Experiencing the magical glow of bioluminescent plankton is one of the best things to do in Puerto Escondido.

The Magic Of Bioluminescence In Puerto Escondido (Guide: 2024)

Last Updated on April 17, 2024 by Ashlea J. Russell

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Looking for more information about bioluminescence in Puerto Escondido?

Puerto Escondido is a veritable playground, especially for nature lovers! With everything from horseback riding to a baby turtle release, there’s a lot to do and see. But one of the most magical experiences in Puerto Escondido is seeing bioluminescence.

When I was researching my trip to Puerto Escondido I knew that it was possible to find this natural phenomenon but I struggled to find any clear and useful information.

So, in this article I’ll cover everything you need to know about where to find bioluminescence in Puerto Escondido, how to experience it and when the best time is to see it. So let’s get after it!

What Is Bioluminescence?

I’m sure we’ve all seen the pictures of the glowing electric blue dots in the water, or the videos of glittering waves of light lapping in the dark ocean. But what actually causes this light show?

While many creatures are capable of bioluminescence, it is particularly prevalent amongst marine life, and according to the Smithsonian Institute, it could be the most common form of communication on planet Earth!

In the simplest terms, bioluminescence is caused through a chemical reaction that produces light energy and these organisms are in control of how and when they light up.

There are many reasons why an organism would glow, but the bioluminescence we see in Puerto Escondido is simply plankton reacting to movement in the water.

Where To Find Bioluminescence In Puerto Escondido

Biologists say that bioluminescent plankton prefer to gather in warm-water lagoons near the ocean and there just so happens to be two of these near Puerto Escondido.

There are two places to find bioluminescence near Puerto Escondido, Laguna de Manialtepec and Lagunsa de Chacahua

Laguna de Manialtepec

Most research on the topic will point you to Laguna de Manialtepec, which is located just a 20 minute drive from Puerto Escondido. Because of its close proximity to town, Manialtepec Lagoon is a popular spot to explore bioluminescent water and other activities.

  • This lagoon also offers bird watching safaris, boat tours, kayak and stand-up-paddle board rentals.

Lagunas de Chacahua

The other, lesser known bioluminescent lagoons are Lagunas de Chacahua which are more complicated to get to, but very worthwhile.

Chacahua is an often forgotten part of Mexico with an interesting history. This area of Oaxaca, along with neighbouring Guerrero is know as the Costa Chica and is home to the largest population of Afro-Mexicans.

The journey to Chacahua National Park takes a few hours depending on the route you choose [more on this later] and is accessible only by a combination of road and boat.

If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path, this is it.

  • This rural community is a hidden paradise and offers year-round bioluminescence, excellent beaches, stunning scenery, and a different cultural experience.

When To See Bioluminescence In Puerto Escondido

It’s possible to experience the magic of bioluminescence in the Puerto Escondido area year round, but certain times of year will provide a better experience.

Nature is nature, so it’s not always predictable, but typically July – December are the better months for this natural phenomenon in Laguna de Manialtepec.

Chacahua has stronger bioluminescent plankton activity all year, so if you’re visiting during the less active months you should spring for the further lagoon.

The Best Time To See Bioluminescence

The absolute best time to experience bioluminescence in Puerto Escondido is in September, during a new moon [the opposite of a full moon]. When the moon is full, the moonlight brightens the night sky and makes it harder to see the colours, so the closer you can get to a new moon the more magical an experience you’ll have.

If you can’t visit in September then you should still pay attention to the moon phases to improve your visibility.

  • If you’re not sure what phase the moon is going to be in just Google “moon phase” and the date. Take a look at the chart below for visibility during each phase.

Be aware of the phase of the moon when choosing a time to experience bioluminescence.

How To See Bioluminescence

One you decide which lagoon you’d like to visit, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get there. Both lagoons offer guided tour options and self-guided options. Keep reading to find out more!

Laguna de Manialtepec

Laguna de Manialtepec is located really close to Puerto Escondido and is easy to visit independently or as part of a guided tour, it really is down to your personal preference.


If you happen to have a rental car or scooter then this lagoon is very easy to access. Located just a 20 minute drive west of town along Highway 200, you can’t miss it!

If you don’t have your own transportation then you will need to take a taxi and you’ll want to negotiate a price to have them wait for you.

You can expect to pay around $600MXN [$30USD/$40CAD] for the return taxi, plus waiting time.

  • Phone reception and internet in Puerto Escondido is spotty at best, even with a local sim card. Being dropped off without a prearranged means of return is a gamble.

Once you reach the lagoon you’ll need to join a tour which typically costs around $350MXN [$18USD/$24CAD].

Guided Tour

When you add it all up, unless you have your own car or scooter, you’re probably better off taking a tour.

This bioluminescent boat and swim tour is the best option in town. Kiko and his brother-in-law run tours from Puerto Escondido year round. They are really friendly guys and they speak excellent English!

When I visited Puerto Escondido, Kiko did a great job of communicating with me and answering any questions that I had.

The tour lasts around 3 hours, departing at 5:00pm and includes the following:

  • Local English-Speaking Guide/Driver
  • Return Transportation By Air-Conditioned Vehicle
  • Pick Up/Drop Off
  • Boat Ride
  • Life Jackets
  • Time To Swim

Remember to check the moon phase before booking!

Lagunas de Chacahua

Lagunas de Chacahua are located farther from Puerto Escondido and are not as simple to access. If you are only planning to visit Chacahua as a day trip, I highly recommend taking an organized tour.

If you intend to spend a few days on the Costa Chica, I’ll also cover how to get to Chacahua on your own.

Any trip to Chacahua involves ground transportation and a boat ride, but that’s all part of the adventure!

  • There are no ATMs in Chacahua so remember to bring cash. Phone reception and WiFi is spotty, but they have Coca-Cola! 🥤


The best way to get to Chacahua from Puerto Escondido independently is by colectivo, shared taxi and then boat.

  • Follow the instructions below exactly to reach Chacahua from Puerto Escondido. The map below includes A. The colectivo terminal in Puerto Escondido, B. Where to get off the colectivo, C. Where to take the boat and finally a pin in your final destination.

Step 1: Colectivo Puerto Escondido toward Rio Grande

The first step is to take a colectivo minibus from Terminal TUR in Puerto Escondido toward Rio Grande. Let the driver know you’re heading to El Zapotalito when you board – other people will be going here too.

Minibuses depart every 15-30 minutes and the journey takes just over an hour and tickets cost $55MXN [$2.80USD/$3.80CAD] each.

Step 2: Taxi to El Zapotalito

Get off the colectivo at the roadside stop for El Zapotalito. This is a popular spot for people getting on and off so you’ll know when it happens. You can also find the coordinates here.

This stop consists of couple of makeshift bus shelters and there will be official burgundy and white or green and white taxis waiting to take people to the dock.

Get off the colectivo at the roadside stop for El Zapotalito and take a taxi to the dock.
The roadside stop has taxis waiting.

You can hire a private taxi for around $80MXN [$4.15USD/$5.50CAD] or share with other people for $20MXN [$1USD/$1.40CAD] per person. The journey takes between 5-10 minutes.

  • It makes sense to share a taxi with other people going to El Zapotalito because you will also need people to share a boat with on the next leg of the journey.

Step 3: Boat to Chacahua Town

When you reach the dock you want to take a small boat known as a lancha directly to Chacahua. You can ask for una lancha directa and the captain will fill the boat with other passengers before leaving.

The journey is very scenic, taking about 45 minutes through the beautiful mangroves.

The boat ride should cost around $200MXN [$10.30USD/$13.75CAD] per person though this may vary depending on number of passengers. The more the passengers, the better the price.

  • Make sure you are taking una lancha directa and not the much cheaper quick boat. The quick boat will only take you a 5 minute ride across the water where you will switch to an open truck. This journey is long, hot, dusty, and bumpy. I do not recommend this option.

The boat will drop you off in the centre of the village. I recommend staying 2 – 3 nights in Chacahua. Local tour guides are easy to find and will take you swimming in the lake at night to see the bioluminescence. Tours cost around $200MXN per person [$10.40USD/$14CAD].

If you have more time in Puerto Escondido it is worth visiting Chacahua to see bioluminescence.

Guided Tours

If you want to experience Chacahua but don’t want to spend a few days there then I recommend booking a guided tour.

The Chacahua Sunset Experience isn’t the cheapest experience around but it is well worth the time and money! This experience is the one I chose and is also run by local guide, Kiko and his brother-in-law. They are friendly, knowledgeable guides who speak excellent English.

This tour is a full day of around 9 hours, features so many amazing activities, and includes all of the following:

  • Local English-Speaking Guide/Driver
  • Return Transportation By Air-Conditioned Vehicle
  • Pick Up/Drop Off
  • Private Boat Safari Through The Mangroves
  • Bioluminescent Boat Tour and Swim
  • Two Scenic Hikes (Gentle)
  • Free Time To Explore The Island/Snorkel/Swim/Relax
  • Traditional Oaxacan Lunch
  • Life Jackets
  • Bottled Water

Remember to check the moon phase before booking!

FAQs & Tips

Can you swim in the water?

You can! The science surrounding how safe bioluminescence is for humans is still a little murky but people swim in the glowing water all the time. Always wear a life jacket, even if you are a strong swimmer and stay close to the boat.

Bioluminescent plankton is known to be toxic if ingested by humans so you’ll really want to avoid accidentally swallowing the water!

If you’re unsure about swimming in the water, speak to your doctor before travelling.

  • Always listen to your guide. This is nature and there are animal life and safety measures that need to be considered when entering the water at night.

What do you wear to a bioluminescence tour?

When dressing for a tour like this the most important thing to think about is the environment. These lagoons and mangroves are part of the jungle so there are a lot of insects.

I recommend wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs to limit bites. You’ll also want to make sure the clothes are light because it’s hot in Puerto Escondido! If you want to swim in the lagoons wear your swim suit/trunks under your clothes.

Here’s a checklist to consider:

  • Long Sleeves
  • Long Pants/Bottoms
  • Swim Suit/Trunks [there are no changing facilities]
  • Water Shoes
  • Towel
  • Waterproof Flashlight/Headlamp
  • Camera/Phone With Waterproof Case
  • Bottled Water
  • Inspect Repellent
  • Cash For Tips

Can you take photos of bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is a magical experience in person, but it can be hard to capture on film. If you have a newer phone or camera you should be able to get a few decent pictures.

If you want to take really great pictures you’ll need a good camera with high-ISO and a wide aperture. Even then, it can be tricky to capture from a rocking boat!

Summary: Bioluminescent Magic

Experiencing bioluminescence is a bucket list item for a lot of people and Puerto Escondido is a fantastic place to cross it off the list!

With multiple options available, from the cheap and cheerful to the challenging but unique, you’re bound to find an experience that suits you.

And while you’re in Puerto Escondido don’t miss this local mezcal tour – my favourite thing that I did in Puerto Escondido!