Although the Caribbean might conjure images of powder-soft sand, frozen cocktails and competition- caliber waves, there’s more to these idyllic islands than their beachy borders. With more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays, the Caribbean is a diverse habitat teeming with wildlife of all sorts, from gentle giants to cuddly critters and glowing microscopic mysteries. Whether you’re into birding, wildlife photography or you simply enjoy being in nature, keep reading to discover five of our favorite wildlife experiences across the Caribbean.
BIOLUMINESCENT BAYS OF PUERTO RICO
An otherworldly experience like something plucked straight from a fantasy movie, bioluminescence must be seen to be believed. This mystical, glow-in-the-dark display occurs when marine organisms containing luciferin react with oxygen and produce light. The anomaly occurs mostly in the deep sea for reasons like feeding, mating and protection, but in some rare instances, it can also be witnessed from the shore.
Boasting three of just five bioluminescent bays in the world, Puerto Rico is your best bet to catch a glimpse of this sparkling spectacle. Head to Laguna Grande, La Parguera or Mosquito Bay and watch as the waves illuminate as they lap onto the shore. Because the microscopic marine organisms light up when they’re touched, the best way to see them is to make a splash, literally. Go for a night swim or opt for a clear kayak excursion, marveling at the swirling blue hues with every stroke of your paddle.
WHALE WATCHING IN TURKS & CAICOS
In the months of January through April, this low-lying coral archipelago is a popular vacation spot not only with sun- and fun-seekers, but also for an unexpected visitor: Humpback whales. Migrating north from the Atlantic to the warmer waters of the Caribbean, these gentle giants meet in the Silver Bank and the Turks Island Passage to mate and give birth.
For your best bet to spot a mother swimming with her whale calf, head to Salt Cay or Grand Turk. Unlike other whale-watching destinations, the smaller boats of Turks & Caicos offer much closer — and more adventurous — viewing opportunities. Depending on ocean conditions, some tour operators even lead groups into the water to snorkel alongside the majestic 10- to 12-foot calves as the mothers watch from below.