Facing Fears: Bioluminescence in Bocas del Toro

It was a glowing dream, until you looked up and realized you were still speeding through hundreds of tiny islands in the dark on a lightless boat. Some would say that’s crazy, others would say sign me up!

I guess I was one itching to sign up. In case you didn’t know, like me, bioluminescence is a thing in Bocas del Toro, Panama. I knew I had to see it once I heard about it.

Unsure about the tour at first, I decided to go for it anyways. When would I have another chance at something like this? The boat was ready and waiting at the dock.

Was I really about to get on a tiny boat to head off into the ocean in the dark with someone who didn’t speak any English? You got it!

Don’t worry, I was probably just as nervous then as you are now reading this. As you can guess, I got in anyways and held on tight. Well not right away, but after we almost ran into another boat, you bet I didn’t let go!

“It’s fine. I’m facing my fears.”

That’s what I kept telling myself.

“Just look at the water.”

“Don’t look up.”

“Why does that look so bright?”

And then the boat stopped. Why are we stopped? What’s happening? Then I realized, that bright white in the dark water was why I was even on this boat in the first place.

The algae was agitated and doing what it did best after a full day charging up in the sun. It was glowing it’s scientific bacteria right at us. How nice of it!

This was only stop one on our jaunt through the pitch-black darkness of Bocas del Toro. Have I mentioned how terrifying it was yet? It was like running through an open field in the dark, knowing there’s a hole waiting for you to fall in somewhere. You just hope you don’t fall in the hole. Or in the case of the boat, hope you don’t run into an island.

To my dear boat driver’s credit, he probably knew this water like the back of his hand and could navigate it while he was sleeping. But thank goodness he wasn’t!

After a few minutes stirring the water, we sped off into an even darker spot, if you can believe that even exists at this point. I promise, it does. A few more minutes passed and the boat felt like it was squeezed between two islands.   It was plenty spacious, just a lot closer than before.

I stirred and agitated the water some more before we were off yet again. At this point I was getting cold anytime the boat moved and didn’t want to leave anytime we stopped. What was happening to me!?

The final stop came up quick and the next thing I knew, the boat was tied to a small tree in the water and we were supposed to go swimming. This wasn’t actually a surprise, I knew it was an option, but it was actually happening now, just like everything else.

I don’t really like swimming. Or the dark. There were some pretty solid attempts at getting me in the water, but I just wasn’t having it. I was happy plunging my arm in from the comfort of the boat. My dear travel companion was on the same page as me, thankfully, so I didn’t feel quite as terrible about not getting in the water.

Once my feet were back on solid land, I felt better about the whole experience for a couple reasons. One, it was a magical dreamland. And two, I survived. That’s right. I’ve lived to tell the tale of the time I didn’t die on a boat in Panama and got to agitate glowing bacteria. Every girl’s dream, right?

Have you seen bioluminescence anywhere?  Is it this scary everywhere?  Would you go see it again somewhere else?  Do you want to see it?

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