Swimming with the stars in Oaxaca’s bioluminescent lagoon

Looking for a tour of Puerto Escondido’s bioluminescent lagoon? You should be! A Phosphorescence Tour of Manialtepec Lagoon is one of the top things to do on a visit to Puerto Escondido as it’s once of few places in the world where you can actually swim with incredible glow-in-the-dark bioluminescent plankton. Here’s what you need to know about experiencing the unique Manialtepec Lagoon bioluminescence natural phenomenon.

Dock at Manialtepec Lagoon near Puerto Escondido

Depart from this dock at sunset

Manialtepec Lagoon Bioluminescence

What is it like to swim with glowing plankton? 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.

Man swimming bioluminescence at Manialtepec Lagoon near Puerto Escondido #Oaxaca

Man overboard! Swimming at Manialtepec Lagoon near 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 Laguna Manialtepec or 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.

Bioluminescent jellyfish Credit: NOAA

Bioluminescent jellyfish Credit: NOAA

Local History of  the Manialtepec Lagoon Bioluminescence

“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.

Fishermen on Manialtepec Lagoon by day

Fishermen on Manialtepec Lagoon by day

“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.

Mangroves at night on Manialtepec Lagoon Puerto Escondido Oaxaca

Is it just me or are mangroves creepy?

Bioluminescent Plankton Locations around the World

“ There are lots of bioluminescent beaches but only two bioluminescent lagoons in the world,” said Ebarardo. “One here in Oaxaca 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.

Milky Way

Legends say the Milky Way was road between life and death Credit: ESO/ Schoedel

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.

Laguna Manialtepec Bioluminescence Travel Planner

Best Laguna de Manialtepec Phosphorescence Tour: The Lalo Ecotours 3 hour excursion costs $25 USD ( or 300 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 at 10:30 PM. It also includes a Oaxacan snack  of pescadilla (tuna-stuffed empanadas), the boat tour of the lagoon and guide.

Lalo Ecotours: Visit their website at Lalo Ecotours. Contact them by phone at 954 588-9164 or 954 123-4005 or email at laloecotours@hotmail.com

Laguna Manialtepec Bioluminescence Reservations: You can also 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.

What to Pack: Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long sleeved pants to avoid insect bites. Be sure to bring a bathing suit and towel if you plan to swim. Insect repellent is also a must.


For more ideas on what to do in Puerto Escondido, check out these posts for ideas on adventure, excursions, restaurants and day trips:

Experience untouched Mexico on a day trip to  Roca Blanca Beach 

7 Awesome Natural Wonders in Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Weird but amazing foods to try in Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Beginners Guide to Puerto Escondido Beaches 

How to Get from Huatulco to Puerto Escondido 


Updated: April 2018


Michele Peterson
Michele Peterson
Dividing her time between Toronto, Mexico and Guatemala (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is an award-winning writer, blogger, editor and publisher who specializes in travel, cuisine and luxury lifestyles.
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Showing 21 comments
  • P.C.

    That is too cool! What a great experience – you’d expect it to cost a lot more

  • Camille

    Thank you for sharing. I visited Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca in the early 1990s. It was a great vacation. Now I want to go back!

  • Jaclynne

    I am so looking forward to being there again and experiencing all these wonderful things you’ve discovered! Great writing!

  • Carol Perehudoff

    Beautiful writing, Michele. it wasn’t nearly as poetic when I kayaked with the sparkles in Puerto Rico and in Thailand on Koh Chang. Then again, I didn’t swim and I certainly didn’t drink the cute little phosphorescent microorganisms.

  • Colleen Friesen

    Beautiful Michele. Loved the ‘snow angel’ description.
    We get that phosphorence up here in the summer in BC, where water dripping off a canoe paddle looks like miniature falling stars.
    Sounds like you’re having a fine time there.
    Are you ever going back to Toronto??

  • Guia Puerto Escondido

    very Usefull Info
    Thanks for Writtin about ..
    we want to share your infos, specially when they talk about the enviroment arond puerto

    our web site will be back gain this weekend
    thanks your sharing your passion ..


  • Anne Woodyard

    This is fascinating – what a marvelous experience!

  • samtafetraveler

    That sounds like a great adventure- love the phosphorescent photos.

  • noel

    One of these days, i’ll get to experience this for the first time, thanks for sharing this amazing experience.

  • Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru

    I want to make a glowing water angel! What an experience! I don’t find mangroves creepy like you do. Here on Kauai, I love when the light hits the root structures a certain way; such geometry. Great post.

  • Irene S. Levine

    What an incredible experience. BTW, did they guy have swim trunks on?:-)

    • Michele Peterson

      All I can say Irene is that he had swim trunks on when he jumped into the water. Whether he whipped them off in order to experience the luminescence more “fully” I can only guess at 🙂

  • Juergen

    There, there! I’ve leaned something new – and am annoyed that we missed it on our trip south through Mexico. But I guess there could be more that I don’t know about 😉

  • Travel with Kevin and Ruth

    We have camped right beside this lagoon back in February of 2012 and have driven by it a number of times and never knew that it was a bioluminescent lagoon. We will be back in Puerto Escondido in November so maybe we will check it out. We have seen a bioluminescent beach this year in South Africa and it was really cool to see.


  • The Gypsynesters

    How cool is that? We’ve seen a little bit of it in the Caribbean, but never swam in it. Great stuff!

  • Sue Reddel

    Almost had the bioluminescent experience in Puerto Rico but it ended up storming and we couldn’t go. Looks like an amazing experience. Can’t wait to try it myself. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Carole Terwilliger Meyers

    Sounds lovely! BTW, Brooke Shield’s Blue Lagoon is in Fiji.

  • alison @GreenWithRenvy

    Looks like such a magical experience. I hope I can use your app for travel to the area sometime soon!

  • Sumti Bhadani

    Amazing Hope you had great magical experience

  • Chasing The Goose

    That looks and sounds great! Must be fantastic to experience it.

  • Marta

    This looks amazing!!! I was near Oaxaca years ago but had no idea this place existed or I would have gone for sure. Really magical!

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