Day Trips & Beyond: Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica

The glow of the water is a natural phenomenon rare in such abundance

Taking a decent photograph of the glowing waters of Luminous Lagoon outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica, is nearly impossible. The perfect time to see the natural phenomenon is on a moonless night when the water and the sky blend together in inky blackness.

Photo Courtesy of the Jamaica Tourist Board

On the horizon, the lights of the city sparkle in the distance. But on the protected lagoon, the only light is the millions of tiny pin pricks of a greenish glow. On a rocking boat even modern cameras have a hard time focusing on the small amount of light. It’s extremely difficult to capture the illusive beauty of the glow in a camera or even to define the color with your eye.

You’ll have to take my word that this is one of the most magnificent and amazing sights in the world. The wake of the tour boats glow green like a kid’s glow stick as the boats chug across the lagoon. Our guide threw a scoop of water from the lagoon and the droplets danced on the surface like tiny green diamonds.

The lagoon is only four to six feet deep, so passengers slipped over the low gunwales of the tour boat to swim in the dark water. The swimmers’ strokes and splashing were illuminated by the green glow. A handful of the water sparkles like liquid gold as it runs through your fingers. In photographs the glow looks blue. The tops of the small waves look white.

The eerie glow comes from micro-organisms that emit a flash of light when disturbed much like fireflies. These microscopic organisms create what is known as bioluminescence. It’s not a particularly rare occurrence, but Jamaica's Luminous Lagoon is one of only few places in the world that experiences such a bright glow nearly year round.

The Luminous Lagoon stretches along the marshlands from the small community of Rock to the town of Falmouth, Trelawny Parish. Studies show that the lagoon is such a good place to see these microscopic organisms, called dinoflagellates or pryodinium bahamene, because there are literally millions of the organisms living in the lagoon. The lagoon is formed where the Martha Brae River meets the Caribbean Sea. The dinoflagellates thrive where the salt and fresh waters combine into brackish water. These micro-organisms glow brightest in shallow, warm water.

Several operators provide boat tours on the lagoon. Glistening Waters in Falmouth adds the opportunity to have some of the island’s famous jerked chicken and Red Stripe beer before or after your tour. For information, contact your travel professional or go to

Gerald E. McLeod has been traveling around Texas and beyond for his "Day Trips" column for the past 24 years. Keep up to date with his journeys on his archive page. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 40312, South Austin, TX 78704.

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