With nearly 3 weeks in Croatia and over 7,000km of coastline, most of our days were spent swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It was my first visit to the country and I was really excited to explore it. We entered Croatia (from Slovenia) on the Istrian Penninsula and made our way across the country down to the UNESCO city of Dubrovnik!
Map of our stops in Croatia 10th August to 1st September
Istria, the largest penninsula in the Adriatic Sea, was a great introduction to Croatia. Travelling from Koper in Slovenia, we headed straight for the city of Pula, driving for approximately 2 hours through lush olive groves and terraced vineyards that produce high-quality wine, olive oil, ham and truffle. We had our first guest on-board our camper-van (Turtle), the kind and adventurous Pam!
With a daytime temperature of nearly 32 degrees everyday, most of our afternoons were spent cooling off in the sea or enjoying the sea-breeze on a boat. Here are my top swimming spots and water activities to experience whilst in Croatia!
Pula – Cave Swimming
I’ve had a weird obsession of wanting to swim through a cave, after seeing spectacular footage of some travellers exploring a underwater cave in Mexico. To me, it felt like the ultimate form of wanderlust – tropical waters, the unknown and being somewhere beautiful.
We found a great park4night spot (GPS N 44°51’42.7176” E 13°48’30.312”) and arrived at an abandoned set of buildings for 9:30AM. The parking is located on the ‘P’ symbol in Stoja. From there, you have to walk approximately 10 minutes to a rocky outcrop which was a very popular swim spot in the middle of summer.
The cave is a short swim away from the coastline. It gets dark very quickly and we’d brought a phone torch with us in a waterproof case that really helped us with navigating through. The cave ended with shallow waters and a rock-bed that we could sit on. We met a guide whilst seated in the darkness who told us that kayaking through the cave was now banned by the government from next year onwards (2020). It was a stunning swim spot with cliff diving opportunities, warm water and shaded rocks to sit on.
Pula – Dolphin Cruise
We booked a Dolphin cruise from 6:30PM to 9:30PM with an included seafood dinner and unlimited drinks for just 30 euros per person. I’d highly recommend Korkyra Tours as a great way to wind down the evening, take in the golden rays of the sunset and to spot pods of dolphins at a really competitive price.
Fazana – Swimming and Stand up Paddleboarding!
We particularly loved Fazana! With a population of under 4,000 inhabitants, the peaceful and cobbled old town was a welcome break from the bustling crowds of Pula. A pedestrianised footpath along the sea-front led us straight to the embarkation point for Brujuni National Park, formally owed by President Tito. We had a day excursion and there were departures approximately every 2 hours. An all-inclusive ticket included the ferry, train ride, a guide and a museum visit.
After Brujuni National Park, we rented a couple of paddleboards (available at 2 stalls along the seafront) for 80kn per hour (£10.00 per hour). One brilliant bonus was that along the coast of Fazana were free beach showers (always appreciated when living in a van with a limited water supply!).
Plitvice National Park – walkways
If we were to think of a stock image of Croatia, Plitvice National Park would be the one. Plitviče Lakes National Park is a 295-sq.-km forest reserve in central Croatia. It’s known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon. Swimming is forbidden in the national park. In order to avoid the peak summer-time crowds, we opted for a visit after 4pm (this reduced the entrance fee by a third too!). There are 8 walking trails to choose from (all very well sign-posted) and we opted for Trail E.
Blato Na Cetini – White water rafting
We stayed for 3 nights at Blato Na Cetini (we normally move on everyday!). The site was next to a beautiful river and advertised as a free camp spot.
The only issue we found in Croatia is that if you have a van or motor-home, it’s illegal to park anywhere that isn’t a designated campsite. With one nights pitch costing 50 Euros per day on the Istrian Peninsula (no i’m not exaggerating!), it was crazy money that we couldn’t afford. Thus finding this spot was a dream come true.
We went rafting with AS Adventure and had river showers everyday. The rafting was grade 3/4 and the experience of floating beneath the canyon walls on a mini raft was one to remember.
Sailing from Dubrovnik to Split
Alex and I were extremely lucky to win a video competition with Topdeck and MTV Travel. We sailed on board the Moja Maja to Mljet, Korcula, Brac and Hvar. We swam everyday, went on a buggy safari, had a wine tasting and enjoyed gourmet meals on the boat. With over 1,000 islands in Croatia, sailing is one of the best ways to experience the coastline. We would’ve never been able to afford a sailing trip and winning the trip was a dream come true.
- Camping: After being on the road for 3 months, Croatia was the first European country we encountered that had a bit of a attitude towards camper-vans or motorhomes (basically the mentality of the U.K. that campers are a nuisance). We read a few online sources that the police will ask you to move on, or fine you if you’re not parked at a campsite. In order to avoid campsite fees, we used petrol stations to fill our water tank and park4night reviews to find quiet village car parks and empty seafront stretches. We also used two car parks belonging to restaurants that allowed us to stay the night after purchasing a meal (private land but permitted if you sought the permission of the owner).
- Swimming: Croatian coastlines don’t have sandy beaches, they are more rocky outcrops for swimmers. I’d recommend bringing snorkeling gear and beach shoes for climbing in/out of the water.
- Money: A lot of small businesses in Croatia (and even some attractions such as Knin Fortress) do not take card, I would recommend carrying cash with you.
- Activities: For most activities such as the dolphin sunset cruise and the white water rafting, we booked one day before and got same day acknowledgement. Both of these activities were payable in cash only too.
- Border: When you drive from Split to Dubrovnik, you’ll cross into Bosnia and Herzegovina for approximately 20 minutes before entering Croatia again. It is mandatory to do this and all you need is to show your passport at the border (and turn off any data roaming as Bosnia and Herzegovina isn’t in the EU).
- Topdeck: The itinerary we did was based on the Adriatic Sunsets trip. If you’d really like to see the cheesy video I made as the competition entry, the link is here.
- If you have any other questions or queries, comment here and I’ll be happy to help.