I remember traveling with a group from Montego Bay to Falmouth one evening as a young child, excited though unaware of what to expect. Our chaperones steered the car into a small marina by a large, lit sign that read ‘Glistening Waters’ before ushering us onto a medium-sized boat strapped in life vests. I still recall the crisp air brushing my face as the vessel moved under the starlit sky. After a few minutes the previously-dark waters of the Luminous Lagoon glowed under the boat’s stern, and a collective childlike fascination washed over everyone.
Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica
The image of this bioluminescent bay so many years ago is still vivid in my mind today. To date, I have visited this site 3 times yet still desire to return for a full experience. Unfortunately my 2 visits in adult life while staying at Fisherman’s Inn and Glistening Waters Hotel on the lagoon were after rainfall (you’ll learn why that’s unfortunate below), but it is an impressive sight to behold regardless. Here are a few things I’ve learned from the tours and my personal experience.
14 Things to Know about Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon
- What is the Luminous Lagoon? The natural glow of the water is caused by microorganisms called dinoflagellates, which tend to live in areas where salt and freshwater combine. They’re said to glow brightest in warm, shallow water (I wonder if there are any at an estuary in Ocho Rios).
- Where are the Luminous Lagoons of the world located? The known bioluminescent bays globally are located in Indonesia, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and of course Jamaica. Our Luminous Lagoon here in Jamaica is said to be the largest and brightest in the world!
- What’s the history behind Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon? The lagoon had a wharf where ships unloaded exported and imported goods back in the 18th century. After the decline of the sugar trade, the lagoon’s rare magic was discovered. It’s reputed to be Jamaica’s 1st natural night-time attraction.
- Where is Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon? Located in Falmouth, Trelawny, it is a meeting point of the Martha Brae River and the Caribbean Sea. The freshwater from the river lies on the surface while the salt water from the sea rests below.
- How far is it? An obvious exit (+ signage) from the main road that connects Montego Bay to Ocho Rios makes it relatively easy to find. Estimated travel times from major cities: Montego Bay (~40mins), Ocho Rios (~1 hr), Negril (~2hrs), Kingston (~2hrs), Treasure Beach (2.5hrs), Port Antonio (~3hrs).
- Why does the Luminous Lagoon glow? Dinoflagellates emit light when disturbed. Any movement of water in this area creates a natural phenomenon known as bioluminescence.
- What colour is the bioluminesce? Sometimes it appears green, while other times it glows blue. In my most recent visits + most photos I’ve seen online the glow is blue, but I vividly remember a green glow the 1st time I visited.
- What should I wear to Luminous Lagoon? If you plan to take a dip, wear a swimsuit under a comfy outfit that’s easy to put on and take off. The water’s floor is muddy I’ve been told, so water shoes would probably be ideal. Also remember to carry a towel.
- How long is the boat tour? Each tour is about 30 – 45 minutes. You have the option to swim in the glowing area, but if not your tour guide will likely demonstrate the glow by filling up a bucket to splash in or moving an object in the water.
- How deep is the Luminous Lagoon? The swimming area is said to be between 4 – 5 feet deep (ie. much more shallow than a gorgeous blue-green lagoon in Portland).
- When are bad times to visit Luminous Lagoon? Rainfall and full moons dull the glistening waters’ glow, so if either of these are experienced during the day / night of your visit the bioluminescence may not be that impressive. Jamaica’s rainy season is typically between June and November, August to October especially.
- Can the water glow outside of the lagoon? If you catch some of the Glistening Waters in a bottle/cup, cover it, and keep it in a dark place the water may glow for a few hours and up to 3 days. I remember trying this as a kid with no such luck; pretty sure I didn’t do well to keep it out of light.
- What’s the correct name for the attraction? The site is referred to as both Luminous Lagoon and Glistening Waters. Luminous Lagoon seems to be the more popular term, though the signs I’ve observed (and its namesake hotel and restaurant) are labeled Glistening Waters.
- Fun fact about the lagoon? There’s a rumour that swimming in the Glistening Waters could result in growth in the chest area for women or the groin area for men. I have yet to swim in it and thus cannot confirm lol.
Regrettably I don’t have many photos to share, which is another reason I desire to return. As a night-time attraction with a fluctuating glow, be mindful that it’s recommended to capture photos here without flash. Sometimes the glow may be too dull to capture on camera; ‘til then, here are a few photos of fellow bloggers I know that have been luckier than I.
Have / would you ever visit(ed) any of the world’s luminous lagoons?
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