Finding the Bioluminescent Bay: Endangered Bahia La Parguera

Finding the Bioluminescent Bay: Endangered Bahia La Parguera

Shimmering Bahia La Parguera is anything but easy to find. A series of narrow roads careen around mountain corners through wild southwestern Puerto Rico where jungle houses dangle from cliffs and none of the streets have names. Despite my reasonably proficient navigation skills, I’m pretty sure we have passed the same intersection three times. We stop. I check my map again, “I think it’s that way.”

I’m not lost. I just don’t know if it’s possible to get where I want to go. Perhaps the glow-in-the-dark bay simply doesn’t want to be found. But I am determined. I abandon my misleading directions and follow my instincts. With the orange evening wash in the sky to the right, we head south and finally, as the sun plunges seaward, we descend from the hills into a village that hugs the shore.

Most of the shops are closed. It isn’t tourist season yet. We park in a muddy lot and amble along the sidewalk peeking in dusty windows at tailored cotton clothing and pharmaceutical items while keeping an eye out for the pier. Twilight has fallen. I think we are heading the wrong direction. Incandescence spills into the street from the open door of a restaurant. We stop and order empanadillas stuffed with pulpa (octopus) and onions. The owner, a gentle man, refills our rum and cokes himself and gives us the inside scoop on where to find a boat.

An hour later, we are standing in the dark on the end of a dock. Bungalows on stilts stretch out along the bank and warm light from living rooms dances across the water. A handful of intrepid travelers join us as we duck into a fiberglass tour-boat. Soon we are skimming through twisted mangroves and past islets where ghostly white herons nest by the fifties in the trees.

We pass under a leafy arch and swing into a secluded cove. The captain kills the motor and then douses the light. My eyes begin to adjust. Clouds shift over the stars in a moonless sky. The water is black.

We are here to see a bioluminescent bay. I am not sure what to expect. Maybe the whole surface of the deep will begin to glow at any moment, illuminated by a billion microscopic dinoflagellates. I wait, almost holding my breath. Then, to my surprise, our young first mate, Alejandro, pulls off his t-shirt and slips into the sea.

A blue shimmering, a swirling watery stardust follows his every stroke. I am transfixed. I understand why the list of Marine Protected Areas of the United States includes this bahia. It is a treasure, a rare sparkling gem. As I witness the gossamer show, I reflect on the splendid diversity of our bright-blue planet. I am also aware that waterway overuse has already reduced the twinkling phenomenon and I hope that solutions will be found and the bioluminescence will survive for generations to come. Maybe, in the long run, it’s a good thing it isn’t easy to find La Parguera. I thought there was something wrong with my map. Maybe it works just fine.

Information Please

GETTING THERE

Fly into Rafael Hernandez Airport (BQN) in Aguadilla. It is on the west side of Puerto Rico and offers easier access to La Parguera. Prices are comparable to San Juan.

Driving Directions to La Parguera-Follow Interstate PR 2E down the coast go 29 km. Turn right onto CII Los Velez and immediately turn left onto PR 114 go 13.6 km. Turn…Oh, just check out the Google Maps Link. I know it sounds complicated and it looks like it might be easier to stay on the interstate a little longer and then go through town. It isn’t. The streets are not labeled and you will wander in circles. Trust Google and you’ll get there. Trust me. It’s worth the trip.

THE BIOLUMINESCENT BAY

Just like most places in Puerto Rico, if you want to go out on the bay, just go down to the pier around sunset and look for Johnny’s Boats. Things are pretty casual and you should expect to wait. But no worries, you are on Island time!

WHEN TO GO

It’s definitely best to go in the early evening on a moonless night. As long as it’s not raining, the boats run all year.

WHERE TO STAY

Villa Parguera is right on the water and hosts live Latin bands on Saturday nights.

Inexpensive La Jamaca Guest House is just a short walk from the water.

WHERE TO EAT

Best advice…look for the crowds. Wherever you see a bunch of locals, you know it’s a good spot.

MORE FUN STUFF

Go scuba diving or snorkeling with West Divers. Dive on the La Parguera Wall. It drops a thousand feet to the sea floor!

Go deep-sea fishing and catch blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, grouper, dorado, jacks, barracuda. Again, just head down to the pier. Ask for Captain Mickey, a marine biologist who really knows his stuff.