First of all, all tours meet certain criteria. Sea kayaking: cool destination, warm water, lots of islands, great climate, tasty and fresh Mediterranean cuisine, active & relaxing, cozy B & B accommodations, small groups, fantastic guides, a company with 10 years of experience leading kayak tours in southern Dalmatia.
Montenegro mountains: the largest and deepest river gorge in Europe, prisitne nature at its best, crisp mountain air, a magnificant totally natural (undammed) river, and Niksic beer- some of the tastiest on the planet. Alternatively, you can drink water from the Tara River.
1. Island Hopping Tour: It’s for everyone except extremists who want killer days. IH is a fantastic family tour and suitible for beginner/novice kayakers.The tour also caters to more experienced kayakers, as extra paddling can be added to the daily itinerary. Evenings on Lopud Island are lovely and relaxing. IH is offered frequently throughout the 6 month season.
2. Short Break Tour: It’s merely a shortend version of Island Hopping in the Elafiti Islands, so also suitable for the Island Hopping crowd. There are 3 days of kayaking, whereas Island Hopping has 4.5 kayaking days and a ½ day of island biking. Dinners are a highlight: you dine at a private home on a terrace overlooking Lopud Bay- fresh, organic, and local food in a spectacular outdoor setting.
3. Paddle Dalmatia Tour: The PD tour appeals to those who want to camp (3 nights of tented camping), paddle longer days, and venture further. It’s less “relaxing” than Island Hopping and Short Break because you pack and move each day, but you don’t carry much gear. Meals are in restaurants, so no need to carry food and cooking utensils. PD is not offered durring the summer (high season) because it’s too difficult to book single night stays. PD is 6 days of sea kayaking, camping on the mainland, and overnights in B & Bs on the islands.
4. Best of Balkans Tour: For those who want to visit two distict regions, the Adriatic coast and islands as well as the inland mountians and rivers of northern Montenegro, Best of Balkans is your tour. The sea kayaking is the same as Short Break, so suitable for all ages and abilities. The mountain portion is also suitable for all- not highly strenuous rafting and hiking.
5. Montenegro Mountains and Sea Tour: The paddling expereince is different from kayaing in Croatia. You are in the Bay of Kotor, not in the open sea, so you are guaranteed calm water. In a big bay, you can get to lots of sights and villages (paddle to 2 UNESCO world heritage sites, Perast and Kotor) without straying far from your home base. The mountain section is the same as Best of Balkans- a bit closer, so a shorter drive- equally spectacular en route.
6. Pedal & Paddle Tour: Pedal & Paddle is a multi-sport tour. Your week’s activity is divided into 3 days of kayaking and 2 full days of hiking and biking. Mljet Island is much larger island than those in the Elafiti Archipelago, so there are more options for longer bike rides, village to village on untrafficed roads. One third of the 60 km long island is national park with wonderful hiking trails. The hiking and biking is too challenging for young children.
7. Vis Island, Outer Limits Tour: Vis is our most challenging sea kayaking tour. The island is more exposed to wind and extreme weather conditions, with longer paddling days, but very worth the visit and extra energy expended. The coves and beaches along the southern shore are stunning and undiscovered by most tourists. The Vis Tour is best suited to paddlers with some experience in open water and Adriaitc Kayak Tours alumni.
--Island Hopping: The Elafiti Archipelago
--Short Break: The Elafiti Archipelago
--Paddle Dalmatia: Elafiti and Beyond
--Best of Balkans: Croatia & Montenegro
--Montenegro: Mountains and Sea
--Pedal and Paddle Mljet: Natural Tranquility
--Vis Island: Outer Limits
While island hopping up/down the coast of Croatia sounds quite fun, if not glamorous, it’s not easily done. Even guidebooks make it sound easy to travel the country’s stunning island studded coast hopping (ferrying) from one island on to the next…however, be prepared for a good bit of frustration. First of all, information is not easy to come by. The national ferry line, Jadrolinija, http://www.jadrolinija.hr/en/home, just revamped its website, but there is no information about the 2014 coastal ferries that run between Rejeka in the north to Dubrovnik in the south. International and local ferry lines have posted timetables, but the schedules change from winter season, to shoulder spring season, to June-September high season, to fall shoulder season, and finally back to winter season. Reading timetables is also a bit of an art if not a daunting challenge for the dyslectic. Sundays and Croatian holidays differ from the Mon-Sat schedule- know your Croaian holidays because there are lots of them. The right side of the timetable is generally ourbound from the coast to islands, read for botom to top, and the left side is the islands to coast return schedule, read from top to bottom, but there are always a few asterics noting deviations in the schedule.
Back to the coastal ferries…based on previous year’s timetables, the Rijeka to Dubrovnik ferry departs Rejika Monday and Friday evenings around 7 pm, arriving at stop 1, Split, at 7:30 the next morning (Tuesday & Saturday). Stops 2, 3 and 4 are Hvar Island (9:15), Korcula Island (1:30 pm), and Mljet Island (4:15 pm), before arriving in Dubrovnik around 7 pm. Let’s say you board the ferry in Rejika Monday evening and hop off at Hvar at 9:15 am Tuesday. You must wait until Saturday for the next southbound ferry. You catch the Saturday ferry to Korcula, intent on spending a day or two before proceeding to Dubrovnik, however the next ferry south isn’t unti Tuesday. Thus “island hopping” is not for travelers on a time budget, as 3 or 4 days pass before another ferry arrives. For 2 months of the year, July & August, Jadrolinija supliments the regular ferry schedule with passenger-only (no bikes or big things) island-to-island catamaran service. Those schedules can be superimposed on the regular ferry timetables for more efficient island to island travel.
Ferry schedule nightmares aside, rides aboard the Jadrolinija ships are experiences not to be missed. See earlier blog post, The Postira Ferry: Sea Kayaking Croatia. The boats are 1950-1960s “old-school” ships with great character; no two boats are alike in design or flavor. Local lines are designed for the “locals”; it’s the olnly way to get regrigerators, beer, bread, toilet paper, etc out to the smaller islands without roads and cars. The larger islands, likewise, are without airports, so everything comes in by boat. Ride the ferries, for sure, just don’t be in a hurry to get from A to B.
We think our kayaking tours are great, but don't just take it from us. Check out these blogs created by folks who paddled with us. They have some great pictures!:
You can also read what people have to say on TripAdvisor. Both our day-long and week-long kayaking tours are reviewed:
Many thanks to folks who took the time to post!
Dubrovnik's City Walls are spectacular from sea: it's a view that approaching sailors and invaders have seen for centuries. Little statues of St Blaise, Dubrovnik's patron saint, cast their eyes on you. Dramatic limestone and dolomite cliffs tower for 40 feet before the ancient stone bricks even begin. Swallows swoop and tend their nests. Plants cling to the vertical cliff surface. And all of this is crowned tiny picture-taking humans far above. A sea-going perspective of the city is something not to miss.
My favorite bar in Dubrovnik is Buža bar. Buža literally means "hole" and the bar is literally a "hole in the wall." If you want a drink there, first you have to find the hole. Second, crawl through (okay, I'm being dramatic. You'll need to stoop a little.). Once you're through, unpretentious tables and chairs sit out on rocks for a view of the sea and Lokrum Island. During the day you can sunbathe. At night you can watch the sunset or the moon-rise. There is cliff jumping. At a bar. Best idea ever. Worst idea ever.
Buža bar is also fun to experience from the sea. Kayakers and Buža-dwellers are part of the same club: tourists who venture outside of the walls. Literally. Crowded wall-walkers peer down from above, jealous of their cold beer (order Velebitsko) and your breezy sea-adventure. Sometimes Buža Bar pirates make an appearance: local kids who jump from the rocks and try to swarm your kayak. If you're not fast they'll cling to the boat, bogging down your attempts to power-paddle past them. Like I said, pirates. Try to avoid the pirates.
After the walls, our next stop is Lokrum Island. Little known fact: Lokrum Island is infested with peacocks. Squawking, showy, salad-stealing peacocks. And this time of year? Peachicks. (A close relative of the Chickpea.) Lokrum is great for a few hours or a whole day. It's near to the city but feels like a world apart (There's snorkeling, cliff jumping, hiking, historic ruins, caves. There's even a nude beach).
But all good things must come to an end. Before you know it you're back at Sveti Jakov Beach, bidding goodbye to your tour guide. Time for a drink?
Our morning starts off hazy but it's clear by the time the ferry pulls into Lopud, the Elaphite Island where we're spending the day. Lopud is known as a "living island" because about 200 people make their permanent residence here. Some folks produce their own wine or olive oil on the island and many have impressive gardens. However, not everything can be produced on the island. As we unload with our dry bags and sunscreen, men pass with crates of apricots and baskets of bread. Several large fish disembark alongside of us and later we watch as a man washes them in the clear bay water and guts them just ashore.
After a quick kayak tutorial and safety demonstration, we're cutting our way across the bay and around the western side of Lopud Island. It's not twenty minutes before a pod of dolphins surfaces to our right. Hawking swallows swoop from the cliffs nearby. It's low tide, so red sea anemones dot the rocks.
The Elaphite islands don't have many beaches. It's more common to find jagged cliffs and shadowy, rainbow-ed caves. But on the far side of Lopud, Sunj beach is wide and sandy and shallow. In July and August the sea is bathtub-warm, but even now, in June, it's comfortable for swimming. The sand in Croatia is limestone and bright white, so the shallower regions shine turquoise. Peering over the rim of a kayak, you can spot fish or the rippled sea floor.
After lunch at a shore-side restaurant, we relax. The island has no cars, and few inhabitants, and it's peaceful compared to mainland Dubrovnik. In the afternoon we'll paddle the east side of the island, finishing our circumnavigation. There's a Benedictine monastery to explore and a friendly town-front once we get back to Lopud port.
There will be ice cream to eat. Or maybe we'll drink some island-made wine while we wait for the ferry.
But for now, on Sunj beach, the sand is warm and the sea is breezy
and the conditons are perfect for a little snooze...
Main Tourist Activity
The UNESCO protected walled city of Dubrovnik is very small. The population has dropped from roughly 5000 in 2004 to a mere 1000 residents in Stari Grad (Old City) in 2010. The main tourist activity and attraction in Dubrovnik is to walk the City Walls. Walking the city walls is typically a 1 to 2 hour activity, hardly enough to fill a day. However, when there are cruise ships visiting, which is most of the time- every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday April through November and daily June through August- Old City’s streets and surrounding city walls become congested and overrun with human traffic. Under these conditions, walking the City Walls, or even visiting Old City, is not a fun activity.
Cruise Ships in Dubrovnik
The larger cruise ships visiting Dubrovnik carry roughly 5000 people; one cruise ship therefore can increase the population of Old City by five times in a short period of time. Sometimes there are 7 or 8 ships in port at the same time. Old City Dubrovnik, a tiny city completely surrounded by walls with only 3 entrances, can hardly absorb the volume of tourists that cruise ships unload Despite local politicians annual promise to limit the number of ships and cruise ship visitors to Dubrovnik, the numbers increase each year.
What to do in Dubrovnik
There is not a lot to do. Old City is the UNESCO monument. Dubrovnik if not filled with interesting museums, restaurants, shops, or cultural events: the city itself is the monument. People run out of things to do quickly. A sea kayak tour, especially when Old City is overrun with cruise ship visitors is the perfect get away activity. The sea is warm, usually calm, and crystal-clear and Croatia’s coast is littered with over 1100 islands, of which only 67 are inhabited.
Sea Kayaking in Dubrovnik
A sea kayak tour offers visitors a unique perspective of Old City. Kayaking in the Adriatic Sea around Dubrovnik’s City Walls you are not only able to avoid the masses clogging Old City’s streets, gated entrances, and primary tourist activity, but you also have a spectacular view of Dubrovnik from the sea. From your stop on Lokrum Island, the small island just a half kilometer from Old City, you can hike up to the French fort for a panoramic view the Dubrovnik, the sea, Cavtat to the south, and the Elafiti Islands to the north. See the “what to do during the day” section of a NY Times article on Dubrovnik.
All our daily tours to the Elafite islands start by boarding a small ferry called Postira. This old member of the Croatian state fleet is the only daily line for the three inhabited Elafite islands: Kolocep, Lopud, and Sipan. Built back in 1963, the ship is the only one of its class still alive and running, and over the years Postira has become part of Elafiti islands tradition in many ways. It was built in times when convenience and comfort did not matter, when ships were simply built to last. While some might find Postira a little unattractive, it is surely sturdy and functional. Croatians love tradition more than modern, charm more than comfort, and Postira keeps the tradtional way of life on the islands going, even on board. Elegant food and beverage service - inside on the second level, a small cafe bar serves drinks and snacks. Order a beer or a coffee, and you will be served with a glass or china cup – no plastic or styrofoam here. Reminders of war - behind the bar, a small medal and graduate comemorates Postira for its service in the Homeland War because the ferry served both the islanders and the navy and sustained heavy damaged while doing so. Everyones's business is everyone's business - in the high season of July and August, when large number of tourists join the locals and fill up the ferry, it is hard to find a comfortable place to sit on the open topside passenger deck, but it is easy to hear people speaking Croatian, German, English, French, and other languages because private conversations are impossible.
Early in the morning, Postira starts on Sipan (having spent the night at there at the end of the pervious day) and ferries the islanders to work and the children to school in Dubrovnik and brings them back later in the day (its daily schedule is definitely geared to locals, not tourists). It carries the mail and, most importantly, all the necessary ingredients and materials for households, restaurants, and hotels. In Dubrovnik, all the cargo is manually loaded onto the ferry's large cargo deck, and at each island stop, the islanders work together quickly to unload their supplies. Everything is so well coordinated that, regardless of the size of the cargo, the ferry is rarely late for another island port. Those who travel regularly know the habits of the two crews, especially the captains: one captain always seems in a good mood and the other in a bad one; one captain is an excellent docker while the other often scrapes the ship against the pier and becomes an object of laughter for the islanders; one captain will wait for passengers who are late and run towards the ship while the other leaves the dock a minute before the departure time (everything in Croatia can be so contradictory).
In the last couple of years, even AKT guides and kayaking groups have become a part of the Postira tradition as our backpacks, paddles, and bikes (and once in a while even kayaks) have joined the rest of the cargo. Morning coffees, evening beers, and plenty of kayaking and biking stories together with outstanding views make the Postira ferry a perfect way to start and end our tours.
I've been travelling to Croatia frequently for the past five years for my adventure travel business, Adriatic Kayak Tours. Our customers have many questions about the logistics of travel to Dubrovnik, and so we decided to share a few tips that we've learned over the years:
1) Dubrovnik is Croatia’s 8th largest city, however the Dubrovnik Airport is Croatia’s busiest airport. Rebuilt post war destruction in the 1990s, the current five year expansion plan adds new carriers and routes annually.
Airlines with direct flights to Dubrovnik:
- Croatia Airlines from Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, Tel Aviv, Vienna, & Zurich
- British Airways from London (LGW)
- Austrian Airways from Vienna
- Iberia from Madrid
- Jetfly from Brussels
- Lufthansa from Munich and Dusseldorf
- BmiBaby from East Midlands
- Vueling from Barcelona
- Norwegian Air from Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Warsaw Air Berlin from Stuttgart, Munich and Hanover
- Air Nostrum from Valencia and Bilboa
- Czech Airlines from Prague
- Blue1 from Helsinki
- Jets2Com from Leeds/Branford, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Manchester
- Easy Jet from Geneva, Milan, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Liverpool, London (LGW) and London (STN) Ukraine International Airlines from Kiev
- Aer Lingus from Dublin
- Germanwings from Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, and Hannover
2) The only way to reach Croatia’s islands is by ferry or private boat. Bus service between cities is excellent, but if you want to visit remote areas inland, such as Plitvica National Park, it’s best to rent a car.
3) How to read Croatian ferry schedules. Jadrolinija, the national ferry line posts timetables on its web site. On the right-hand side of a schedule, the timetable moves sequentially from bottom to top. On the left had side of the schedule, the timetable move sequentially from top to bottom. Check the dates! Most timetables change multiple times during a calendar year, with different winter, spring, summer, and fall schedules. Holidays and Sundays are typically different from week-days.
4) Ferry tickets are not sold on ferries. Tickets should be purchased at a ticket office before boarding ferries. International ferry service to Croatia is limited to Italy. In addition to Jadrolinija, SEM Blueline, www.bli-ferry.com/, Azzurra Line, www.azzurraline.com/ENG/, and SNAV, http://www.snav.it/en.
5) Island hopping up and down the Croatian coast by commercial ferry is neither easy to plan nor an efficient mode of transport. The north-south ferries (Rejeka to Dubrovnik) run only two times/week. In high season, combine coastal ferries with local catamaran service to island hop independently.
6) The trip from Split to Dubrovnik by private car or bus is 3.5 hours. The trip by ferry is 5 hours (two times per week). There are roughly 8 Split-Dubrovnik buses daily. The bus ride from Dubrovnik to Zagreb is roughly 12 hours. There is a border crossing into Bosnia, briefly, overland between Split and Dubrovnik. It is not a problem for foreign tourists...just remember your passport.
7) Croatia has 8 national parks. The best known is Plitvica, in the northern interior, for its dramatic waterfalls and lakes. However, national parks in Croatia, in general, do not permit active recreation, such as kayaking or canoeing, back country hiking, and camping. National Parks are designated for sight-seeing rather than outdoor activity, so plan accordingly.
8) Driving in Croatia and the neighboring countries of Montenegro and Bosnia/Herzegovina is safe and gives you the most flexibility to get to a variety of places efficiently. A small rental car costs roughly 55-60 Euros/day.
9) Dubrovnik Tip: Do not walk the City Walls (#1 tourist activity) in the middle of the day. It’s horribly hot (no shade) and crowded, especially if cruise ships are in town, which is highly likely. Go early in the morning or late in the day.
10) Dubrovnik Tip: Climb Fort Lovrijenac (free standing fort just west of Old City) for an amazing sunset over Mljet Island. Cold beer and wine optional. And the best Dubrovnik beach is Sv. Jakov. It’s an extra 15 minute walk past crowded Banje Beach, but well worth the effort. Food service, umbrella, and beach chairs are available.