Croatia has a very long coastline bordering the sparkling Adriatic Sea. Off of its coast lie many islands. Although no one knows for sure how many islands there are, there appears to be over 1200 different islands, with about 60 or so with habitation.
Sailboat charters abound. While we yearned to sail on the open sea, we heard the prices were close to $1000 a day: obviously not an option for two budget travelers. Many articles tout the alternative of island hopping by ferry.
In the summers, ferries run from the mainland to the various islands daily. The most common departure cities are Rjeika, Sibenik, Split and Dubrovnik, with Split probably being the most popular due to its proximity of many of the more popular islands. We found that the articles make island hopping sound a little more carefree and simple than it really is. Not every island is connected to each other each day, and some islands are not connected by ferry at all without a trip back to the mainland. With some advance planning, however, the ferries are a cheap way to see multiple islands.
We wanted to avoid having to traverse back to Split, so we chose a route that allowed us to travel continuously. Here was our route and some scoop about each island we chose:
One: Catamaran (a fast ferry) from Split to Hvar Town, Hvar Island
- Some of the ferries arrive at and depart from Stari Grad, a city north of Hvar. Buses that coincide with the ferry times run from Stari Grad to Hvar Town.
- There were a ridiculous amount of Grannies to greet the ferries in Hvar Town, so have no worries about finding accommodation.
- Our apartment was a 10 to 15 minute walk along the water away from the main part of the old town. We didn’t mind walking, and it got us away from the hubbub of Hvar Town.
- Hvar Town is definitely a place to see and be seen. It feels a little higher end than the other towns on the island that we visited. There were many fancy shops and restaurants lining Hvar’s marble old town. Hvar is supposedly frequented by celebrities, although we didn’t see any. As clubbing is not our thing, we did not go to any of Hvar’s infamous clubs, but there was certainly many people looking to party. There were also families abound. The harbor is lined with enormous yachts that are bigger than some houses. One of our favorite activities on Hvar was selecting the individuals in the crowd who came off the yachts. The sweater tied loosely around the shoulders was a dead giveaway.
- Despite the sceney scene in Hvar, we enjoyed our visit there. It is full of life and was fun to see for a few days. (We planned on staying two nights, but stayed a third because it rained on our second day). We highly recommend getting out to see the rest of the island. The hardy could do this in a scooter, but I (admittedly a wuss) wouldn’t go near the old road with a scooter, high above sea, with no guardrail. We saw older people who put us to shame by riding their bicycles up Hvar’s cliffs. We did it the American way: renting a car for the day to explore the island. The views of the sea from lavender covered cliffs and the heady scent of lavender is worth the cost of the rental.
Two: Catamaran from Hvar Town, Hvar Island to Ubli, Lastovo Island
- We took a ferry from Hvar Town to Ubli, the main port on Lastovo Island. From Ubli, you can catch a shuttle bus to Lastovo Town and vice versa.
- Lastovo only has about 800 people total on the island. We knew we had picked a less touristy spot when even most of the Croatians we had met had never been to Lastovo. The island is beautiful, with much of it covered in farmland, mountains or vineyards.
- Although the ferry can take up to five hours from Split to Lastovo, the trip is under two hours if you break it up with a trip to Hvar or Korcula. Plus, there is a fast catamaran (which we took) that reduces the time even further.
- We weren’t sure if there would be Grannies greeting us on Lastovo, so we booked ahead by scouring the Internet. We were right; there was not a single Granny. There is only one hotel on the island. With prices over $100 a night at the hotel, we were glad we found private accommodation in advance. That being said, if you brought a rental car over to the island on the car ferry, it would be pretty easy to find private accommodations by driving up to places labelled konobas and knocking. Many of the konobas have rooms available because they primarily focus on getting sailboats to dock and feeding the sailboat crowds in their restaurants. Without a car, we recommend booking something in advance and arranging for pick up at the ferry dock in Ubli or the bus stop in Lastovo Town.
- It is best not to stay in Ubli (somewhat bland, from what we saw) or Lastovo Town (inland). Without a car, we didn’t get to check out Pasadur, a spot where some rooms can be found. We really liked Zaklopatica Bay, but it is small. The bay is lined with private houses that rent rooms, run small restaurants, and rent dock space to sail boats. Make sure you get a room with a balcony, as the views over the bay are amazing.
- Most (if not all) of the restaurants are not open for breakfast or lunch, so either bring provisions, rent a scooter to ride into Lastovo Town to pick up supplies, or arrange for meals in advance with your host. Other than bring yogurt for breakfast, we did none of those things and almost were caught without lunch. Luckily, the owners of our konoba opened for lunch especially for us.
- Without a car, you are at the mercy of the restaurants in the bay for dinner. Fortunately, all of our meals were tasty (albeit a little pricier than we normally like to spend). We ate at Konoba Santor, where we were staying, as well as Augusta Insula, a popular konoba a few doors down.
- One of the konobas two doors down rented scooters, so we took advantage. Having never driven a scooter before, we ended up wussing out about an hour into the ride and didn’t explore nearly as much of the island as we intended.
- We got the sense that everyone on the island knew everyone else. The island is so small that children live on one of the larger islands or in Split during high school in order to attend school.
Three: Ferry from Ubli, Lastovo Island, to Vela Luka, Korcula Island
- Korcula is the birthplace of Marco Polo! Many memories of calling out as a kid, Marco! Polo!
- From Vela Luka, we rode a bus through Korcula’s windy roads for about 40 minutes to get to Korcula Town. Again, the buses are timed to coincide with the ferries.
- Although filled with the ever present tourists like Hvar, Korcula Town is smaller and had a better vibe. Many of the bars, cafes and restaurants play music. We especially liked Treseta, a restaurant we stumbled upon one day as we waited for a bus to take us to the beach. The food is great (supposedly homemade by a Croatian granny!) and various people sat and strummed guitars while we ate.
And finally return to the mainland: Ferry from Korcula Town, Korcula Island, to Dubrovnik