Before our last night in Jamaica, someone randomly mentioned that it was almost a new moon. All of a sudden, something clicked, and I remembered about the Luminous Lagoon (also known as glistening waters). I’ve been trying to see bioluminescence for quite some time now with no luck, and since it was my birthday week I was determined to finally get this done. I messaged Island Routes to book our Luminous Lagoon tour and almost immediately got confirmation for our trip to see this world wonder that same night.
We had a private driver pick us up from our hotel, Moon Palace Jamaica in Ocho Rios, and after about an hour and a half we were there! We were greeted with a sky full of fire as I watched one of the most amazing sunsets. I could already tell it was going to be a great night.
While we waited for it to get dark, the luminous lagoon tour came with a free rum & punch and there was a small show put on by some of the kids in the area. Finally, it was time to see the glistening waters! A photographer joins you as most people can’t capture this on their own cameras, we decided to try our luck though and try and capture it ourselves!
As we came out, the water was already glowing. The dinoflagellates only glow when irritated, so if you look at the bottom of the boat you will see a glimpse of what’s to come. They bring the group about 5 minutes away, and then you get to jump in! **when swimming in the lagoon, try not to touch the bottom. The sand will make it muddy, and you’ll see less of that amazing blue color**
The key here is to keep moving! My favorite method was the “snow angel” method, where I laid on my back and flapped my arms and legs continuously to try and get that continuous glow. It was honestly so surreal.
After about 20 minutes, we were all called back to the boat and headed back to shore. On the way, I stuck my hand out and just watched in awe as I made it light up. There are only a few places in the world where you can experience something like this, the most popular include Puerto Rico and Halong Bay in Vietnam, and this is among these locations as being considered the brightest place to see bioluminescence.
We came equipped with our Sony A7III and were ready to test out it’s amazing low-light capabilities. For a full list of our equipment check out our Camera Gear page.
We had an absolutely amazing time with Island Routes. They offer multiple different tours in Jamaica (and other Caribbean islands as well!). Check them out at their website here.
We ran short on time during our Jamaica trip, but certainly hope to come back and do the Blue Hole excursion with them.
Where in Jamaica is the Luminous Lagoon located?
Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon is located in Falmouth. It’s located between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios (tours run from both towns). It takes about 30 minutes from Montego Bay, and around 1.5 hours from Ocho Rios.
What Causes Jamaica's Luminous Lagoon and Why Does It Glow?
What causes the light?
Microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates, or more specifically in this area, pryodinium bahamene, create this glow when under pressure. There are millions of these micro-organisms in the lagoon. The lagoon is formed where the Martha Brae River meets the Caribbean Sea, making it the perfect environment for the microorganisms. The dinoflagellates thrive where salt and freshwater combine into brackish waters. They glow most brightly towards the surface, and the lagoon is quite shallow, allowing for the majority of the dinoflagellites to be in visible waters. If you’re looking for a more technical answer (forgive me, I’m a chemical engineer afterall), the dinoflagellates contain a chemical called ‘luciferin’’, and when coalesced with oxygen sheds an illuminating light, technically meant to be a defense mechanism. This is what causes the bioluminescence in Jamaica’s bioluminescent lagoon.
When is the best time to see them?
In other places in the world, you will hear that it is best to see bioluminescence during a new moon (think about it like stars. You see stars more clearly when there’s a new moon). While it might be the BEST time, Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon is so concentrated you can actually see it every single day. (I’d actually love to see it when it’s raining, as the drops would make them glow).