Most things that sound too good to be true usually are. When we first heard about the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, we weren’t sure what to expect. The whole concept sounded unreal. A glowing bay? What makes it glow? Is it radio active or something? Is it really as bright as it is in the pictures?
While most people who visit Puerto Rico tend to stick around San Juan, we’ve found that most opportunities for adventure happen outside of the the capital. Keep reading to find out how you can experience this magical place too.
Isla Nena and Mosquito Bay
Vieques, also known as “Isla Nena” (Little Girl Island) is just east of the main island of Puerto. Here you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches, wild horses, and the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.
As it turns out, Mosquito bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico is the brightest bio bay in the world. And there are three bio bays on the island, but only a five more in the whole world. We took a tour with Bieque Ecotrips to get a closer look at this natural phenomenon.
The name “Mosquito Bay” comes from the sea of bloodthirsty insects surrounding the bay. But it’s nothing that a long-sleeve shirt can’t protect you from. Resist covering yourself in bug spray so that we can protect and enjoy this place for years to come.
Once we were in the water we didn’t see much at first, but as we got a little further into the bay we saw it. A neon-blue flash of light surrounding the oars as we paddled along.
When we looked a little closer we could see thousands of tiny organisms giving off light when moved. These are dinoflagellates, and they’re so small that three of them can fit on the tip of a needle. They luminescence with movement like tiny lightening bugs in water.
It takes a special combination of factors for these organisms to thrive, and Mosquito Bay has them all: Reg mangrove trees, cool water, and a small opening to the ocean.
In fact, when the Spanish discovered this area, they thought the glowing water was the work of “El diablo” and tried to cut off the bay from the ocean by making the opening even smaller. But this only trapped more of these tiny creatures and made the bio bay brighter.
How to Get to Vieques
By Uber and Ferry
IMPORTANT: Our trip was before hurricane Maria! All the old ferries from Fajardo now run through Ceiba.
We took an Uber from Carolina (near San Juan) to Fajardo where we awaited the ferry to Vieques. Ubers are readily available through the San Juan area, and the one-way trip cost us $50.58 before tip. You could take a taxi, but why pay more?
At the Fajardo Ferry Terminal we paid $2 each for a one way ticket to Vieques. The ride itself takes about 45-minutes. Click here for ferry schedules.
Another option for getting to Vieques is to fly there from San Juan. This might be a better option for you if you’re traveling solo. We met up with our friend Jen from Jen on a Jetplane in Vieques, and she opted to fly because she’s awesome at finding super cheap flights.
From the Vieques Ferry Terminal
Once in Vieques you’ll see a swath of vans and van drivers waiting to transport new arrivals to their final destinations near the ferry terminal. We hopped in a van with a couple who just so happened to be visiting from my hometown in Minnesota (weird, right?). The van driver took us straight to the hotel where we all happened to be staying at as well. It’s a small world after-all.
From the Vieques Airport
Much like the at the Ferry Terminal, you can find van drivers and taxis awaiting new arrivals outside of the airport. Here you’ll find some Vieques taxi contact information if you’d like to setup your ride before your arrival.
Where to Stay
We stayed a cozy guesthouse called Villa Coral. We stayed there because our friend Jen had booked her room there already, but we were really satisfied with how helpful the staff was there and how comfortable the rooms are. Airbnb is usually our go-to when looking for accommodations, but if you want a comfy place to stay with a shared second floor balcony and chilled out rooftop, check out Villa Coral!
Bio Bays in the World
Booking a Bio Bay Tour
There are multiple tour companies that will show you the Bio Bay. We went with Bieque Eco Trips. They have clear-bottomed kayaks to give you that extra level of coolness while yours paddling your way through the brightest Bio Bay on the planet. Here’s the contact info for a number of different bio bay tour companies:
Bieke Eco-Trips - (787) 922-2701
Melaya’s Tours - (787) 222-7055
Abe’s Biobay Kayak Tour - (787) 741-2134
Taino Aqua Adventures - (787) 349-6964
Island Adventures - (787) 741-0720 (boat tour)
Jak Water Sports - (787) 644-7112
Vieques Adventure Company - (787) 692-9162
Bio Bay Tours generally cost $45-60 USD per person.
When To See It
In order to truly appreciate this natural phenomenon you have to see it when it’s pitch-black out. Unless you have a very special camera for nighttime photography, you can forget about capturing the bioluminescence on film. In fact, most bio bay ads you see online include some super fake photoshopped photos for this very reason. Cameras just can’t do it justice. So make sure you plan your trip for a night when there is a new moon, or at least within a day or two of a new moon to see the glow in all it’s glory. This resource here will help you do just that.
How to Photograph It
“But Jim, you just said to forget about photographing it.” Yes, I did. But I’m stubborn and went well out of my way risking thousands of dollars of camera equipment to the murky waters of the bio bay to show you what it kind of looks like. Nobody tells Jim Fricker what he can or cannot do. 😅
So, if you want to the same and try to get a photo or video of the bioluminescent bay, you’re going to need a special camera, a lot of will power, and some patience. This is not a tutorial for beginners. If you don’t understand the terms like “ISO” or “fast lens” you might want to hold off on attempting this until you have a bit more experience. Here’s the quick version of how to photograph the bio bay.
Most cameras that have manual settings can pull this off. You’ll just be limited to using a tripod on the side of the bay and hope that it’s either raining (the bay lights up like crazy when it rains according to our guide) or that you have a good zoom lens and can see people on a tour kayaking. Of course you’re going to get a ton of blur because of the long exposure you’ll need to see anything. But with some luck and patience, you can get a blurry glimpse of what the glow looks like to show your friends.
Video of the Bio Bay
To capture video of the bay, you’re going to need the best low-light camera you can find and afford to pull this off. And probably some decent equipment insurance since you’ll be using the camera in a kayak at night. When we went to the bio bay the best camera available for this job was the Sony A7s II.
You’re going to want to couple this the fastest lens you can afford and get ready to crank the ISO all the way up to 409600 (or possibly higher if you are reading this years after publication and the Sony A7s IV or something is out.) Will it be noisy? Yes. Will it be worth it? Maybe.
Shoot in 4k so you can do some stabilization in post and hopefully have some semi-stable footage when you export to 1080p. When kayaking, focus on your hand when it’s just touching the water, then hit record.
With any luck, you’ll have not fallen into the water with all of your camera gear, and have captured the bioluminescence. Now de-noise that footage to the best of your ability using Neat Video or something similar. And ta dah! You now hopefully have some decent footage of the bio bay. Not a very common thing to have in 2019.
We went on this tour with our friend Jen from Jen on a Jet Plane. Learn more about this incredible place on her blog here!
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