Nestled between the Dominican Republic and the British Virgin Islands, the archipelago of Puerto Rico is a premier paddling destination for many reasons—but only one of these reasons is almost entirely unique to Puerto Rico. There are only a handful of bioluminescent bays in the world—and Puerto Rico is home to three of the best.
The rare glow-in-the-dark effect is caused when single-celled organisms (dinoflagellates) are stimulated by movement, including paddles moving through the water. During night kayaking in Puerto Rico, the water of these bays lights up with swirling neon blue-green trails, like something out of the movie Avatar.
During the daytime, you can find family-friendly and beginner-level excursions to the territory’s colorful coral reefs, mangroves and white-sand beaches. Puerto Rico is an easy five-hour direct flight from Toronto, and its waters make for some of the most pleasurable paddling in the Caribbean.
Best places to kayak in Puerto Rico
Even though the mainland is relatively small—it’s only 180 km across at its longest point—it can be hard to narrow down exactly where to go kayaking in Puerto Rico. Here are our favorite spots for snorkeling, swimming, standup paddleboarding and, of course, kayaking.
In San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, cruise ships dock near Old San Juan. Since we suspect your watercraft of choice is a wee bit smaller, we’d recommend heading farther away from the main city area and toward the tourist-friendly resort strips of Condado and Isla Verde.
At Condado, you’ll find “the lagoon.” Known as Laguna del Condado, this popular snorkeling spot is well-maintained. You have a good chance of spotting fish, turtles and even manatees in the waters below. Kayak and SUP rentals are available seven days a week from San Juan Paddleboarding at Parque Benitez on the edge of the lagoon.
If the lagoon feels a bit too touristy, head 20 minutes east to the laidback Piñones Beach instead. Here, you’ll find the Torrecilla Lagoon, which has mangrove forests and islands to explore. It’s also a bargain; the COPI Cultural Center offers hourly kayak rentals for a donation of $10.
Laguna Grande in Fajardo
If you want to kayak among the blue-green bioluminescence in Puerto Rico, Laguna Grand is the closest spot to San Juan to do so; it’s only an hour drive east near the town of Fajardo. But if you’re dreaming of living that dreamy bioluminescence scene from Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach, think again. In order to protect the lagoon’s unique ecology, swimming isn’t allowed. (Pyrodinium bahamense requires clear waters to complete the process of photosynthesis. Entering the water can stir up the bottom and make it murky, and adds pollutants like insect repellents, sunscreens and deodorant in the process.)
Three highly regarded operators in the area run a “bio bay” tour: Kayaking Puerto Rico, Eco Adventures and Island Kayaking Adventure. All offer a similar two-hour evening excursion for around $50 USD.
Vieques Island’s Mosquito Bay
Located less than 10 km from the main island of Puerto Rico, Vieques Island’s Mosquito Bay may be more difficult to get to than some of the other spots on this list (you can catch a small plane for under $100 USD or take a ferry from the town of Ceiba, which takes about 40 minutes). But it’s one of the best places to kayak in Puerto Rico for good reason—this is where you’ll find the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay.
Like Laguna Grand, swimming isn’t permitted in Mosquito Bay, but the stroke of your paddle will be more than enough to create glowing trails in the water. During the daytime, this destination also has numerous reefs teeming with colorful fish that you can kayak out to.
With a focus on social responsibility and supporting the surrounding community, Black Beard Sports runs daily tours of the area, including to small islands and pristine beaches, through mangrove tunnels, and to the bio bay at night in tandem, clear-bottom kayaks.
About 27 km east of the mainland is where you’ll find Celubra, an island oasis of secluded beaches, reefs and cayos (sandy islands surrounded by coral reefs). Since it attracts many species of sea turtles, it is also one of the best places to snorkel and kayak in Puerto Rico.
The best way to experience both activities is with Kayaking Puerto Rico’s two-hour “aquafari.” After kayaking to Flamenco Beach, you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel among the rich sea life in the Luis Peña Marine Reserve.
La Parguera in Lajas
The southern coast of Puerto Rico is where you’ll find some of the territory’s best beaches and mangroves, along with countless kayaking tour operators. But we’re kind of burying the lead here—this is also where you’ll find the only bio bay in Puerto Rico you’re allowed to swim in. The blue effect will coat your body, but consider this fair warning: there may also be jellyfish in the water.
La Parguera is located a two-hour drive southeast of San Juan in Lajas. Kayaking Parguera offers rentals, including hands-free (pedal-drive) kayaks, as well as tours of the mangrove tunnels and the bioluminescent bay.
On Puerto Rico’s eastern coast near Cabo Rojo, you’ll find the boat-access-only Isla de Ratones reserve. A family-friendly excursion, the island has white sand, mangroves, coral reefs and clear waters, making it perfect for all ages of paddlers. Pack for a full day: you won’t find much here, but there are picnic shelters (complete with barbecue pits) and washrooms.
In addition to shuttling tourists back and forth to the little island and running sightseeing tours of the wider area, Adventures Tourmarine offers kayak gear rentals.
In a Caribbean country, straying far from the coast might seem like an unusual choice—but those who do so will be rewarded with uncrowded waterways (including some 50 rivers) and more immersive cultural experiences.
To get started, head 45 minutes south of San Juan to Lago Carraizo. This is where you’ll find kayak and standup paddleboard rentals with Paddle Paradise.
When to kayak in Puerto Rico
With balmy weather and crystal-clear waters year-round, there’s arguably no bad season to go kayaking in Puerto Rico. There is, however, a bad time to kayak on a bio bay.
While bioluminescence isn’t seasonal—it can technically be seen at any time of year, on any night—tides, water temperatures and storms all have an effect on its brightness. But the factor that matters most is how dark the night’s sky is. Plan your visit to coincide with the darkest nights of the month, which are typically on either side of a new moon.
What to wear kayaking in Puerto Rico
Trying to figure out what to wear? As with any kayaking trip, be prepared to get wet—wear a bathing suit and, if available, water shoes. Water-repellent layers will also be key. If you’re kayaking during the daytime, sun protection is a must.
If you’re night kayaking and plan on swimming in a bio bay (La Parguera being the only bay where this is officially allowed), avoid wearing sunscreen, insect repellent or any other personal care products; they can harm the organisms and dim their magical blue qualities.
Bioluminescent kayaking is an otherworldly experience. | Photo courtesy of: Discover Puerto Rico