Reasons You’ll Love Croatia: The Islands

Croatia sits along the Adriatic coast, directly across from Italy. Many Croatians are multilingual, the kuna is still their currency, and they’re obsessed with football (soccer).

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Ja volim Hrvatsku (I love Croatia), and you will too!

Europeans and Brits have long known about Croatia for a holiday destination, but it’s still unknown to many Americans. No matter where you’re from, there are a lot of reasons to visit this beautiful country. So many, in fact, I’m breaking up this article into multiple posts.

My first post about Croatia covers…..

The Islands

There are over 1,000 islands off the coast of Croatia. I’m featuring just a few of the most popular and those that are hidden gems/off the beaten path….

  1. Hvar – Hvar sits off the coast of Croatia, just a catamaran-ride from Split. The scent of wild lavanda (lavender) fills every corner of the island, beckoning new arrivals even as they step onto the dock. The sun glows a little brighter in Hvar, a little warmer, rising over the Adriatic like a shiny golden pendent.This island is full of rolling hills, ancient villages, and historic sites. And if that’s not enough, then the booming wine and food culture should tickle your appetite. Some people have called Hvar a little piece of heaven on earth.

Things to do:

The Secret Hvar Off-Road Tour
THIS IS A MUST IF YOU GO TO HVAR, the richest, most informative tour available on the island. The tour guide takes visitors through ancient villages, historic sites, and includes a traditional Croatian lunch and a swim after the tour! Be sure to ask for Siniša. Tell him Backpack with Kay sent you!

Wine Tasting Tour
This tour is done by the same company who does the Hvar Off-Road Tour, but this tour stays in Vrboska (also known as “little Venice”). It’s not a shuttle service. Your tour guide stays with guests, explaining the wines, informing them about Croatian wine culture.

Restoran Oaza (in nearby Milna)
Fantastic food at excellent prices, and with a fabulous view right on the beach.

Caffe Bar Red Baron
This place has THE best mojitos I have ever tried, and I’ve had my fair share off tasty mojitos. It’s right on the riva in Hvar Town. You can’t miss it!

Spanjola (Tvrdava Fortica)
An ancient Spanish fortress in Hvar Town. You can tour this military stronghold (don’t miss the prison!), and the view from the top is incredible. There’s a little cafe where you can freshen up before the hike down, too.

THE SUNSHINE
It’d be hard to miss this feature of Hvar. The island gets more sunshine than any other island in Croatia – 2700 hours each year! Enjoy it!

Know before you go:

Hvar Town is one of the most expensive places in Croatia, so be prepared for higher costs all-around there: accommodation, dining, tours. For budget-minded alternatives, plan your trip during the low season OR right on the cusp between the low and high seasons (high season is June thru August).

You can also stay on other parts of the island, which offers fewer options and activities but will save you a few kuna: Jelsa, Vrboska, Stari Grad. And remember, if you stay any of these places, you can always hop on the bus for a day trip to Hvar Town!

2. Koločep – Part of the Elaphiti Islands chain, this island is right off the coast of Dubrovnik. If you’re looking for a quiet getaway AWAY from the crowds that flock to Dubrovnik each year, this is a great option. There are a few options for accommodations, from apartments to traditional hotels. They even have quite a few options for Airbnb!

Things to do:

Island-Hopping Cruise
Day-cruise around the Elaphite Islands, which includes a stop in the lemon and orange groves of Kolocep! You’ll also get a taste of some medieval architecture on Lopud, 15th Century ruins on Sipan, and lunch (traditional meat, fish, or vegetables) is served onboard the boat with unlimited soft drinks and wine.

Island-Hiking and Swimming
A guided 3-hour hike through Kolocep Island. Tranquil surroundings and lush Mediterranean vegetation, including fragrant myrtle, laurel, thyme, and rosemary, and they’ll take you to a secluded spot for swimming and cliff-diving. Tour is 8 kilometers (5 miles) total.

The Blue Cave
Kolocep is great for nature lovers, and the Blue Cave is great for anyone wanting to explore nature in a quiet, secluded area. The cave is accessible for both snorklers and scuba divers, and there’s cliff diving around it!

Know before you go:

There aren’t a lot of hotels on the island and only about 200 residents. This really is a gem for those who want a little peace and quiet rather than the bustling excitement of Dubrovnik.

I stayed at Sensimar Kalamota Island Resort, formerly known as Hotel Villas Koločep. It’s a nice place, but most my activities were in Dubrovnik, so I didn’t spend much time utilizing the hotel’s amenities. And if you’re going in the low season (September through May, and maybe a little into June) the ferry times are LIMITED. That means if you miss your ferry to Dubrovnik, there won’t be another for at least a few hours.

3. Vis – This island used to be home to the Communist Yugoslavia’s military base. For this reason, the island is the most untouched/unchanged in the country. Its fishing and farming practices have been preserved, and it’s probably the closest you’ll get to seeing what traditional Dalmatia is truly like.

Things to do:

Blue Grotto Cave
At a certain time each day, the cave is flooded with blue light. There are lots of tours that will take you to see this natural wonder, and it’s worth the hour boat ride!

Green Cave
You know about the “blue” cave, but the Green Cave is worth a visit, too! Only a few hundred meters from the shore, visitors are able to kayak to this cave. The southern-most part of the islet is bathed in green light that spreads around the water. You can book any number of sea kayaking tours that will take you here and conclude in Stiniva Bay for a little R&R with lunch.

Rock Climbing
The Crvene Stijene (Red Rocks) have several trails to choose from, with varying degrees of difficulty for many different skill- and fitness-levels. There are guided excursions, which include expert guides, helmets, and equipment (check to see what kind of clothing you need). I’m not big on heights, but I hear the view from the top is phenomenal and not to be missed (if you dare!).

Konoba Jastozera
Eat some prime lobster at this restaurant, with the waves lapping at your feet and the Adriatic for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to book a reservation if possible to secure your place for dinner.

Mount Hum
Hikers, enjoy Vis from the highest point on the island, Mt. Hum. If you’re not up for a hike, there is a road for driving up there.

Know before you go:

Croatia is still de-mining parts of the country, and every so often a tourist or local ends up exploring and stepping on a landmine. I know, sounds scary, but just check with trusted locals (police, tour guides, visitor’s centers, etc.) before you go out hiking or otherwise exploring any unmarked areas.

Usually, mined areas have visible signs that should be clear for anyone, whether they speak Croatian or not, but it’s still best to check with experts who know the area. Because Vis was a military base, it might be a good idea to ask around before exploring too far off the beaten path.

4. Visovac – This small island is located within Krka National Park, in the middle of a lake, and is actually owned by the Catholic Church. A famous monastery on the island was built in 1445 and can be accessed with a visit to Krka National Park.

I didn’t visit the monastery, but I did take the ferry out to Krka National Park. The falls there are fantastic, the water cool and refreshing – the perfect day trip from Split and only a stone’s throw from Sibinek!

Know before you go:

There’s really only the monastery to visit on Visovac itself, but if you make it out that way, be sure to visit Krka Falls. Bring your swimsuit during the high season!

5. Krk – Not to be confused with Krka (as in, Krka National Park), the Island of Krk is off the coast of Rijeka in the Northern Adriatic. The history is rich with a 5th Century church, a Frankopan castle, and a Franciscan monastery.

Things to do:

Wine Tales
A wine tasting on Krk Island. They pick you up at your address and drop you back off after. You’ll get to try nine Žlahtina wines, the grape of which grows exclusively in Vrbnik.

Daily Fishing Academy
Learn how to fish like Croatian fishermen! Includes authentic thrawl fishing with gorgeous scenery, swimming in a bay near Baška, a museum visit, and fresh fish lunch!

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption
A gorgeous ancient cathedral from the 5th Century!

Know before you go:

Although you might not have heard of Krk Island, others have, and some spots can get pretty crowded during the high season. Be sure to research where you’re going and when. And if you’re looking for a quieter holiday, consider booking your trip during the low season or on the cusp between high and low season.

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Doviđenja!

This is just a taste of all the islands you can visit in Croatia, and just a sampling of what makes Croatia so great.

Stay tuned next week for my next entry on this fabulous country…must-see coastal cities!

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