Bioluminescent bays are some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring, incredible things to see in the world. Like all amazing things, they are small in number. There are only 5 in the whole entire world. And 3 of them are in of Puerto Rico! That alone is so cool to me.
If I weren’t already in love with Puerto Rico, seeing the Vieques Bio Bay was the icing on the cake. I could go on a Bio Bay tour monthly for the rest of my life and it would never get old. My grandma and I went with Melaya’s Tours in Esmeralda, Vieques and had a blast. In this article, I’ll review our time with them and some things to consider before booking your own tour to see the bioluminescence!
how to plan for a night on the Bio Bay
Now that you’ve heard about the Bio Bay and how gorgeous it is, you’ve decided to see it with your very own eyes. Here are some really important things you should know before heading out:
go when there’s a new moon
This is the most important piece of information for you to know. If you book a tour of the Bio Bay when it’s not a new moon, you won’t be able to see the bioluminescence nearly as well. I went on a new moon, and the light from the water was so vidid that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Before you even look at tour operators, check and see which part of the lunar calendar your dates fall on. I don’t recommend booking a tour unless it falls on the new moon, and you shouldn’t even consider it if the moon’s full. I read many reviews from people that couldn’t see anything because moonlight reflected on the water and covered the effect of the bioluminescence.
give yourself plenty of time to get to Vieques
If you’re coming from San Juan or another area of the main island, you’re probably taking an Uber or driving a rental car to the Ceiba terminal to take a ferry to Vieques. The good news about the ferry is that it’s really affordable (just $2 for an adult ticket), and there are lots of ferries per day. But the kicker is, ferries can be cancelled for inclement weather. When that happens, everyone with tickets for those cancelled ferries got bumped to the later ferry you planned to take. The whole ferry process can be stressful and chaotic, but it is still much more organized that I was expecting from past travel experiences!
You can buy tickets online here, but they charge a processing fee that’s even more than the tickets. The boarding order is residents, online ticket holders, and then everyone else. I still recommend buying tickets once you arrive to the terminal, just to avoid that silly online processing fee and have a printed ticket that clearly came from the terminal.
plan to stay overnight
Most Bio Bay tours start so late in the evening that there’s no way you’ll make the last ferry back to the main island. We stayed at El Blok, which worked out really well for meeting our tour. We were also close to some beautiful beaches and great restaurants. Regardless of what type of accommodation you choose, you definitely need to book something in Vieques at least for the night of the tour. The ferry terminal is just a 15 minute ride from Esmeralda, which is where most tours meet up. You’ll be fine if you pick a place to stay closer to the northern coast, too.
go on the tour when it’s already dark out
Our tour operator offered a sunset tour and a later tour once it was already dark. I recommend picking the later one, which we did. After doing lots of research, I found that the second tour was better because there was no light in the sky to detract from the bioluminescence. I’m sure that seeing the sunset and then the light from the bay is also amazing, but I’m glad I went once it was already night time.
how the Bay actually looks in person
When I first typed “Vieques Bioluminescent Bay” into Pinterest, I was in awe at the photos of dark sea and bright dots of light. After reading some blog posts, I found out the photos many tour companies have on their websites are not what the bay actually looks like.
They’ve been photoshopped to make the bay look more appealing, which I think is crazy because it’s amazing without Photoshop. In reality, the phytoplankton that create the light are attracted to movement. When your move your oar or your hand in the water, they follow the small current you made. Even though the real bioluminescence doesn’t look like those edited photos, the in-person experience is still incredible.
review of Melaya’s Tours
Trying to find the right tour operator for our schedule, budget, and interests was overwhelming. There are so many tour companies offering adventures of the Vieques Bio Bay because it’s the most potent in Puerto Rico. I went back and forth between a few operators, but chose Melaya’s because they offered clear-bottom kayaks at $65 per person for our dates.
I noticed that some people paid our guide $55 in cash. I’d recommend booking once you’re already on the island and paying cash the night of. Our guide, Pichi, was so much fun and had a wealth of knowledge to share about how the bay works. His talk detailed the environment in the area, and even parts of the bay that died from people swimming in it while wearing bug spray and sunscreen.
Our time with them started at 9pm and ended around 10:30, despite the tour itinerary showing a finish at 11pm. We met up across the street from a hostel in Esperanza, and then our group of about 10 to 12 people all got into a van to drive down some winding, bumpy roads to our 2-person kayaks.
Once we were on the bay itself, it was pitch dark. It was really hard to see and follow our guide considering there were other groups on the water as well. However, Melaya’s prepares for that by having another guide bring up the rear and keep everybody together. I had a great time on this tour, and can’t recommend Melaya’s enough!
my new bucket list item…
If you didn’t plan on seeing the Bioluminescent Bay before, surely you do now! My grandma and I had the adventure of a lifetime on this tour. Have you been to a Bio Bay before? I know one of my new travel goals is to see all 5 in the world after this trip. Comment below about your experience; I’d love to hear all about it!
For all my tips on Puerto Rico travel, you can find my guide here!