Now that it’s possible to access just about anything desired via a simple swipe or stroke of the key, it’s perhaps unsurprising that people have begun yearning for the few things that cannot be truly experienced in the digital realm. Nature is one such attraction, as although it can be striking in a photograph and even breathtaking in a video, it is most memorable (and often spiritually fulfilling) when experienced IRL. (Just ask forest-bathing devotees.)
Particularly enchanting among the natural world’s many magical offerings are the bioluminescent events which happen in waters worldwide (think: the ocean lit up in neon). Many forms of marine life—from bacteria to algae to jellyfish and even sharks—light up via a chemical reaction that occurs within their bodies or as the result of their intake of smaller creatures with bioluminescent capabilities. Some use the trick to attract mates while for others, it’s a sign of stress, which can be caused by something as simple as a wave.
Often, when you’re able to witness mass bioluminescence near an ocean’s surface (not deep down in its depths) it’s caused by phytoplankton blooms, specifically. Though it’s not always easy to predict when these—or any bioluminescence events sparked by larger lighted organisms, for that matter—will occur, there are certain spots around the world where it’s most likely you’ll be able to see such a sight.
Below, find details on some of the world’s best bioluminescent beaches.
Toyama Bay, Japan
This magical bay is lit up not by phytoplankton but by three-inch firefly squid, which have little light emitting organs on their arms, head and tentacles. In most parts of the ocean here, these tiny creatures are well beneath the water’s surface. However, this bay provides the perfect set of circumstances for them to emerge and emit an extraordinary glow. But you’ll need to set your alarm: from March until May, sightseeing tours departing at 3 a.m. and can be taken from Namerikawa Bay (190 miles northwest of Tokyo).
Three nights after every full moon in summer, approximately 56 minutes after sunset, the fireworms (essentially tiny ocean worms) of Bermuda’s shallow Atlantic waters mate. The ritual begins with the female, who swims up to the surface to do a few glowing laps in order to attract her partner. He then likewise surfaces, they mate, and it’s over before you can blink. You can best view this event from Ferry Reach Park, Flatt’s Inlet, or aboard what’s often called a glow worm cruise by local boating companies.
Mudhdhoo Island, Maldives
The glowing waves, which sometimes approach all the way up to the shores of Mudhdhoo, are believed to be caused by ostracod (read: tiny) crustaceans rather than phytoplankton. Though beautiful, these luminous nights actually signify that these lit creatures are experiencing naturally-occurring mass mortality (talk about the circle of life IRL). You can also view bioluminescent events on many of the other Maldives islands including Reethi, Kuredo, Vaadhoo, and more. (Know, though, that the best times of year vary by each location.)
San Diego, California
While this coastal town is famous for its miles of white sand beach, what you might not know is that it’s also noted for its red tides, wherein a bloom of algae that tints water red during the day, also create a vivid light show at night. And sometimes, depending how epic the event, the coast of California glows as a result. These blooms are, however, unpredictable, so chancing upon one is a rare treat.
The glowing microorganisms, dinoflagellates, inhabit what’s known as Glistening Waters’ Luminous Lagoon in the northern region of Jamaica, rumored to have anti-aging benefits for those who swim among them (for women, only, though the local lore suggests). Unlike other destinations on this list, the water of Falmouth glows year-round, so you can visit 365.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Koh Rong is the second-largest island in Cambodia and it boasts crystal clear water, white-sand beaches, and bioluminescent phytoplankton. To optimize your viewing experience, nighttime boat tours are offered throughout the island, and they’re usually under $10, too, so you can take in the vivid view as many times as you want.
Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico
This is one of the brightest bioluminescent sites in the world. After its glowing waters were temporarily extinct in 2014 for unknown reasons, the island of Vieques, on which the bay is located, began taking measures to prevent the destruction of this tourist hotspot. As a result, you can no longer swim in the waters, though they are now back to being as bright as ever before, which makes for quite a view from your beach chair.
Matsu Islands, Taiwan
The glowing water surrounding these Taiwanese islands is known as “Blue Tears.” And it’s only recently that the cause of this stunning color has been confirmed. It’s the result of the presence of a type of algae known as noctiluca scintillans,commonly referred to as mareel, that light up when disturbed. (It can happen from any underwater movement, which pretty much means constantly.)