The 10 Best Beaches to See Bioluminescence

Blue Tears Bioluminescent algae Noctiluca Scintillans
WanRu Chen / Getty Images

We're dedicating our July features to the world’s most beautiful and unique beaches and islands. There’s never been a better way to beat the heat than to head to the sensational coastlines and calm waters that nab a starring role in our dreams. Dive into our features to learn more about the biggest beach party you might not have heard of, how swimwear impacts climate change, the remote Tahitian village preparing for the world stage, and the best beaches in the United States.

On a select few beaches around the world, the water begins to sparkle and glow in the evening. While it may sound like something you’d see in a film, the blue glow in the water is a natural phenomenon known as bioluminescence. The lights are caused by organisms in the water, such as plankton and jellyfish, whose bodies undergo a chemical reaction and emit a strong blue light.

Because there needs to be little to no light pollution, seeing this spectacle in person is rare but we've rounded up ten beaches around the world where you can witness bioluminescence in action. The most popular beaches for bioluminescence are in warmer destinations like Puerto Rico and Mexico, but you can also find it as far north as New Jersey.

Bioluminescence is triggered by movement, so it can be hard to spot from the shoreline, which is why many of these beaches offer boat trips where the waves light up, or allow you to swim amongst the twinkling lights. Although seeing bioluminescence on beaches is, without doubt, the most famous way to experience it, animals and plants that glow in the dark can also be found in habitats across the globe, from the caves of New Zealand to the forests of Japan. 

01 of 10

Toyama Bay, Japan

The Scenic Amaharashi Coast in Toyama, Japan
sangaku / Getty Images
Toyama Bay, Japan

Toyama Bay, located northwest of Tokyo, offers one of the most stunning displays of bioluminescence on Earth. It is caused by firefly squids, which live deep underwater during the day and float to the surface at night to mate, when they emit a strong shining light. Tourist boats, for which you’ll need a reservation, depart from Namerikawa fishing port in Toyama Prefecture in the early hours of the morning to see the squids, with thousands of people coming to witness the event.

Fishermen also head out on the water to collect the squid, which are considered a delicacy in Japan and the lights appear brightest as they pull their nets from the water, causing the squid to shine blue and green.

Top Tip: The firefly squid in Toyama only appear between the months of March and June and if you visit at the beginning or end of the season, you’ll face far fewer crowds.

02 of 10

Manasquan Beach, New Jersey

Manasquan Beach, New Jersey
Leembe / Getty Images
Manasquan Beach, Manasquan, NJ, USA

Surprisingly, bioluminescence can be found on U.S. shores, with Manasquan Beach being one of the best places to witness it. Manasquan is one of the most popular beaches on the Jersey Shore with white sand and warm waters where locals go surfing and rafting during the day. At night, bioluminescent plankton appears in force, causing the long stretch of coastline to glow each time the waves crash in. The bioluminescence is most vivid between the months of July and September, which is peak summer season.

Top Tip: Don’t miss Manasquan’s other natural attraction, the unique algae in the water which turns the tide red as the sun goes down.

03 of 10

Puerto Mosquito, Puerto Rico

Two people kayaking in the bio bay on Vieques

Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Vieques 00765, Puerto Rico

Puerto Mosquito, on the small island of Vieques, is the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Millions of single-celled organisms live in the water and shine brightly when disturbed, such as by boats and kayaks. The island can only be reached by plane or ferry from the mainland and there are a number of tour operators offering boat trips and glass-bottomed kayaking trips to see the lights. In order to protect the environment, authorities have introduced a ban on swimming however there are plenty of other ways to experience the spectacle, which is also found on the nearby beaches of Laguna Grande and La Parguera.

Top Tip: The strength of the bioluminescence depends heavily on the moon. A bright, new moon will ensure the best conditions.

04 of 10

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

Bio luminescence. Illumination of plankton at Maldives.
PawelG Photo / Getty Images
Vaadhoo, Maldives

Vaadhoo Island offers all of the luxurious resorts, dining, and water sports that other Maldivian Islands boast with the added bonus of a glowing sea. This tiny island, home to less than 500 people and many overwater bungalows, has become known as having a "Sea of Stars" due to its sparkling waters. The glowing phytoplankton here are particularly bright due to the virtually non-existent light pollution in this part of the Indian Ocean. Between June and October is when the plankton appear brightest and you can swim, snorkel or dive with them.

Top Tip: To reach Vaadhoo Island, you’ll need to take a 15-minute speedboat ride from Male and book a room in one of the island’s hotels, which can organize tours with the plankton.

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05 of 10

Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica

Glowing waters
GummyBone / Getty Images
F9MC+CCQ, Falmouth, Jamaica

Luminous Lagoon is, unsurprisingly, named for the dinoflagellates which twinkle in the water at night. The lagoon lies on the marshlands near the town of Falmouth, where the Martha Brae River meets the Caribbean Sea and this fusion of salt and fresh water creates a perfect environment for bioluminescence to thrive. It's actually one of the top four places in the world to see it. Nearby hotels and marinas offer boat tours each evening where you can jump off the boat to swim, snorkel, and watch the water light up around you.

Top Tip: Tours of the lagoon take around 45 minutes and depart every evening, but don’t worry about adverse weather, as rain on the water makes the bioluminescence even brighter.

06 of 10

Torrey Pines State Beach, California

Black beach along the Torrey Pines State Beach

slworking2 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / flickr

Torrey Pines State Beach, California, USA

The California coast is home to a huge range of marine life and on one sandy San Diego cove, you can witness the ocean change colors at night. The waters in Torrey Pines often see strong growth of bioluminescent algae in September and October. During the day, this causes a red tide, while at night the waters light up each time the waves crash, a phenomenon that can stretch as far as La Jolla. Locals, visitors, and photographers flock here during the fall season, although the display can last anywhere from a week to a whole month.

Top Tip: In places with more light pollution such as San Diego, a professional camera and tripod is the best way of capturing a photo of the bioluminescence.

07 of 10

Matsu Islands, Taiwan

Blue Tears Bioluminescent algae around the coastline of the Matsu Islands in Taiwan
WanRu Chen / Getty Images
Matsu Islands

The Matsu Islands are a remote island chain off the coast of Taiwan, home to a phenomenon known as "Blue Tears." Glowing algae lights up late at night and can be clearly seen splashing against the island’s rocky outcrops and beaches. The islands can be reached by flight or ferry from mainland Taiwan, after which you can book a boat trip or guided tour to see the algae. Tours emphasize that there can be no light pollution, so trips can be risky in complete darkness, but local guides are familiar with the area and provide lifejackets onboard.

Top Tip: It is virtually impossible to predict exactly when the bioluminescence will appear across the islands, however, it has been discovered that it disappears when the sea is above 81 degrees F (27 degrees C) so check online or ask around for information before you go.

08 of 10

Koh Rong, Cambodia

Bio Bay on Koh Rong, Cambodia

Courtesy of Visit Koh Rong

Koh Rong, Preah Sihanouk, Cambodia

A small but popular island off Cambodia’s southern coast, Koh Rong has become a backpacker’s haven, with its scattering of hotels, beautiful beaches, and clear water. Being fairly remote, the island has little running water or electricity and the mimimal light pollution creates ideal conditions for bioluminescent plankton to appear. Select companies and hotels offer boat trips to see the plankton, but the best way to experience it is to simply go swimming when there’s a clear sky and new moon.

Top Tip: Many of Koh Rong’s hotels and hostels are on the beach, giving off bright light that makes the plankton harder to see. Venture to an untouched stretch of sand or stay in a hostel away from big resorts to have the best experience.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Coles Bay, Tasmania

Sunset over a secluded beach in Coles Bay, Freycinet national Park, Tasmania, Australia
Nick Fitzhardinge / Getty Images
Coles Bay TAS 7215, Australia

Coles Bay, on the small island of Tasmania just south of mainland Australia, is part of the striking Freycinet National Park. The park is home to the island’s best beaches, including Wineglass Bay and Honeymoon Bay, however for sea sparkle, Coles is the most popular. The microscopic organisms here glow brightly due to the lack of artificial light in the national park. Since you can see the bioluminescence year-round, if you visit in winter you might be lucky enough to see both bioluminescence and the Aurora Australis on the same trip.

Top Tip: Freycinet National Park is around 3 hours from Hobart and you will need a car to get there. Bring lots of bottled water with you as it is not readily available anywhere in the park.

10 of 10

Manialtepec Lagoon, Mexico

Manialtepec Lagoon in Oaxaca
Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images
Laguna Manialtepec, U2, 70988 Crucecita, Oax., Mexico

Mexico has an abundance of ecosystems and wildlife, so its secluded beaches are the perfect home for bioluminescence. Manialtepec, just north of Puerto Escondido, is home to a serene lagoon where glowing plankton come to life every evening. Boat tours to see the plankton depart each night from Puerto Escondido, lasting around 30 mins and you are encouraged to swim in the lagoon to activate the glow from the plankton. The lagoon is home to abundant marine life, so fish can often be seen splashing through the water, leaving a sparkling trail in their wake.

Top Tip: It is vital to visit when the moon is weak; if it is too bright the reflection can overpower the plankton.

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The 10 Best Beaches to See Bioluminescence