Orange sunset over the sea. In the sea there is a small motor boat. Three figures are swimming in the sea in the distance

Swimming in the bioluminescence in Costa Rica – a guide (2024)

We’d seen this – randomly – on an TV show with Bradley Walsh (!) and it looked magical. While we were in Costa Rica we decided we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see it for ourselves! And it turned out to be one of the best things we’ve ever done.

What is bioluminescence?

Apart from being a very long word that I find hard to spell, bioluminescence is the light that is emitted from a living organism – in the sea off Costa Rica this other-worldly, sparkly blue light is emitted by the plankton in the water.

Bioluminescence can be spotted in oceans around the world, in some places even rolling in with the waves as they crash on the beach. In certain parts of the world this depends on the atmospheric conditions, but in Costa Rica you can, on the whole, see the bioluminescence in the ocean year-round.

Where can you see bioluminescence in Costa Rica?

The best spot for seeing this phenomenon in Costa Rica is the very tip of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific Coast of the country. There are fab areas of the ocean to see the bioluminescence right round this area – from where the ferry from the mainland docks in Paquera right round to Montezuma at the bottom of the peninsula.

We opted to stay in a tiny village called Cabuya and took a tour from Montezuma, but there are many options for tours in this region. You can either take a boat out and swim off the boat, or opt for a kayaking tour through the bioluminescence.

Taking a bioluminesence tour with kids in Costa Rica

We felt that the best option for the kids was to take the boat tour. As adults we would have loved the kayaking option but felt that this might have been too much for the boys (especially in the dark).

We booked our tour through Cabo Blanco Travellers, whose office is located in Montezuma. They were super helpful – we only booked one day in advance for our group of five. The tour starts in Montezuma at 5pm; the boat leaves from the beach. The initial boat ride takes around 45minutes and takes you along the rugged Costa Rica coastline, which is pretty fab. The boat docks in a small bay where you can watch the sunset and have a drink and some fruit on the beach (included in the tour, and there was plenty of drink options and loads of fruit!). There’s also a tiny bar in amongst the trees so you can order cocktails or other drinks.

We all had a swim in the sea which was gorgeous as the light faded. There were also hundreds of hermit crabs on the beach which we loved sitting and watching. It was a really beautiful spot to chill out for an hour or so.

Man and two young boys sit on the side of a boat. Both boys are wearing life jackets and facing the camera smiling. In the distance is the COsta Rica coastline

Once it was completely pitch dark it was back on the boat. We only sailed for about 5-minutes out in to the ocean before they cut the engine and told us to put our hands in the water. 

Straight away you could see the sparkles of the bioluminescence glowing with every bit of movement. 

We all jumped in and it was honestly out of this world – the boys were beside themselves as they swam around in the water, every tiny movement generating sparkles that didn’t seem real. When you dipped your face/hair in the water you came back up sparkling!

We spent a long time swimming – the boys also jumped in over and over again from the boat, as the huge splashes made waves of bioluminescence.

It was absolutely unbelievable, and one of those moments where I was just overwhelmed (and a bit tearful!). 

We had plenty of time to swim (I lost track of time, but it must have been at least 45-minutes in the water).

The boat back to land took around 20-25minutes, then it was a drive back to Montezuma (about another 45minutes). 

The whole experience was so magical and I would honestly recommend this as one of the very best things to do with kids in Costa Rica.

Our tour with Cabo Blanco Travellers came in at £235 for three adults and two children.

Where to stay in the area

There are two small towns nearby where you can base yourselves if you want to go on a bioluminescence tour – Montezuma and Cabuya.

We opted to stay in nearby Cabuya. Cabuya is a tiny village right outside Cabo Blanco National Park, the smallest national park in Costa Rica. The neighbouring town of Montezuma (where the bioluminescence tours operate from) is still pretty small but has a quite a few accommodation options, restaurants etc – Cabuya is about another 15mins along the very uneven, unpaved road (definitely the most challenging bit of our driving in Costa Rica!).

Cabuya has a handful of places to stay and 3-4 eateries spread out along the main (quiet) road. We stayed in a fab cabin at Villas Cabuya Beach and Jungle, which comprises 4 cabins around a communal pool. We pretty much had the pool to ourselves so we spent quite a while just chilling out here.

The entrance to Cabo Blanco National Park is just down the road from the cabins. 

In total we paid £254 for a three night stay for five people (the cabin slept up to six).

Alternatively you can opt to stay in Montezuma. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time in Montezuma but really liked the place – its still pretty small but has a chilled out vibe and a bit of a buzz about it, with more little restaurants and bars. There are a whole string of fairly deserted beaches between Montezuma and Cabuya with some pretty spectacular wave action too!

Also worth a visit – Cabo Blanco National Park

The entrance to Cabo Blanco was walkable from our cabins. Cabo Blanco was a ‘complete’ nature reserve for many years, ie no visitors were allowed. It is pretty small but it definitely still packs a punch! We spotted our one and only anteater in Costa Rica here, along with the usual Costa Rican favourites – monkeys, iguanas, agoutis and loads of land crabs. 

It wasn’t an entirely flat walkway so it was a bit tougher than Manuel Antonio (heat+hills=hard!).

On the way out we stopped at a fab like chocolate cafe where the owner took the time to talk Griffin through the chocolate growing/making process and let us try several different types of Costa Rican chocolate.

Young boy in t shirt and shorts with binoculars around his neck stands in front of the entrance sign to Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco

Top tips for a visit to the area/bioluminescence tour

A few tips to make the most of your time in this part of the world and to enjoy the bioluminescence!

  • There are very, very few ATMs in this part of Costa Rica, and lots of places ask for payment in cash (including accommodation and tours). Make sure you take plenty of cash with you before you travel!
  • For the bioluminescence tour, you will board/disembark the boat by wading through the water, so make sure you’re wearing the right clothing!
  • You really don’t need to take very much with you on the bioluminescence tour – we had a backpack with the usual snacks, GoPro, towels etc but we didn’t really need any of this.
  • Unless you’re a real photography pro, leave the camera at home – it’s incredibly difficult to get good shots of the bioluminescence so just enjoy it instead!

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