I first fell in love with the Thunderball Grotto back in the late 1990s when I first watched the James Bond spy film “Thunderball.” In my mind then, it was just another fantasy location way beyond my reach. Never in my wildest dreams or imagination did I ever think I would set foot in the area. I mean not literally set foot, but sail around it.
The Thunderball Grotto is located just a few minutes away west of Staniel Cay, one of the 365 islands, also called ‘cays’ in the Exuma.
Top Filming Location
“Thunderball” was mostly filmed in Nassau but that one major underwater fight scene was filmed in the Exuma Cays. That’s how Thunderball Grotto got its name.
The grotto is nowhere to be seen from the ocean. What you see is one of the small, regular-looking rock islands covered with greenery. The astounding beauty of the location though is inside the island. It is hollow inside, with narrow holes for entrances and exits.
Surrounded with the clearest and bluest waters you can almost see through the ocean floor, it’s definitely one of the crown jewels in the chain of Exuma Cays in the Bahamas.
Our boat captain pointed out a small opening under the rocks, It was windy and the waves looked big from where we dropped anchor so the opening was barely visible from the boat. To get to the grotto, one has to swim under the rocks through the small opening and only then can you see and understand why James Bond was filmed in this gorgeous location. To get out, one has to swim through another narrow opening under the rocks and exit to the other side of the island.
As much as I wanted to see the grotto, I did not have the basic skills, courage or the guts required to swim or dive. Our boat captain said it is easier to enter the grotto during low tide when the entrance is more visible. During high tide, diving equipment is needed.
Three greatest regrets I had on this trip were first of all, I never learned how to swim. Second of all, I was too big a coward to don on a life vest and risk it out in the cold waters. Third of all, I am claustrophobic so that narrow opening was not appealing.
Testimony from the brave
Alas, I can only tell surface stories from the surface of the ocean around the Thunderball grotto island. I can only close my eyes and listen as the brave ones who went to swim under the waves shared their stories. I listened about how they swam through narrow dark opening and emerged into a burst of light. About how they swam in an aquarium with hundreds and hundreds of colorful fish and corals. And how the water inside the grotto was warm and inviting from the streaks of light that poured in from holes in the ceiling.
I would have had a different set of amazing photos if I braved it out under the waves.
Thunderball Grotto was also used in the ’80s Tom Hanks movie “Splash,” in one of the scenes in the 2005 film “Into the Blue” starring Paul Walker and Jessica Alba.
Thunderball Grotto is easily accessible by boat from Staniel Cay. If you are in Georgetown, you can reach it from Baraterre Dock about an hour away on speedboat.