How to Travel the Croatian Islands Like a Millionaire (on a Plebeian Budget)
Think you can’t afford a fabulous sailing holiday? Well, that’s simply not true. This type of envy-inducing vacation is no longer reserved for the rich and famous. There are more than a thousand Croatian islands. These drop-dead-gorgeous destinations are a treasure trove of rocky beaches, secluded coves, glimmering marinas, medieval towns and enticing nightlife venues. While there's no such thing as perfection, boating around the Adriatic Sea comes pretty darn close.
Ready to set sail? Use our guide to plan your inaugural Croatia island-hopping adventure.
WHEN TO GO
July and August are the most popular months to set sail. That said, Croatia’s pleasant Mediterranean climate makes it possible to commence in mid-May and extend your sojourn well into September. Off-season offers the benefits of lower prices and not having to maneuver through swarms of tourists. On the flip side, ferries operate on a limited schedule. You could push your trip to mid-October, but definitely don’t embark any later than that due to weather and route limitations.
WHERE TO GO
The best jumping-off points? You’d be well advised to start in either Dubrovnik or Split. Both Dalmatian cities are travel hubs with international airports, major ferry ports and enough fascinating attractions to warrant at least an overnight stay. Between the two destinations, where you choose to launch your journey is really more contingent on flights than anything else. If it’s feasible, you might even consider booking one-way tickets. This will help maximize every precious moment on the Croatian islands, though it’s definitely not mandatory. Arriving and departing from the same airport just means allocating a few extra hours toward transport—whether by boat, bus or plane.
Now that we’ve figured out the beginning and end of your expedition, it’s time to narrow down the places you must hit along the way. You can get a solid cross section of the Croatian islands by visiting picturesque Brač (prioritize the harbor town of Bol, which is home to Zlatni Rat), hard-partying Hvar and quiet Vis. If you have the luxury of a longer vacation, we’d suggest adding Korčula and Mljet to the itinerary. Also, you certainly won’t regret spending a couple more days exploring Hvar and the nearby Pakleni Islands.
Thanks to Croatia’s well-connected ferry network, island-hopping is much easier and cheaper than you’d expect. However, some destinations are more accessible than others. As mentioned, if you visit during the off-season, you’re looking at fewer ferries. In that case, you can charter a speedboat or water taxi. Of course, that’s always an option in the summer, too. However, it’s more a matter of convenience rather than necessity in peak months.
Before moving on, it helps to understand the distinction between ferries and catamarans in Croatia. The former allow cars, the latter are reserved for foot passengers only. Not a big deal, but should you feel adamant about renting a vehicle, it’s relevant.