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The Luminous Lagoon is a natural wonder in Jamaica that surprisingly many tourists don’t even know about. It’s one of the few bays in the world where you can witness a natural light show in the water, and even take a dip. Here are some tips and what you need to know for visiting the Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica.
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Where is the Luminous Lagoon?
The Luminous Lagoon is a bay in Falmouth, Jamaica, about 40 minutes east of Montego Bay.
What is the Luminous Lagoon?
The Luminous Lagoon is a special little bay because at night, it’s home to a natural phenomenon known as “bioluminescence.”
The lagoon is home to microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates, which are able to emit blue flashes of light when activated by some sort of motion, such as waves crashing or objects splashing in the water. The result is a mesmerizing display of glowing blue light when one takes a boat ride or swim in the bay.
The Luminous Lagoon is said to have some of the brightest displays of bioluminescence found around the globe, and thus it’s a popular spot.
Can I do a tour for the Luminous Lagoon?
It’s very easy to join a tour for the luminous lagoon. We went with Glistening Waters, which I believe might be the most popular tour company for the lagoon. They offer tours for $25 per adult ($12.50 per child) and tours run from around sunset to 9pm.
You can pre-book a tour online or through your hotel which will usually include transportation and often times a meal or you can just drive yourself to the lagoon (like we did) and then purchase your ticket there. They typically only take cash (USD accepted), so make sure you carry some cash.
The tours begin just after sunset and each tour lasts around 30 to 45 minutes. When we did our tour, Glistening Waters had two to three boats operating at a time, so there wasn’t a long wait time to get in.
Be prepared for the boat to be jam-packed with tourists (I’ve heard the tours taking place later on in the night aren’t as bad). I recommend sitting in the rear of the boat on the port side (left of the vessel if you’re looking towards the front). This is right where the ladder is that you’ll use to enter the lagoon.
Sitting there will allow you the best view of the water lighting up when the boat starts moving and will allow you to be the first person in the water, which will be handy for getting photographs from the photographer, who goes by the name of “paparazzi.”
As soon as you set out on the boat, you’ll start to notice some blue flickering in the water towards the back of the boat.
Within a few seconds, that flickering will intensify and before you know it, you’re looking at glowing waves of blue light that resembles what you’d find in a lit up hot tub. Photos and video don’t really do it justice — you just have to see it in person.
You can see the water light up from other parts of the boat, but I think sitting in the back will give you the best view, especially if you want to capture some photographs.
You want to visit the lagoon when conditions are ideal, which means two things taking place.
The first is that you catch the lagoon on a day when there’s been little to no rain. If a heavy downpour has just taken place, the effect of the bioluminescence might be diminished.
Second, you want to catch it one night when the moon is not very bright, so try to avoid full moons. We caught it when there was a very small moon out and there had been no rain for a couple of days and the lights were very bright.
One great thing about the Luminous Lagoon is that the lights can be seen all year round.
The “papparazi” guy is in charge of getting photographs of you. I recommend you sitting by the back of the boat so you can be one of the first to get off and get your photo taken if that’s what you want. If you wait until others have unloaded, you’ll have to contend with getting the photographer’s attention with like 30 other people trying to do the same.
Also, the longer you wait to get in, the more silt will be kicked up by other people. This will also quickly diminish the brightness of the lights so you want to try to get your photos taken before that occurs.
Make sure that when you’re photo is being taken you’re swooshing up the water as much as you can to intensify the blue light. At the end of the tour you can buy photos for $25 and have them sent to you via email.
Be careful when getting into the lagoon. It’s only about 4 feet deep and the bottom of the bay is covered in several feet of mud, so you want to ease into the water and try to keep your legs up so you don’t get covered in mud. If you happen to get some on you, it easily comes off with a good shake of the leg, which you can do when climbing the ladder back into the boat.
If you’re experienced with surface diving, you can lunge off the ladder, creating a blue silhouette. If you’re not a very experienced swimmer, a life jacket might keep you bobbing at the surface and away from the muck.
Am I going to get eaten by a shark?
Jumping into the middle of a bay in the dark can be a little daunting.
Luckily, according to the guides there are no major predators in these waters. No sharks, barracudas, crocodiles, etc. While the guides claimed there were no jellyfish, I’ve seen (rare) reports of people getting stung by jellyfish. I personally wouldn’t worry about anything happening, but it’s important to know the risks.
Also, some complained that the little microorganisms agitated their skin, although this was not the case for most people.
Taking photographs of the lagoon is difficult. You’ll need a high quality DSLR to capture the light with your ISO turned up high. Most of my photos were turned up to 64,000 ISO on my Canon 6D to get the light to come out. You also have to contend with the moving of the boat and water, which makes it difficult to focus in such low light conditions.
While I was not exactly thrilled with my photographs I did the best I could and at least I came away with some shots that showcased the blue light.
I don’t recommend utilizing flash since the guides will tell you to keep it off. I think the only person who uses the flash is the photographer. If you have a standard mirrorless, point and shoot camera, your photos are probably not going to come out very good but you can give it a shot.
With my ISO turned up high, I was also able to get a little bit of video as well.
Since photographs and video can be difficult to capture, this is a destination where it really just pays to enjoy the experience. Have fun splashing around in the bioluminescence and watching it sparkle on your bathing suit as you exit the water. You might even catch a fish or two darting through the glowing waters.
One of the most interesting things to see is when the boat comes to a stop. The captain will probably take you to a rig that sank in the middle of the lagoon and once the boat comes to a stop, take a peak at the water near the boat. You’ll be able to see individual sparkles of light flashing like tiny stars in the ocean. The light was too faint for me to capture on my camera, but it was an amazing sight and only visible once the boat stopped moving at a high speed.
I’ve been able to experience some amazing natural wonders like the northern lights. And while this isn’t quite as exciting as the northern lights, it’s still a very cool experience that’s certainly bucket-list worthy. Almost everyone who unloaded off our boat was in agreement that this was an all-around amazing experience. If you catch it when conditions are right, it will surely blow you away.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the digital smart wallet, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.