Photo by Melinda Crow
Imagine fireflies twinkling beneath the surface of the night sea. Every swish of your hand, every stroke of the kayak paddle restarts the sparks of light. As you kayak through the inky water beneath the mangrove canopy, with your only sense of direction coming from the tiny glow stick attached to the kayak in front of you and the ever-present voice of your chatty guide, you realize this is what experiential travel is all about.
First a little science lesson. Bioluminescence is defined as the production of light by a living creature. The creatures producing light in a bio bay are tiny algae making their home in calm coastal waters, particularly where red mangroves are present.
Mosquito Bay on Viequis, Puerto Rico is hailed as the brightest bio bay on the planet, but getting there is a challenge of ferry rides and finding accommodations. An easier option is Laguna Grande in Fajardo, about an hour from San Juan. There are about a half dozen tour operators that provide guided kayak tours, most offering two tours per night. Glass Bottom PR takes ten to fifteen two-person kayaks on each tour, most with glass bottoms that allow you to experience the bioluminescence throughout the trip. The tours are led by a handful of charming young men who obviously love the bay and their job of showing it off to tourists every night. They keep safety in mind while keeping the group laughing and well informed.
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The tour is not strenuous, the pace through the darkness is necessarily slow, making it suitable for beginning kayakers. The guides provide basic instructions for first-timers. Keep in mind that you and your belongings will get wet and that there will be insects-- including mosquitoes.
The best time to see the bioluminescence is when the sky is darkest. A full moon makes it easier to navigate the mangrove channel to the bay, but makes it harder to see the bioluminescence. To ensure that even on bright-sky nights guests get to see the phenomenon, the guides with Glass Bottom PR gather the group in the bay and spread tarps over everyone to block out the light of the moon.
Tours operate even during rain showers, but may be canceled due to thunderstorms or high winds. There are hotels in Fajardo, including the iconic El Conquistador Resort, now a Waldorf Astoria property. The starting point for the bay tours is walking distance from the hotel. For those who prefer to stay in San Juan, Bespoke Tours operates tours with transportation from San Juan hotels to Fajardo.