The tour guide said it was impossible, but I could not quite abandon hope of seeing the Grotta Azzura…
We had embarked a few days before on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager for a cruise from Monte Carlo to Venice. Our port of call that day was Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, from where we would visit the isle of Capri, but not its emblematic Blue Grotto — the cruise line did not offer the tour. Somewhat resigned, we had opted for Anacapri, a town perched high above Capri.
The Blue Grotto has been known for its underwater blue light at least as far back as the 1st century A.D. when Tiberius vacationed on Capri. Then, from 22 A.D. he began to run his Roman Empire from the isle’s spectacular setting: jagged rocks above the blue hues of the Med. Today, it is one of Italy’s major touristic destinations.
In Your Bucket Because…
• The Blue Grotto is a natural phenomenon linked to geology, speleology and physics.
• In spite of a touristy commercialization it is a fantastic – and rather safe — experience.
• For undisciplined cruisers, travelers, and tourists with no physical limitations
Our Private Mutiny: Change Course for Capri’s Blue Grotto
After our transfer from the cruise ship to Marina Grande, Capri’s main harbour, we were about to get on a coach when we noticed signs for the Grotta Azzura.
The opportunity of a visit was too close to pass, but our guide held his ground: The waiting time to see the cavern was unpredictable, the cruise ship would leave on time, with or without us, he said. We — my husband, our friends and a few fellow cruisers — had one readable thought: mutiny.
As we weighed the risks of an independent tour, returning visitors convinced us to go — although none of them had to return to a cruise ship. Enter a motorboat owner who assured us that we would be back in less than two hours. Rebellion seemed justified: We were not visiting Capri’s landmark during the crowded summertime, and weather conditions were good. So we left a frustrated tour guide on the pier.
Experiencing the Blue Grotto
The ten-minute boat ride on the legendary azure waters offered impressive views of a coiling cornice about half way up the precipitous cliff: the route to Anacapri. I had expected the cave to have a big opening, but when we joined other motorboats at the “waiting area,” boating activity near the rock was the only way to guess the location of the cave. After 20 minutes, we boarded a bobbling rowboat manned by one assertive handler who positioned himself for the passage.
As other handlers were setting up, it became evident that entering the cave was timed with the intermittency of the waves. Upon learning that the opening is approximately one meter high at the lowest point and two meters wide, I granted the cruise line a point: The tour was more adventurous that anticipated. But it was time for the boat ahead of us to prepare for the leap.
First, the handler had to maintain the bow centered with the cave opening, while staying at a distance, and while gauging the waves behind him. At the right moment, the passengers swiftly lay down, the handler grabbed a metal chain anchored on the arch of the opening, and simultaneously jerked the boat through the rock’s mouth – and reclined all the way down. Then, they all disappeared.
Soon after, other people in boats coming out flashed re-assuring smiles. Our turn was next.
When the handler reached for the chain, it was our cue. Since we were five passengers instead of four — my husband sat at the bow and somehow slid himself down — the three of us, behind the handler, collapsed like dominoes all the way to the bottom of the boat: It’s best to be with close friends. In an instant, our oarsman joined our human pile, and the hilarious commotion took all apprehension away.
Woosh! We were in.
Our boat glided through the silent darkness while my eyes adjusted. I noticed silhouetted boats and then, the melodious song of the handlers began to echo in the cave. Stalactites descending from the dome above us looked like the pillars of an illusive flooded cathedral, and dripped water on our faces.
Gently, the boat turned around and there it was: a light the color of lapis lazuli glowed eerily through the water. Although similar to one of an under lit pool, this special light is geological magic: A deep erosion-carved hole beneath the entry combines its outgoing light with the incoming one from the cave opening.
As for the blue, divers know about the physics of seawater over light, and of its property to alter colors by removing 60 percent of the red, leaving tints and shades of turquoise, green or, lapis lazuli-blue.
We passed on the offer to take a dip, and went back out in the same layered-way as we did on the way in, somewhat eager to be back in the open.
For the record, we had time to stroll on Capri’s streets lined with luxury boutiques, art galleries and souvenir shops. We got back on the ship in time to celebrate the day: with Sorrento’s famous Limoncello.
• Motorboats reservation is necessary in summer and waiting time can be long. Visits are cancelled on sunless days. Rowboats hold normally 3-4 passengers. Cost: 17€ per person for the motorboat plus 7€ per boat for the entrance fee to the grotto and a 10€ tip to the oarsman (or he might take you back to the cave). Check current prices online.
• To view the entrance of the Blue Grotto: by bus, or a 50-minute walk from Marina Grande. Trespassing swimmers have reported difficulties to swim out, and sea urchins.
Copyright 2012, Marie Claude Arnott. All rights reserved.