Croatia Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration
PureTravel Says: "Croatia has now become one of the safest countries to travel in Europe. In addition to its friendly people, Croatia offers splendid architecture, castles, palaces and quaint well-kept cities throughout the countryside. However, the real draw of this small nation is the tremendous variety of outdoor activities available to tourists. Rivers, lakes, and islands abound making this country a draw for people from all over the world. They say that ninety percent of the people who visit Croatia return, the other ten percent never leave."
Cycling – Whether you want to enjoy Croatia's many mountain bike trails or simply peddle your way across the country or its many islands, Croatia is best experienced on two wheels. Indeed, much of Croatia is not accessible by car. Croatia is a beautiful country with amazing scenery and there is no sense in hurrying your way through this country on the Adriatic. Croatia has more than eighty cycling clubs, hundreds of bike rental agencies and reams of cycling maps. There are so few cars in this country that the bicycle presents your best option for getting around.
Canoeing - The summertime presents incredible canoeing and camping opportunities. While many visitors are soaking up the sun on the Dalmatian coast, the rivers, especially the smaller ones remain quiet and entrancing. With riverbanks exploding in different shades of green and displaying the luscious coloirs of wildflowers and birdlime, a Croatian holiday without a trip down one of its many rivers is incomplete. English is spoken throughout this country and it is possible to obtain all you will need to eat and drink from farmers and villages along your way. It is a fantastic way to eat locally while soaking up this awesome countryside.
Sea Kayaking – For those not familiar with the Adriatic Sea, some explanation of what makes sea kayaking so special in Croatia is necessary. The waters of the Adriatic are pristine and clear. There are few tides of any strength, waves are small if present at all, and wind is a rarity and when it blows more than a calming breeze it is predictable and shouldn't sneak up on you. Sea Kayaking also allows you unique access that isn’t available to sailing vessels amidst the rocks and high cliffs of the many islands. Hidden coves will open before you and allow you to rest and bask in the sun, perhaps disembarking to explore the many caves and gravel beaches afforded by many islands. Rentals are available everywhere. Besides the beauty of this activity the history of the area is undeniable. You will be travelling an area that has hosted the Roman and Ottoman Empires, Napoleon's armies as well as the Allies during World War II. It is historical, it is unforgettable.
Sailing – With over one thousand islands and the aforementioned lack of strong wind and large waves, sailing in Croatia is a relaxing experience that provides a chance to see more of the coast than you can in a sea kayak with only a few weeks for your holiday. Many people who have determined, in other parts of the world, that sailing is not for them may wish to have a rethink. Sailing in Croatia can be taken at a gentle pace and the water is calm. Sailing in Croatia also allows you the space to transport your bicycle, canoe or kayak and charters are plentiful in this nation of a thousand islands.
Walking, Hiking & Trekking – Opportunities for climbing, hiking, and underground exploration are found all over this country. From mountains, to national parks, to simple roadside jaunts, Croatia offers incredible views, wildlife and the tranquillity of a country that does not know its own beauty.
When to Go
The weather in Croatia is seasonal. Unless your aim is to ski, snowboard, or enjoy other winter pursuits Croatia is not suited for winter travel. That is to say most of the outdoor activities that make Croatia special in the summer cannot be enjoyed in the winter. Croatia's cultural attractions and beauty are still there in the colder months. Late spring and early autumn are quite enjoyable, but to enjoy the much of the country and all that it offers, summer is a good time to visit.
- Watch out for sea urchins. Avoid the temptation to swim or wade into the Adriatic without some type of foot protection. Sea Urchins are abundant and the sting is nasty and will take you a day or two to recover.
- Use ATM cards. You will get a better rate from these machines then exchanging currency or travellers checks. That said make sure you keep ample cash as well as smaller villages might not have cash points.
- Bring plenty of resealable plastic bags. The many rivers, lakes, and the Adriatic are, well, wet. Passports, cash and other necessities are not terribly fond of the water. Even a canoe or kayak that remains upright for your entire trip will struggle to keep your things dry.
- English is the second language for the younger generation, rather than Russian. Seek out those in their twenties and thirties for directions and instructions.
Holidays In Focus
While certainly not the quickest way to get around, cycling does grant an experience that will be remembered by every one of your senses. Whether, it's the smells of wildflowers, lavender and jasmine in the lush valleys and mountains of Istria or the taste of light wines as you peddle through the vineyards of Slavonia and Turoplje. The forests of Gorski Kotar provide a completely different backdrop for your vacation and a respite from the sun as you work your way across Croatia. The islands provide additional opportunities to enjoy more than those in their automobiles, with ferries providing very reasonable transport for both you and your bike.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is rapidly becoming one of Europe's favourite destinations for bike riding. Its forests, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls are easily negotiated on two wheels and this is the best way to take in its grandeur. A bicycle is your best option as cars and motorcycles are not welcome in its confines. In addition to the many hotels in the area there is ample camping available a mere 5km from the park’s North Entrance. In the summer and its longer days the park is open longer during the day but it still doesn't feel like you have enough time to drink from its pools and springs while you take in all its charms.
Most canoe aficionados are on the lakes and rivers for their tranquility. There are many opportunities for rafting and kayaking a number of Croatia's rivers. For a more relaxed pace and an unforgettable camping experience the canoe is highly recommended. Croatia's rivers are clear and nearly as green as their riverbanks. A canoe trip in Croatia will also take you on a cultural tour of the country. It is here in the Karstic areas of the country that you will negotiate waterfalls and limestone barriers only to have the river bend to reveal the fabled Trakošćan Castle.
Again, given the conditions on the Adriatic Sea, sea kayaking is a great way to spend your Croatian vacation no matter your skill level, physical condition or age. It's a perfect way for the whole family to enjoy the sights of the Dalmatian coast.
For the beginner or the sceptic Cavtat provides a great introduction to this sport. Cavtat is a romantic town with a palm tree lined promenade, two bays, two peninsulas and two islands Bobara and Mrkon. Don't forget your bathing suit and snorkel.
Kolocep Island provides fantastic cliffs, hidden bays and underwater life easily viewed through its pristine waters. A short ferry ride from Dubrovnik, Kolocep in many people’s eyes is the most enchanting of the 13 Elafiti Islands.
An hour's kayak from Dubrovnik's old city beach lies the island of Lokrum. It is known for its lush vegetation that hides an old fortress and monastery. In addition, to the many cliffs suited for jumping or diving into the sea, its reefs will please even the most discerning snorkeler.
Another popular destination an hour from Dubrovnik, this time by ferry, is the island of Lopud. Rent a kayak from one of the islands many purveyors and paddle from sandy beach to sandy beach. Cars are not permitted on this island of no more than 500 permanent residents. This island produces sufficient amounts of vegetables, fruit and seafood for all of its quaint cafes and restaurants. The island feels like a step back in time.
The Zadar and Sibenik region has many islands but do not miss Vrgada, home to one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Croatia. This fishing island has neither cars, nor a single hotel and should not be missed.
More than 1,000 islands make up the Croatian coast and Zatan, 10 km from Dubrovnik, is a stark contrast to the sandy beaches of Vrgada. Its craggy cliffs and pebbled beaches have their own charms and show the diversity of these islands.
With the abundance of islands that Croatia calls its own, along with idyllic weather and calm seas, Croatia has become a sailing paradise. Because of the numerous hidden coves and bays that allow for free mooring, it is less expensive than you would think and a great way to take in the islands in a limited amount of time. The following is a list of historic islands and harbours where chartering a boat will prove quite easy for the day trip or an extended island tour.
The island of Brac and the harbour at Milna provide a great opportunity to visit one of Croatia's larger islands. It possesses the highest peak in the Adriatic Sea and some of Croatia's steeper cliffs and sandier beaches.
Hvar Croatia, Vis, and Korcula are “must sees” for the history buff. Hvar Croatia was hugely important to Venetian traders and is now home to the jet set of the Adriatic's sailing community. Vis, once a Roman outpost, was one of the most strategically important islands in the entire Adriatic. It served Napoleon's grand plans as well as providing a base and cornerstone of the Allies in the Adriatic. Finally, Korcula, the birthplace of Marco Polo, and home to some of the best seafood in the Adriatic. Its fortifications would do the people of Troy proud and provide an interesting perspective into how wars were fought.
Walking, Hiking and Trekking
All levels of difficulty of are available to the walker, hiker, trekker and climber in Croatia. From the ease and strolling pace of a Sunday walk in Korcula that will take you from Old Marco Polo Town to a Franciscan monetary built over the sheer cliffs of the island. There are well-marked and worn paths for the beginner, yet, there remain many uncharted areas for the more adventurous. In addition to Korcula, the other 1,000 plus islands offer a vast array of hiking options while the cliffs and rocky crags provide excellent opportunities for the free climber if they are not afraid of a plunge into the sea.
Away from the islands and back on the mainland, the ribbon of coastal cities gives way to a whole other landscape. Where suddenly mountains appear as if grown from scattered seeds. Forested hills with gentle slopes invite hikers of all ages where the rugged limestone tops of these mountains will challenge even the most experienced. Finally, in the massifs, often referred to as the Croatian or Dianric Alps exist climbs worthy of the name. The most challenging and highest peaks include Coastal Belt and Mountain Croatia Dinara at 1,831 meters, Kamesnica at 1,809 meters and Biokovo at 1,762 meters.
The lush and historic Dalmatian Coast offers Roman ruins, unique natural beauty, superb beaches, traditional fishing ports and an abundance of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The 375km (233 miles) of culturally important Adriatic coast offers dramatic natural scenery, with a wealth of things to see and do all year round.
Zagreb - The capital city of Zagreb lies in central Croatia and is a thriving lively city full of people and visited by millions each year. The Easter festival period is a popular and colourful time to visit. When visiting this city, you should spend some time at the Maksimir Park and the Zagreb Zoo. It is a great place to hang out and grab a bite to eat at the park’s restaurant or to have a picnic. There are also numerous trails and paths to take a walk or bike ride on and enjoy the surroundings. Within the zoo are a variety of animals, including red pandas. There are also two lakes that are quite popular with both locals and travellers; Jarun and Bundek. Jarun Lake is a great place to hang out and relax and Bundek Lake is a beautiful lake and hosts festivals, workshops, and concerts.
Dubrovnik - The city of Dubrovnik established itself as a significant cultural and economic center in years gone by, which is evident in the architecture and heritage. In fact, Dubrovnik once rivalled Venice for supremacy. Dubrovnik peeks out over the Adriatic from behind those famous fortified walls. Today the walls house a fascination open air museum and is surrounded by galleries, churches, palaces and a wealth of museums. The old city of Dubrovnik, which incidentally is a budget holiday hotspot, is dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ and since 1994 has been an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town district is packed with carefully preserved Baroque, renaissance and Gothic style architecture within the monasteries, fountains and churches. Don’t miss a ride on the superb Dubrovnik Cable Car or a visit to the Museum of Croatian War of Independence which details the conflict in the 1990s.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian
- Old City of Dubrovnik
- Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Pore
- Historic City of Trogir
- The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik
- Stari Grad Plain
January 1 - New Year's Day
January 6 - Epiphany
March/April - Easter
May 1 - International Workers' Day
60 days after Easter - Corpus Christi
June 22 - Anti-Fascist Struggle Day
June 25 - Statehood Day
August 5 - Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and the Day of Croatian defenders
August 15 - Assumption of Mary
October 8 - Independence Day
November 1 - All Saints' Day
December 25 - Christmas
December 26 - St. Stephen's Day
By Julie Bowman