As you, the loyal readers of my blog, might have noticed by now, I’m a huge fan of unique natural wonders, and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some of them over the past few years, say an underwater sandfall. Witnessing a synchronous firefly night show is another rare phenomenon, rivaling anything you can see on the planet. Absolutely stunning a scene out of a fairy tale I’ll be recounting today: Firefly kayaking in Bohol.

There is no denying that seeing a glimmering carpet of fireflies in your backyard is an awe-inspiring sight, but envision seeing tens-of-thousands of them all flashing on and off at once in harmony, alternating between light and darkness. Synchronous species of fireflies are found only in a handful of places around the world—including but not limited to the jungles of Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

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On Bohol Island, a region in the central Philippines well known for its Chocolate Hills, you can watch the fireflies glow on trees in some mangrove forests and nipa palms along riverbanks, transforming a jungle into a Christmas wonderland. Here, you can choose to take a firefly watching kayaking or motorboat tour on Abatan River or have dinner at a floating restaurant on Loboc River. Can you guess my pick? 

Precisely, no pain, no gain! Kayaking not only allows you to paddle deeper into the forest but also it’s the most eco-friendly option to observe fireflies, and much more beneficial to the local community who work hard to protect the river and its mangroves.

River Magic: Navigating the Mangrove Tunnels of the Abatan River on Firefly Kayaking

Mangroves are important for the environment, among other things, as a shelter for fish and firefly larvae, to protect against flooding, and for absorbing carbon.

The Abatan River is home to 32 of the 70 mangrove species known worldwide, as such one of the most diversely healthy river ecosystems in Bohol.

Unfortunately, motorboat tours that have become more popular in recent years disrupt this unique and vulnerable river ecosystem. The waves created by the motorboats erode the soil underneath the mangrove trees where firefly-larvae find refuge for up to three years before metamorphosing into short-lived ‘flashy’ adultslet alone the fact that the erosion will make the trees fall and widen the river.  Besides, fireflies are very sensitive to light and noise. To fireflies, light is like language is to humans. They communicate using synchronized flashes, and if there is too much artificial light, their signals get mixed up. 

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Kayakasia Philippines offers eco-friendly kayak firefly tours on the Abatan River, and the combined tour of mangrove tunnels and firefly is outright spectacular. Paddle through the maze of mangrove tunnels by day, and wait for eerie fireflies to decorate the mangrove trees for Christmas at night. If there is only one thing you do in Bohol, it is this. Take my word for it.

Kayakasia’s tours might seem a bit pricey as opposed to motorboat tours, but they only hire local guides, invest a portion of profits into conservation, and even sponsor the school and college education of some of their guides, including Jeremy. A truly motivational and knowledgeable kayaking guide who dreams of building a new house for his parents. “I must study hard, paddle hard to make my dreams come true”, he speaks with sparkling eyes as we paddle deeper into the mangrove forest in the late afternoon sun.

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The river is quiet. We glide through the bends and turns, past occasional villagers harvesting nipa palms along the waterway. “Many of the locals harvest nipa, a species of palm that grows in mangrove forests, and sell them for thatching”, Jeremy explains.

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As we keep drawing in our paddles, we find comfort in the tranquil rhythm of the river. The soft murmur of crickets grows in confidence with every pull of our paddles deeper into the forest, with mangroves bending their dark, spindly arms embracing us on either side. Beneath us, the river perfectly mirrors the mangroves’ roots, seamlessly creating a mysterious undergrowth. The darker the dusk, the louder the crickets chirp in the leafy canopy above us. A scene that’s not short of magic and fantasy, brought to life by the river’s natural beauty.

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River Magic: Firefly Watching in the Christmas Wonderland

In the blink of an eye, it’s time to paddle out of the forest before the pitch-black darkness sets in. Our kayaks gently break the reflections on the water, as we float beneath the mangrove trees into the dusk. Soon the sky lights up with twinkling stars, and we paddle quietly in search of a firefly colony along the river lined with mangrove trees.

Entranced by a soft golden glimmer in the distance, the jet-black river carries us toward the pulsating Christmas tree. Glittering branches illuminated by thousands of fireflies appear like a blinking map of the universe. Stars and lightning bugs sprinkle a magical feeling into the night.

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No image can capture the magic of the light display. Image credit © John Albert Garsuta

In a trance, I gaze at the fireflies adorning the leaves like fragments of gold dust. One of nature’s most enchanting spectacles unfolding before me, my eyes catch a glimpse of Tinker Bell’s fluttering wings. The shimmering little fairy waves her wand to conduct this dramatic symphony of light. Showered in pixie dust, I believe I can fly.

Watch the video of our firefly kayaking tour navigating through the mangrove tunnels of Abatan River in Bohol at this link:

Make sure to avoid motorized firefly tours in Bohol. Let us know in the comments about your experience of firefly tour Bohol!