once, but that doesn’t work all that well.

It’s not like Denisa and I are kayaking pros, but things got even worse with people ramming into us from behind, or suddenly stopping in front of us. And did I mention there were mosquitoes? Soooooo many mosquitoes. They only came out for dusk, so we just had them on the paddle out, but I probably got 40 bites in about 20 minutes, and that was with me already having put on a fair bit of bug spray.

But we persisted. We got through the channel, and we made it to the bay. Sure, we were scratchier than we’d been at the start of the trip, but we were ready for the glowing!

Sunset was beautiful. Denisa and I paddled around some, and darkness fell quite quickly. The tour guides had us all come together again once it was dark enough, and they told us to each look over a different side of the kayak (so the kayak wouldn’t flip) and move around the water to see the awesome. Honestly, it looked like the water was a bit whiter than usual, but no whiter than air bubbles would have made it. I was very underwhelmed. Undeterred, our guides had us take out tarps they’d put on each kayak. We unrolled them and put them over us, blocking out all light. Once we had done that, we could scoop the water from the bay into our kayaks, and it looked like tiny glowing specks were coming aboard. They were fairly bright, and off white, and there were around 20 per handful of water.

Was it cool? Well, yes. But I was in a row of 20 other kayaks, totally covered by a tarp (and 40 bug bites), trying to maneuver my hand into the water so that I could see the little glowing things. It wasn’t quite what I’d gone in expecting. (I talked to the guides later, and they said it’s really hit or miss with the bioluminescence. It all depends on the ambient light, the temperature of the water, the weather, the time of year, and more. So many factors, it’s impossible to say for sure what the experience each night would be.)

And then we had the opportunity to paddle back through the channel, this time with other groups coming in the opposite direction, and it was almost pitch black, and we had no flashlights. We were also now paddling against the tide.

So. Would I do this again? Definitely not with kids. I think MC would have gone crazy, and trying to steer us and the kids would have been a real challenge. If I did do it again, I would do the later tour. For one thing, I think it would be even darker, which would help. I would also avoid the bugs that came out at dusk. But before I wanted to do it again, I’d want a better idea just how often the experience really is as advertised. Maybe I got unlucky. Or maybe it’s a case of overselling and underdelivering. I would be willing to go with a smaller group in the middle of the night, if that would make for a better, less crowded experience. The large tour group, in this case, drove me batty.

Anyone else out there done this and had a better experience? I’d love to get some more data points.


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