Swimming with the stars in Oaxaca’s bioluminescent lagoon
No-one told me the Fountain of Youth was located in a Mexican swamp. I was floating in a boat in the middle of a lagoon under an ink-black night sky when I heard a large splash. Someone in our group had jumped into the water.
Bioluminescence in Puerto Escondido
We were participating in a Fosforescencia or Phosphorescence Excursion with Lalo Ecotours, a experience offered at special times of the year, when a unique alchemy of ocean currents and water temperature draw dinoflagellate plankton into Manialtepec Lagoon, a deep lagoon located 20 minutes outside Puerto Escondido. Much like fireflies of the north, the half-plant half-animal organisms glow with a white light creating an eerie shimmer to the water.
“Ancients believed bathing in phosphorescence gave them special energy and made them more youthful,” explained Ebarardo, our guide. His family has lived at Las Negras on the lagoon for generations, one of 150 families who earn a living by fishing and now, by offering bioluminesence tours of the mangrove swamp. If you’re taking a tour of the mangrove, book directly with them or Gina Machorro at the Tourist Office and you’ll help support local families.
“ That’s it. You talked me into it. I’m going in,”” said Zelda, a woman seated in front of me in the boat. She jumped over the edge and was soon floating, making snow angels in the water, her arms glowing wings of shimmering white. Surrounded by tendrils of black mangroves with the lagoon itself wafting a rather funky smell, this lagoon didn’t bear any resemblance to The Blue Lagoon of Brooke Shield’s 1980’s movie fame.
We could see schools of tiny fish, glowing like radioactive Nemo’s beneath the surface of the water. They scattered in all directions as the swimmers surfaced, their heads bathed in a sparkling sheath of white droplets.
“ There are lots of bioluminescent beaches but only two bioluminescent lagoons in the world,” said Ebarardo. “One here and another in Puerto Rico. The best viewing times are at the New Moon when the sky is at its darkest.”
I dipped my hand in the water and droplets of sparkly stars poured from my hands.
“It’s like swimming with stars, ” said the woman in the water as she gazed up at the night sky which wrapped around us.
Above me was a dome of constellations, planets and the Milky Way, which to the ancients represented the birth canal of the Cosmic Mother and the starting point of all life. The path led to the Underworld and represented man’s journey on earth.
The night sky was a sight I’d forgotten from my childhood growing up in Canada’s north, far from city lights. I scooped up a handful of water and realized I didn’t have to drink from the Fountain of Youth, I could hold it in my hands.
The 3 hour excursion costs $25 USD ( or the equivalent in MXN pesos) per person ( minimum of 4 people) and includes pick-up at 8:00 pm and drop-off at your hotel in Puerto Escondido, a Oaxacan snack of Pescadilla (tuna-stuffed empanadas), the boat tour of the lagoon and guide.Bring a bathing suit and towel
Lalo Ecotours: Visit their website at Lalo Ecotours
Contact them by phone at 954 588-9164 or 954 123-4005 or email at [email protected]
Or, make a reservation at the Oaxaca Tourist Bureau information booth. Manned by multi-lingual Gina Machorro, the booth is a valuable source of maps, tour and excursion information as well as tour booking services.
For more ideas on what to do in Puerto Escondido, check out these posts for ideas on adventure, excursions, restaurants and day trips:
Updated: April 2017