Memory for a lifetime
It’s one of those encounters etched into your memory for a lifetime. You’re walking along the beach on a moonless night and suddenly stop unable to believe your eyes. The water as well as the beach is lit up with a thousand points of light, like stars in the sand, all glowing a ghostly blue. This is bioluminescence, the production and emission of light by living organisms such as plankton and jellyfish. Scientists tell us the glow is a chemical reaction where chemical energy is converted to light energy.
The light show is intended to scare off predators, attract mates and even aids in finding food.
A Tropical Phenomenon
You can’t predict bioluminescence. Conditions have to be just right for it to occur. But those conditions occur most often in the tropics. There have been recorded incidents where miles of beaches glow. And some locations are particularly susceptible to bioluminescence. Puerto Rico, for example, has several bioluminescent bays that light up whenever a certain species of plankton is disturbed.
Costa Rica also has its bioluminescent hot spots. The Osa Peninsula regularly has bioluminescence as do the beaches of Nicoya. However, practically all beaches report bioluminescence including the very popular Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio beaches.
Ways to Experience It
- Snorkeling – Night snorkeling is a great way to get up close and personal to this phenomenon. Vendors in both Costa RicaManuel/Antonio and Flamingo Beach offer night snorkeling tours. You will feel like you’re swimming among the stars on bioluminescent nights. With a special underwater lamp you can also see many different species of fish and other marine life not normally active during the day.
- Kayaking – This is a totally different experience at night. Feel your senses come alive as your eyes adjust. Relax and an exciting new world opens up with the splash of fish and the call of night birds from the shore. Kayaking into bioluminescence is a special treat. With every stroke of your paddle you churn up an explosion of lights. One of the night kayaking tours in Manuel Antonio includes a stargazing stop at a nearby island where you can enjoy wine, crackers and cheese.
- Mangrove boat – If you would like to experience bioluminescence but don’t want to sit on the water (in a kayak), nighttime mangrove boat tours are also available. This is a relaxing way to experience estuary wildlife without having to do the paddling. A guide explains what you’re seeing and he knows where to look. With the aid of a light you will likely see sloths, caimans, crocodiles and night birds.
The guide also knows where to find luminescent plankton and if conditions are right you could see fields of glowing lights bouncing on the water’s surface.