The waters of Costa Rica hold such beauty and intrigue below in the underwater world. What so closely lies to the surface can appear to be a bit of magic, the magic of bioluminescence. A stunning blue glow lighting up the way almost leading you to some secret avatar world is yet another one of Costa Rica’s marvels of nature.
Bioluminescence may appear to be a fairy-tale-like phenomenon but in fact, it is a chemical reaction in the cells of the living organisms within the water creating what is known as a living light. Luciferin and luciferase are the two molecules that are responsible for causing the flashes of light, once they react with oxygen it creates the sparkle throughout the water that we see.
But what we see as hypnotizing and beautiful is actually a defense mechanism within dinoflagellates, the marine plankton floating near the surface of the waters. Any slight movement and disturbance in the water will cause agitation and mechanical stress within these tiny marine organisms creating the sense of being under threat.
This perceived threat, in turn, ignites a chemical reaction. The chemical energy is converted into light energy, where the light is actually intended to be a defensive mechanism in hopes of scaring away the potential predators.
A multitude of marine species such as bacteria, algae, plankton, fishes, and even jellyfishes, crustaceans, and sea stars have these intriguing characteristics. However, the light not only has intentions to startle and scare away any potential threats but is used by marine life as a means for attracting mates and for finding food.
This type of ecosystem isn’t something you will encounter in every lagoon and bay as it requires particular biological conditions to survive. It is within warm water lagoons that have limited passageways out to the open sea that you have a better chance to encounter the phenomenon. Being prevented from escaping out the narrow ways creates the necessary temperatures to exist allowing the abundance of bioluminescent dinoflagellate to thrive.
There is no exact day or month to predict the best time to float out into the illuminated waters but you want to go in the evenings as this is when you will see the reactions of blues in the darkness of the night. This will allow you to truly experience the glowing lights throughout the water like stars shining up from below.
You can plan to go out any time of the year and still be more than satisfied with your amazing adventure. The new moon cycles will offer more darkness and reflect less upon the waters in comparison to the full moon however, tours are offered regardless of what phase the moon is in.
It’s no surprise that the wonder of bioluminescence has several different locations in Costa Rica that are considered hotspots and can be seen year-round. Many will know the small town of Paquera as the gateway to the Nicoya Peninsula, as the landing place for the ferry, and just simply drive through to their next destination.
However, what many don’t know is that the waters of the Paquera Bay and Gulf of Nicoya are one of the top spots to see the enchanted sparkle of bioluminescence with their perfect conditions and amazing intensity. Punta Cuchillos is one of the best places to experience this natural phenomenon and is truly a destination not to miss.
The ultimate way to connect within the magic of the waters is through a tour which is often in small numbers. You can find reputable and knowledgeable tour companies around Paquera but also in the nearby town of Tambor who have years of experience and familiarity.
They are the professionals of the water and are experts in knowing exactly where to find it and how to get there. You may not want to leave this up to chance on your next trip trying to find it yourself heading out into the waters navigating unknown waters in the dark.
The Osa Peninsula is another great spot to have an intimate encounter with the glowing waters within the Golfo Dulce. You can find bioluminescence tours taking place from Puerto Jimenez’s beach. Some tours will incorporate time to appreciate the Costa Rican sunsets and perhaps a chance to see dolphins before paddling into the ghostly glow in the dark waters. Golfo de Papagayo also has bioluminescence tours.
One of the great things about taking a bioluminescence tour is that you can head out on a kayak and you don’t need to have experience. Families can enjoy this together with their children and teenagers as they watch the water light up with what seems like a multitude of fireflies.
The slightest disturbance creates the reaction and you become illuminated. Paddle strokes ignite the way, swirling with color, as the water beams with light against the backdrop of darkness. You can also find boat tours that will take you out where you can sit back and watch as the water pops with color.
But if you want to really be up close and personal look for a tour that takes you night snorkeling into the bioluminescence. This is also an option with some companies where you can dive in and swim with what feels like a bright sky full of stars.
Bioluminescence tours could possibly be one of the best things to do in Costa Rica in the evenings. Gently gliding across the waters, as your paddle slices in the darkness glowing stars burst out around you, surrounding you in mesmerizing shades of blues. It is something one has to experience for themselves to realize how captivating the moments are. Costa Rica never ceases to amaze with its bountiful beauty presenting its magic through its water, lighting up your every move through the darkness, and illuminating your soul.