7 Bioluminescent Beaches and Bays That Glow at Night

See recent posts by Stefanie Waldek

You might have seen it in the Academy Award–winning film “Life of Pi”—a blue glow that grows as main character Pi swirls the water. While this might be the work of CGI in the movie, it’s actually a real phenomenon. In bodies of water around the world, bioluminescent creatures, typically plankton, light up like a firefly when moved, producing an electric blue glow. The occurrence is more common than you might think, but you have to know where to look. Here, we name seven locations where you can experience the otherworldly wonder.

Pro tip: Keep an eye on the moon cycle. The less light, the better!

Bioluminescence in Jervis Bay, Australia

Editor’s note: Some services and amenities at the properties below may be altered/halted due to the pandemic. Save these ideas for when it’s safe to travel again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rules, and safety regulations both at your destination and upon returning home.

1. Sam Mun Tsai Beach, Hong Kong

A phenomenon known as the red tide (which is, as you might have guessed, when the water turns red, due to a bloom of microorganisms) has been linked to bioluminescence. This is the case with Sam Mun Tsai beach in Hong Kong, which sometimes has crimson water during the day and glowing blue water at night. Unfortunately, certain types of the red tide can be harmful to other organisms, so it’s best to ask authorities before swimming in affected waters.

Where to Stay Nearby: Y Loft (Youth Square)

Part of an ultra-modern community youth facility, Y-Loft (Youth Square) is a hostel with rooms and amenities more akin to a mid-range hotel. It has rooms for up to six people, but most are private twin rooms with flat-screen TVs and mini-fridges. All have en-suite bathrooms, but as it caters to students, there are no double beds here.

2. Manasquan, New Jersey

The glowing water off the coast of New Jersey is not from toxic sludge, as one might assume, but from red tide algae. While the glow doesn’t occur all the time, lucky beachgoers might spot glowing blue waves at night.

3. Toyama Bay, Japan

Toyama Bay does not glow because of algae. Rather, it glows because of squid—firefly squid, to be exact. While these specimens typically live deep in the sea, an unusual current brings them to the surface in this bay. In the town of Namerikawa, there’s actually a museum dedicated to firefly squid.

4. Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico

Perhaps the most famous of the glowing bays, Mosquito Bay on Puerto Rico’s island of Vieques is a popular tourist destination. As such, it has very specific rules in place to protect it. For instance, kayaking the bay is only permitted with licensed tour guides, visitors cannot swim in the bay, and visitors can’t wear chemicals on their body. (That’s right—no bug spray in Mosquito Bay.)

Where to Stay Nearby: Hacienda Tamarindo

This 17-room bed & breakfast on a secluded part of Vieques island, near the town of Esperanza, is owned by Vermont couple. It was decorated by the missus — a former interior designer — who keeps historic aspects in tact, like the nearly 270-year-old Tamarind tree at the center of the property. The New England influence is felt in the antique decor and the huge country-style breakfast portions.

5. Indian River Lagoon, Florida

With the most biodiverse lagoon ecosystem in the northern hemisphere (it has more than 3,000 species of flora and fauna), it’s no surprise that the Indian River Lagoon is home to bioluminescent plankton. But, as a bonus, it also has bioluminescent comb jellyfish.

Where to Stay Nearby: Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa

Jupiter Beach Resort has a quaint oceanfront location and a fun beach vibe. Highlights include an outdoor pool with bar service and live music, sports courts, a full-service spa, restaurant, and balconies in every room. The property has direct access to a small, private beach, but it can nearly vanish during hurricane season and at high tide.

6. Halong Bay, Vietnam

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is often cited for its nearly 2,000 towering limestone pillars and is usually filled with tourists on boats, taking in the views. But at night, it glows—if you’re far away enough from distracting lights.

7. Mission Bay, San Diego

Bioluminescence on the shores of Black's Beach, San Diego County

This body of water off San Diego, too, experiences a red tide every few years, producing the same glow found around the world. In fact, the phenomenon occurs along the entire California coast, from Mission Bay to Tomales Bay, and sometimes beyond. More often than not, California’s red tides are not harmful to humans.

Where to Stay Nearby: Omni La Costa Resort and Spa

This 400-acre, 611-room megaresort near Legoland is packed with family features, including large rooms, six pools with waterslides, and an impressive kids club. The spa, golf courses, tennis courts, and on-site shopping help ensure adults have fun as well.

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