You Have to See These Amazing Glow-in-the-Dark Places
In nature, when the sun goes down, it takes light with it. But there are some magical places where night is when things light up. This phenomenon is called bioluminescence, and it usually occurs when tiny organisms emit light as either a defense mechanism or to attract prey.
Luckily, humans can enjoy the magic of these natural light shows, but where exactly can you witness them? Here are 15 amazing places that glow in the dark.
Why Ton Sai Beach Glows in the Dark
You don't have to spend a fortune to swim in a bioluminescent bay. The special type of plankton that glows in the dark is present on several beaches in Thailand, the most popular of which is probably Ton Sai Beach.
Located on the island of Ko Phi Phi Don in the Krabi district, the beach attracts backpackers looking for breathtaking beauty at college-student prices. During the day, people go rock climbing, explore caves or simply drink beers on the sand. But between May and November, the best thing to do on the island is to go swimming in the luminous waters.
Why Dismals Canyon Glows in the Dark
Residents of Franklin County, Alabama, try to keep their glowworm caves a secret. Tucked within a primeval forest is the easily accessible Dismals Canyon, whose walls are covered in moss.
The moss is what attracts the small worms that locals call Dismalites, which glow in the dark once the sun sets and darkness befalls the canyon. Night tours to see the glowworms are particularly popular in the summer when they are at their most active and when the air is cool and pleasant.
Why Ha Long Bay Glows in the Dark
Anyone interested in travel has heard of — or been to — Ha Long Bay, Vietnam's coastal jewel and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Yet few people seem to be aware that the famed body of water is one of five bioluminescent bays in the entire world. These bays are recognized for their high concentration of glowing microorganisms.
So, what's the deal with bioluminescence in Ha Long Bay? The problem is that to see something that glows in the dark it has to be dark, which is not always the case in this popular tourist hot spot. For a good chance to witness or swim in the sparkling water, try going to less-frequented parts of the bay like Lan Ha Bay.
Why Jersey Glows in the Dark
The tiny British Island of Jersey proves that bioluminescence isn't just for hot tropical waters. Locals and visitors like to go on moonwalks, which are strolls by the shore during low tide.
When the water is shallow, it's possible to see the island's resident brown worms, which turn fluorescent green-yellow when the sand they sit on is disturbed. The worms live here year-round, so you have the chance to see them whenever you visit. Just make sure you go to a beach with as little light pollution as possible and, if the stars align, that the full moon is nowhere to be seen.
11. Matsu Archipelago, Taiwan
Location: Lienchiang County
Visit with: Beihai Tunnel Boat Tour
Where to stay: Beigan homestay
Why the Matsu Archipelago Glows in the Dark
Every summer, the water around Taiwan's Matsu Archipelago cries blue tears. At least this is how locals refer to the bioluminescent phenomenon that is caused by dinoflagellate plankton called noctiluca scintillans.
The concentration of plankton and, therefore, the intensity of the glow depends on many factors: weather, temperature, darkness, etc. Unfortunately, this means you aren't guaranteed to see the phenomenon. But if you plan your trip intelligently and if luck favors you, you can simply head to the beach on one of the archipelago's islands and see the water come to life when it crashes on the rocks or on the shore.
We recommend taking a ferry from the main island of Taiwan to Nangan and enjoying the phenomenon there. If you want a more intense experience, you can also book a tour through the Beihai Tunnel, where you'll be in complete darkness, with nothing but the luminous plankton to light your way.
10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, United States
Location: Tennessee and North Carolina
Visit: On your own
Where to stay: Le Conte Lodge
Why the Great Smoky Mountains Glow in the Dark
You'll have to win a lottery spot to experience the night show that fireflies put on in the Smoky Mountains. With 19 species, the national park becomes a fantasy land for two weeks in the early summer.
Thousands try to get spots to see the fireflies in their full glory, but if you're not lucky enough to get an evening ticket or a camping spot, you can stay in a cabin in the nearby areas. If it has access to the woods, you'll have a good chance to see them.
This yearly natural occurrence is one of the reasons why Great Smoky Mountains is the most popular national park in the United States.
9. Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, India
Location: Valpoi, Goa
Visit with: Once in town, ask around for a local guide.
Where to stay: Valpoi farm stay
Why Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary Glows in the Dark
Get away from the fast-paced Indian cities, and head to Goa's Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, where you will find bioluminescent Mycena mushrooms.
The mushrooms grow during the monsoon season, which usually lasts from June to October, and can be found throughout the states of Maharashtra and Goa. The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the best places to see the forest illuminated by the faint blue light of the mushrooms, thanks to its limited light pollution.
Why Emas National Park Glows in the Dark
The wild and vast Emas National Park is home to many animals, including the mighty jaguar. But the species that really get the attention here are somewhat unexpected: termites and beetles.
Termites are responsible for the giant mounds that rise from the earth and that can measure up to 22 feet in height! Bioluminescent headlight beetles find these mounds to be the perfect place to lay their eggs. Once the larvae hatch, they shine in order to attract unsuspecting termites, literally eating the hand that houses them.
But what is tragic for the termites is a gift for anyone who has the chance to visit the astonishing national park at night, when the mounds reach for the stars while mimicking their brightness.
Why Luminous Lagoon Glows in the Dark
Like Ha Long Bay, Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica is one of the world's five bioluminescent bays. While not the only one in the Caribbean (nor the highest-ranked on this list), this bio bay is definitely worth planning a trip around.
The lagoon is created by the Martha Brae River flowing into the Caribbean. This unique geography makes it the perfect place for dinoflagellates to accumulate in high quantities. At almost any point of the year, you'll be able to take a night tour to swim in the water, which will feel as if you're floating in space.
6. Hokubo Firefly Park, Japan
Location: Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture
Visit: On your own
Where to stay: Yubaranoyado Komeya
Why Hokubo Firefly Park Glows in the Dark
Like Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the forests of Japan's Okayama Prefecture witness the miracle of synchronous fireflies for two weeks in the early summer.
From late May to mid-June, people flock to the area to stay in small Japanese villages, soak in onsens (traditional baths) and go into the woods at night for a distinctive light show. In Japanese culture, fireflies are thought to be the souls of soldiers who have died in war, so they are respected and cherished as a national treasure.
5. Vadhoo Island, Maldives
Location: Raa Atoll
Visit with: Your accommodation
Where to stay: Adaaran Prestige Vadoo
Why Vaadhoo Island Glows in the Dark
Dinoflagellates are at it again, bringing magic to the already breathtaking islands of the Maldives.
While you won't find an ugly place in any of the country's 1,200 islands, Vaadhoo Island stands out in beauty thanks to its bioluminescent waters. During the day, you can swim in the warm water, lie on the white sand or have an adventure in the tropical jungle that covers the island. At night, jump right back into the water to swim in what the island calls its sea of stars.
There really are few things that can compare to swimming in bioluminescence, which isn't possible at every bio bay. But if you're too scared to go into the dark water, you can do a night kayak tour instead.
Why Ghost Mushroom Lane Glows in the Dark
Picture this: You're walking through a dark forest and night and suddenly see a path alight at your feet. You go in to see what is guiding you and realize, it's ghosts! Not souls who haven't found peace, but ghost mushrooms, an ethereal fungi species that glows green.
Native to South Australia and Tasmania, ghost mushrooms (or Omphalotus nidiformis) grow in May and June. The best place to see them is Ghost Mushroom Lane in the small town of Glencoe, where you can take a night tour and see these fantastic fungi with your own eyes.
Why Toyama Bay Glows in the Dark
You've seen glowing shrimp, mushrooms and worms, but you've yet to see glowing squid. For that, you'll have to go to Japan's Toyama Bay, which is home to the surreal firefly squid.
Since the squids are bigger than most other bioluminescent species, the effect is even more dramatic than in other places. To see them, people hop on boats along with fishermen and wait for the squids to start swimming, lighting up the water. As tourists stand in awe of the squid, fishermen waste no time casting their nets and catching them, since they are a regional delicacy.
Why the Waitomo Caves Glow in the Dark
Head into the underworld to find the light of the Arachnocampa Luminosa, a glowworm that is only found in New Zealand.
The "worms" are actually larvae from gnats that hang from large stalactite formations and feed on fungi. Their tails glow as they react to oxygen, creating a constellation on the cave's ceiling. Boat tours take you through an underground river, where you'll look up to see the blue light of these unique organisms.
Since you'll be leaving daylight behind, you don't have to wait until night to see this phenomenon, which is also one of the most incredible underground attractions you can visit.
Why Mosquito Bay Glows in the Dark
There may be several bioluminescent bays in the world, but Mosquito Bay along Puerto Rico's Vieques Island holds the world record for the brightest glow.
Illuminated by dinoflagellates, called pyrodinium bahamense, the bay glows because these tiny bodies emit light when they are disturbed by movement. If you were to look at the bay when it is still, it would seem typical, but if a fish moves close to the surface or if you were to dip your hand in, it would immediately alight with hundreds of small electric blue dots.
Mosquito Bay is one of three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico and can be visited on a glass-bottom kayak tour that will convince you that magic is real.