It sounds like a dream, swim in the famed Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri, just off the coast of southern Italy. Images of my Little Mermaid heydays at my neighborhood pool came to mind as I set out for Capri’s waters on a sweaty day in June.
The Blue Grotto bears a small opening, being only 2 meters wide and 2 meters high. You better like everyone in your boat for you will have to get cozy. All passengers, including the man row, row, rowing his boat into the cave must lie down as you head into the Blue Grotto. On days when the winds are not in the Blue Grotto’s favor, boats are not allowed to enter. Today, the winds are calm.
The Blue Grotto is in fact just that, a blue cave. It forms when the sunlight passes through an underwater cavity, absorbing all of the red light and leaving just an overwhelming and unreal sapphire blue. This blue reflection draws in tourists for a short boat ride around the cave. The Romans were known to use the Grotta Azzurra. Witches and monsters were thought to call the cave home, causing many to stay away. That is not the case today.
You share the beautiful and unbelievable stretch with boats and boats filled other tourists. It feels much more like a Disneyland ride. Boats head in one by one, floating around for a few minutes and quickly exiting shortly thereafter.
As I headed into the Blue Grotta, I knew to expect this. Swimming is generally not permitted in this blue cave. Our boat rower had other notions. Probably wanting to give three American girls the row boat ride of a lifetime, he told us we could jump in and swim around. “Just don’t get caught,” he cautioned. How do you go about not getting caught? Are their grotto polizia underwater monitoring from the comforts of submarines?
Our boat plays a game of limbo as we duck into the small opening of the Blue Grotto. We paddle around in a circle, surrounded by other tourists also in awe of just how blue the cave really is. Quickly and suddenly, our rower tells us to hop in the waters of the cave. The four of us peel off a first layer of clothing into swimsuits. Getting over the side of the boat is a challenge, but eventually I plop down into the pristine waters of the blue grotto. Our boat rowing man starts shouting that we must get back in for the blue grotto is calling other boats to enter.
If getting over the side of the boat into the water was a challenge, you can bet getting back in would be. I struggle with my nonexistent arm muscles until at last I am back in the dirty rowboat, drenched in the waters of the blue grotto.
After a swim that lasted around 90 seconds, I felt cheated. Idealized images of swimming in Italian grottos came to mind originally and quickly drowned in these waters. Destinations cannot always live up to the images we create in our minds. There has to be some disappointment in travel. Otherwise it would fail to be real. By gliding under the massive rocks of the Faraglioni and wandering the streets lined with designer shops I could never afford, the Isle of Capri still proves to me that the scenery is idealized and dramatic, not something a Disney ride could provide.