The time has never been better to visit Croatia by boat—and there is no better way to see the Dalmatian coast.
Drawn by the allure of its beautiful coastal cities and towns that sit on the Adriatic Sea, the number of tourists visiting Croatia each year has steadily increased over the past decade. Mentioning its sparkling lakes, pristine beaches, Michelin-starred restaurants and more than 1000 islands, Conde Nast Traveler called Croatia “one of Europe’s hottest tourist spots.”
Croatia: The case for nautical tourism
Many visitors arrive in Croatia by boat, the largest number of them on cruise ships. Dubrovnik is the most popular Croatian port visited by foreign vessels, followed by the seaports at Split and Zadar. But there can be too much of a good thing: The Old Town in Dubrovnik, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, was becoming so crowded with cruise passengers that the mayor had to limit the number of ships arriving there during peak tourist periods.
While it’s easy and very enjoyable to visit Croatia (or anywhere else) on a cruise ship, these large ships can carry as many as several thousand passengers who all arrive at a port and disembark at the same time.
One antidote: Those who want to stay longer, dig deeper, minimize their time spent in queues, and travel more independently may want to consider another water option—chartering a yacht or gulet (a two- or three-masted sailing vessel).
The time to visit Croatia by boat has never been better because the country is constantly improving its infrastructure to support nautical tourism. A growing number of marinas and ports have been built, and an increasing number of new boats—powered by both motor and sail—are available for charter. And the geography of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast makes it ideal for island-hopping.
Chartering a luxury boat offers the convenience of being able to visit small towns and larger cities at one’s own pace without having to arrange water or ground transportation, or different lodging accommodations to move from place to place. In addition, luxury yacht passengers have the convenience of an on-board chef and crew, with a choice of half-board (two meals) and full-board (three meals) options so every meal doesn’t have to be eaten in restaurants.
Places to see in Croatia by boat
Sound intriguing? Here are just a few of the places along the coast where you’ll want to lay anchor (as well as some brief tidbits explaining their appeal):
This island in the Adriatic is sometimes called “Little Dubrovnik” because the feel of its walled medieval old town with narrow streets resembles that of Dubrovnik—but with fewer crowds. Korčula is eminently walkable and there are great places to hike if you want to explore other parts of the Island.
One place to start a visit to the city’s old town is at its stone entrance, called The Land Gate. From here, you can visit what is claimed to be Marco Polo’s house (hotly disputed by those in Venice who place his birthplace elsewhere), the town’s historical museum and St. Mark’s Cathedral, which has a restored Tintoretto painting inside. Stop for a drink or coffee in one of the town’s small cafes or purchase a souvenir from an artisan on the street.
Kornati Islands National Park
Imagine happing upon an unspoiled, predominantly limestone archipelago with more than 100 uninhabited islands with little vegetation. The natural beauty and clear waters of Kornati Islands National Park encourages swimming, diving and snorkeling among the reefs.
This park’s inlets and bays are best explored by boat as you watch birds and butterflies overhead and see fish jump out of the water. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a dolphin.
One of the larger islands on the Dalmatian coast and definitely the greenest, Mljet also boasts a national park but this one is densely forested with pine trees and has two saltwater lakes.
The island offers opportunities to swim. kayak, canoe, or rent a scooter or bicycle (if you don’t have one on board your yacht). Visit Mljet’s ancient Church and Benedectine Monastery. You won’t want to leave this little piece of paradise with sandy beaches that always seems peaceful and quiet.
The third-largest island in Croatia, Brač will beckon adventurers to hike up to its highest peak, Vidova Gora, to enjoy the spectacular views. Or they can visit Zlatni Rat, the white pebbled beach on Brač—one of the most iconic in Croatia that’s popular with windsurfers. Spend a little more time wandering on the island and you’ll find Sumartin, a charming fishing village.
With spectacular architecture at every turn, Split is the not-to-be-missed, second largest city in Croatia. It offers the liveliness of a large urban center with easy access to sandy beaches that aren’t far away.
One of the main attractions is the well-preserved Diocletian’s Palace, constructed between the late 3rd and early 4th century A.D. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient fortress is Split’s old town, filled with residences, shops and restaurants that are located on the narrow streets of the Palace. The octagonal Church of St. Dominus is the city’s oldest building and one of the country’s best-preserved examples of Romanesque architecture.
Always a favorite, Dubrovnik has grown even more popular as a tourist destination since it became the main film location for King’s Landing in HBO’s Game of Thrones; die-hard fans come here for walking tours that explain the show’s setting.
Dubrovnik’s old town is surrounded by massives stone walls and, of course, the most popular activity in Dubrovnik is to walk those walls overlooking the rooftops. Another popular attraction is the Rector’s Palace, which houses the city’s cultural history museum.
One more reason to visit Croatia by boat
A recent article in Travel and Leisure talked about the concepts of “blue mind” and “red mind,” the latter caused by daily stresses. The article mentioned marine biologist and author Wallace J. Nichols, who has suggested that “being near, on, or in water” improves our overall sense of well-being.
What type of vacation could be more ideal than seeing the Croatian coastline by boat?
All photo credits: Pixabay (unless otherwise noted)
Disclosure: This post was written by Irene S. Levine and sponsored by Goolets a travel agency specialized in gulet cruises in Croatia, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Montenegro.