Retrace 007’s swim-finned steps with an unforgettable excursion to this famous turquoise grotto.

By Susan Hall Mahon
May 07, 2019
Thunderball Grotto, near Staniel Cay in the Exumas, was named for the James Bond movie that was filmed here.
Photo courtesy of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation

Cue the martinis, bombshells in bikinis, and MI6 secret weapons. Thunderball Grotto, an underwater cave that's been featured in two James Bond movies, also happens to be one of the most spectacular places to snorkel in the Bahamas.

Sean Connery and Martine Beswick on the set of "Thunderball"
Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

A short boat ride from the northwest coast of Staniel Cay in the Exumas, Thunderball Grotto has played host to several silver screen gems, including Bond flicks Thunderball (1965) and Never Say Never Again (1983), Splash (yes, the one where Daryl Hannah plays a mermaid), and Into the Blue, starring Jessica Alba.

In Thunderball, Sean Connery's James Bond heads to the Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by global terrorist organization SPECTRE.

There he canoodles with women, spars with foreign agents on land, swims with sharks, and has an epic underwater battle complete with an army of scuba-clad, harpoon-wielding "frogmen" fighting for control of the nukes.

Thunderball, if adjusted for inflation, is the top-performing Bond film of all time, and it showcases stellar scenery to boot. If you’re heading to the Bahamas, it’s well worth taking a boat ride to the grotto for a snorkel through the spectacular cave system.

The approach to Thunderball Grotto, where a sign reads "Welcome to Thunderball Grotto, No Fishing, Take Only Photos"

From the outside, the rocky, uninhabited isle may look like any other (gorgeous) deserted island, but cruise a little closer, and at low tide you’ll be able to see a gap between the rock and water. Here’s where you can drop anchor, don your snorkel, and swim under the rock and into the grotto.

Schoolmaster Snappers, Mangrove Snappers, Sergeant Majors and other tropical fish congregate in Thunderball Grotto near Staniel Cay, Exuma, Bahamas
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Inside the grotto, the domed “ceiling” stretches high above, and below, schools of colorful fish—yellowtails, parrots, blue chromes, and yellow-and-black striped sergeant majors—glide along vibrant coral reefs. The rocky roof of the grotto is peppered with holes that act as skylights, letting sunlight stream in and bounce off the clear, turquoise water for a magical effect. It’s recommended to visit the grotto at low tide for easy access under the rock and inside the cave.

Nearby Staniel Cay Yacht Club works with several local guides who can arrange snorkel, diving, and fishing trips to the grotto and other nearby attractions. Bonus: The cast and crew of Thunderball frequented the yacht club, where a James Bond Casino Royale Costume Party is held every spring.

The grotto isn’t the only 007 underwater site to explore in the Bahamas. The Vulcan Bomber plane, constructed and sunk for Thunderball, and the Tears of Allah, a tug boat submerged for Never Say Never Again, are two popular dive sites off New Providence Island that are now covered in profusions of coral and inhabited by fish.

The James Bond hot spots continue on land: several Bahamian hotels were featured in 007 films. The British Colonial Hilton Nassau was in Thunderball and Never Say Never Again, and the The Four Seasons Ocean Club played host to Daniel Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale, as did The Buena Vista Hotel on Nassau (it was the Liberian Embassy on Madagascar), now John Watling’s Distillery.

If pairing your beach getaway with cinematic intrigue inspires you to book that vacation, look no further than a James Bond-themed romp through the Bahamas (no spy training required).

Related: Top 10 Exotic Beach Destinations

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