Photo of bioluminescenceglowing blue on the shore, surrounded by trees and mangroves at night.

Bioluminescence Across the World to Add to Your Travel Bucket-List

If you are lucky, you may have accidentally discovered bioluminescence along the ocean shore. Bioluminescence is any form of life that emits light. For example, fireflies or glowworms. However, most bioluminescent creatures are marine invertebrates.

The light emitted by a bioluminescent organism is produced by energy released from chemical reactions occurring inside the organism. Bioluminescence is a defense mechanism for the animal. For us, it is a stunning natural phenomenon to see the ocean light up under a starry night sky.

The bioluminescence itself cannot harm you. So you can often run your hand through the water to disturb the organisms and watch them suddenly light up. As these tiny organisms will use their bioluminescence to ward off predators, any disturbance in the water will trigger this.

Bioluminescence is most common at the deepest level of the ocean. Often, at these deep, dark sea levels, larger sea animals will have bioluminescence. However, most bioluminescence you see on the surface will be from tiny marine animals. These can be bacteria, algae, jellyfish, worms, crustaceans, sea stars, fish. If you are at a location where you can see bioluminescence on the shoreline, the chances are it is bacteria or algae.

So, if this is a natural phenomenon that you would like to add to your travel bucket list, here are some of the best places to go.

Jervis Bay, Australia

Bioluminescence across the shoreline at Jervis Bay during the night.

Jervis Bay would be a beautiful location in New South Wales, even if it did not have bioluminescence. Think clear blue waters and fine, white sand. It is also a hotspot for whale watching in the right season. However, what is truly remarkable about Jervis Bay is how in the evening there is a brilliant display of bioluminescence in the water.

Famous for this, many people will head to the bay at sunset and stay into the evening. As it is a bay with very few waves, it is a perfect spot to wade into the water, either ankle or knee-deep, and let your steps stimulate the bioluminescence.

Jervis Bay is a beautiful location to visit for other things as well. It might be best to plan a trip here and organize other things around your bioluminescence hunting. For example, whales, dolphins, fur seals, penguins, and an array of diverse wildlife are found here.

Located next to Jervis Bay National Park, you may also see kangaroos and other Australian wildlife.
And like any other location in Australia, it is also a great spot to immerse yourself in Indigenous history. The Aboriginal-owned Booderee Botanic Gardens is an excellent place to start.

San Deigo, California

A photo of a bay in San Diego shows bioluminescence in the water next to a jetty at night.

Perhaps you live in the US and need somewhere closer to home to spot bioluminescence. San Deigo is also a perfect spot for this. However, bioluminescence in San Diego can be a little harder to predict and is not always guaranteed. You will only see this in warmer months, perhaps once or twice a year.

If you get lucky and catch the bioluminescence at one of these times, it is beautiful. The bioluminescence in San Diego, like many other places, is caused by algae blooms. This makes it perfectly safe to swim, and diving into the glowing waves can be a magical experience. Of course, you can also watch from the shore, and it is just as beautiful to see the waves roll in as they light up.

Toyama Bay, Japan

Firefly squid on the shoreline in Japan light up the shallow waves with bioluminescene on a very dark evening.

Toyama Bay is an extraordinary place to spot bioluminescence for the unique reason that it is emitted from squid. While this is not ideal for swimming, it is beautiful and a unique natural phenomenon.

The firefly quid is only 3 inches long but emits a huge light despite its tiny size. Their tentacles are organs – photophores – that light up like a phosphorescent blue at the end of their tentacles. In Toyama Bay, the squid are found in large numbers in the central Japan Sea. Normally living at 1200 feet underwater, a v-shaped canyon in Toyama bay pushes the current and the squid to the surface.

Toyama Bay is roughly three hours away from Tokyo. The squid that produces this bioluminescence is the ‘firefly squid.’ Firefly squid live in the waters of Toyama Bay from March to June every year, during their breeding season.

It is also one of Japan’s three largest bays. In addition, parts of the bay are within the borders of the Noto Hanto Quasi-National Park, which you can also add to your bucket list for this location.

Matsu Islands, Taiwan

A man sits on a rock above the shoreline in the Matsu Islands in front of the bioluminescence in the waves with a dusky sky on the shoreline.

One of the most famous places to spot bioluminescence is in the Matsu Islands in Taiwan. The light here is from algae called noctiluca scintillans. If disturbed, they will glow. 

The light given off is so beautiful that locals refer to it as the ‘blue tears’ because the bioluminescence gives the visual impression of teardrop shapes floating along the water’s surface. 

The Matsu Islands are magnificent in the daytime and well worth visiting. The Matsu Island archipelago contains 19 islands that, like Kinmen, are far closer to mainland China than to Taiwan. Still, they are part of Taiwan politically. The island group is named after the Fujianese goddess Matsu who manages the seas and offers safe passage across them.

The Matsu archipelago features 18 different isles with great swimming beaches. In addition, there are many beautiful and important temples that you can visit. The Matsu Islands are rich with history, and while you wait for the night to roll around for the bioluminescence, there is a lot to do. 

The Blue Grotto, Malta

A photo of glowing blue water in cave in Malat shows a man on a kayak paddling towards the small opening of the cave.

In Malta, the Blue Grotto does not get its distinct blue glow from bioluminescence. However, it is such a unique and beautiful spot it is worth mentioning on this list. 

 An oceanic cave near Wied iz-Zurrieq, the Blue Grotto, is marked by distinctively blue, glowing water with objects underneath the water appearing silver, red, orange, or yellow. The blue phenomenon is the result of sunlight shining through the narrow entrance.

You can only enter the Blue Grotto through a small entrance at the sea level of the cave. This is not an amazing location for those with claustrophobia. However, it is stunning if tight spaces do not bother you. 

Getting to the cave will require a small boat ride to the entrance. Be sure to plan your trip carefully, as the cave will be closed at certain times of the year due to high winds that make entering unsafe. 

Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

A photo of the Waitomo caves in New Zealand

The Waitomo caves, found in New Zealand, are another unique bioluminescent experience to add to your bucket list. Rather than the bioluminescence resulting from algae or bacteria, it is from a glowworm species. These glow worms are unique to this region of New Zealand, which makes them very special.

Again, you will need to enter the caves via a licensed boat. Generally, the only way to get in if you are visiting is by booking a tour group to take you. When inside, the bioluminescence will not be below you in the water, but rather on the ceilings of the cave. 

The unique stalactite formations on the walls and ceilings will glow blue with the worms. The darkness of the caves, with no natural light source, will also make this a more dramatic sight.

The caves are about 2.5 hours north of Auckland, on the North Island of New Zealand. The bioluminescence of the worms is not the only incredible thing to see at this location. There are many interesting caves, limestone formations, and even waterfalls in this vast region. The Waitomo Caves are also a vast underground labyrinth of lakes worth exploring.

Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica

Bioluminescence washes up on the sand in Jamaica next to the mangorve trees after dusk.

The Luminous Lagoon Jamaica is a fitting name for this top location to spot bioluminescence. Like many other locations, this glow is caused by algae that produce light when disturbed. 

Another wonderful thing about this location is that it is very easily accessible. As it is in the town of Falmouth, you can walk five minutes from the docks to the bay.

The beach itself is lovely in the daytime. Surrounded by shady mangroves, it is ideal for watching the sunset and staying into the evening to see the shores light up. The town of Falmouth is attractive in its own right. A port city, it is also dotted with Georgian architecture. Once a sugar plantation, it was established in 1769 as a sugarcane farming town.

Sugar farming brought a great deal of wealth to the town, and therefore a lot of impressive buildings were built to reflect this. The surrounding area also boasts swamps, rivers, and waterfalls. 

Manialtepec Lagoon, Mexico

A lagoon in Jamaica during the day from aerial view shows mangroves, a sandy bay, boats and pinkish-hued water due to high algae concentration.

In all of Mexico, there are five places to see bioluminescence, and three of them are in Manialtepec Lagoon. About 30 minutes from Puerto Escondido, it is a popular spot. Unfortunately, it is not one of the more accessible locations to access glowing shorelines. However, if you can make it and Mexico is high on your travel bucket list, it is well worth the journey. 

As with other spots in the world, the best time to see bioluminescence is during the New Moon, when the moon isn’t visible in the sky. The five or so days before and after the New Moon are also suitable for bioluminescence visibility. 

In Manialtepec Lagoon, the type of bioluminescence you’ll see is from light-emitting plankton. There are billions of tiny plankton in the lagoon. So when you jump in the water to swim, you start twinkling and glowing since the plankton will be on you and around you.

The lagoon’s mouth only opens up to the ocean during the rainy season, when water levels rise. This is also most likely when you will see bioluminescence. The lagoon is about 15 km long and has patches of leafy greenery and mangroves. The mangroves can grow to be 15 meters in some areas, which makes this a fantastic natural location to visit. 

Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico

A close up photo of bioluminescence being disturbed by rain on the surface of the water.

Do not let the name of this place put you off visiting. The location is thankfully not full of mosquitos but rather bioluminescence. In fact, this may be the best place in the world to see this beautiful aquatic glow. 

The Guinness World Book of Records ranked this location as the brightest instance of bioluminescence in the world in 2006. In addition, the bay has one of the highest concentrations of this glowing plankton in the world.

Mosquito Bay is located on the southern shore of the island of Vieques, one of the islands of Puerto Rico. You can reach the small island of Vieques by ferry or via small plane. Once in Vieques, you’d want to arrange a kayak tour of the bay with one of the island’s tour providers. When planning your visit, it’s essential to consider the moon’s phases as the glowing effect is easier to see and far more impressive during nights with a new or crescent moon.

If you have been looking for a reason to add Puerto Rico to your list of travel destinations, then Mosquito Bay is it. 

Ko Lipe, Thailand

An image of Koh Lipe bay in Thailand during the day shows beautoful blue waters and white sand beaches covered in boats where you can see bioluminescence in the evening.

It is no secret that Thailand is a small paradise. Ko Lipe is no exception, and the crystal waters and white sands are ideal to see the bioluminescence. It has the added benefit of being one of Thailand’s least tourist-heavy beaches, meaning you get to escape some of the crowds. 

In addition, Ko Lip has beautiful coral reefs that you can see during the day. So a snorkeling trip to this destination is ideal. When you are not experiencing coral reefs, you can enjoy the island’s amazingly cheap and authentic restaurants.

Once the nighttime rolls around, you can get ready to spot the bioluminescence display on the shores. There will be boat tours that can take you specifically to see the glowing waters. However, you can also get a great view of them from the shoreline. It is a magnificent sight caused by bioluminescent plankton. 

Thailand is an ideal holiday location. So, if you want to experience bioluminescence and want to enjoy an easy and accessible resort-like holiday, this may be the spot for you. Thailand’s affordability and high standards for resorts make it an ideal location for a holiday. It will also save you the additional effort, research, and expense of other places that may be harder to access.

The Significance of Bioluminescence

A jellyfish glows bright pink, blue and green under water at very dark ocean levels.

Bioluminescence is not only a magical experience and one that you will not forget, but is a fantastic way to enrich your knowledge of the ocean.

If you make an effort to learn as much as you can about the bioluminescence of the area, you will open yourself up to a beautiful world of marine ecology. Our oceans are rich and teeming with eco-systems that help support life on land. Therefore, our greatest chance of protecting our oceans from the effects of global warming is to foster an appreciation and education for marine life. 

So, not only will you have a wonderful travel experience and see a beautiful natural site, but it will no doubt leave you with a heightened appreciation for our natural world.


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