How do you choose whether to do your adventure holidays in Croatia? Adventure means different things in different places. In Croatia, it is about engaging your muscles as much as it is about engaging your heart and your brain. Read why you need to book your adventure holidays in Croatia and one thing to watch out for.
1 / Inspiring nature on adventure holidays in Croatia
How do you choose whether to book your adventure holidays in Croatia? There are several big drivers for appeal of adventure holidays in Croatia. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, one of the big adventure drives is the stuff to see – nature and sights. Croatia has landscape so diverse it can literally move everyone's heart. From National Parks to unique landscapes off the beaten path. From coast to the mountains. From above to below water.
Island density - key for your adventure holidays in Croatia
One of the densest archipelagos in the Mediterranean are parts of the Adriatic coast. The densest bit is are of Kornati National park with 89 islands scattered over 35 square kilometers. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kornati) While the Kornati is the statistical spearhead of density with their uninhabited islands, other parts of Croatia offer a unique balance of island hopping, island life, and world-class sea kayaking ground. We have yet to see the area as diverse around island Molat. Either way, if you're into sea and islands, consider getting into sea kayaking or SUP touring.
Sea clarity during your adventure holidays in Croatia
What many people equate as Caribbean sea colors is very much a part of Croatian everyday scene. It's a result of rocky shoreline and high salinity levels. Sea clarity produces really astonishing colors. It starts with rich blues where sun's light is swallowed by sea depth and you see thick navy blue. Greens, yellows, and shades of turquoise appear in shallower waters under your kayak or SUP board. On an overcast or rainy day, there may be traces of greyish hues. However, that happens so seldom in warmer months that it comes as a visual refreshment to clear our mental color palette – one that makes room for more appreciation of the vivid colors the next day.
The mountains for adventure holidays in Croatia
There are few places in the world where you can have a swim in the sea and see the mountain tops covered in snow. Croatia is one of them. Yes, the sea will be a bit chilly (for Croatian, not necessarily North European or North American standards), and yes it happens only a few weeks when we get late or early snow. With climate change, it looks like we are bound to have more such season overlaps.
The mountains offer stunning hikes with island views that are very unique for Croatia. Peaks of Velebit mountain range rise up to 1700m literally from sea level. It is a gradual increase but visually very dramatic change of scenes as well as climates. You start with the Mediterranean, through continental all the way to mountain climates with barren landscapes and former summer pastures.
Karsts and limestone as base for adventure holidays in Croatia
Croatia is a unique adventure environment due to its karsts. 'Karst is defined as a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks. (In Croatia soluble rock is limestone.) It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves.' Most of the biggest caves are accessible only by Speleologists or are tourist hot spots, particularly if they are on the coast. The good thing about it is that such karst environemnt has literally hundreds of caves scattered all around Croatia. Chances are that if you move beyond the beaten path, you will run into one.
There are a number of underwater caves accessible only by kayak or sinkholes just off the main hiking routes. As seasoned travelers will know: adventure is where ever someone is trying to find it and Croatia is a very rewarding place to practice that adventurous spirit.
Land of contrasts
One thing that is uniqely Croatian is the densisty of inspiring natural wonders. Down at sea: a cliff, an underwater cave, and a shipwreck may be within a day's sea kayaking route. Up in the mountains: a carst tower, a valley with sinholes and a collection of stone ruins are within day's walk.
Best ideas for your adventure holidays in Croatia:
- Take a hiking adventure in North or South Velebit or combine an itinerary that combines hiking and kayaking.
- SUP tour the coastal waters.
- Sea kayak and island hop on remote islands.
2 / Adventure friendly environment in Croatia
Adventure holidays in Croatia are very accessible to many people. You can say it's very democratic (in a good sense of the word). Beauty doesn't help much if it is hard to access or if it requires very specific and hard to get skill set. True, the later is precisely what inspires us to eternally improve our skills at kayaking, climbing, mountain navigation, windsurfing, ski touring. If you are looking for that, you will find that kind of inspiration in Croatia in form of 50-knot wind, ice-covered peak or unforgiving barren landscape of the mountain routes, not unlike Himalayan environment, according to words of Stipe Božić, one of the most experienced alpinists.
On the other hand, if you don't have time and energy to become a self-sufficient sea kayaker, coastal SUP tourer, climber or any other athlete and are looking to move your limits then Croatia is a good place to do your adventure. There are very few things that can sting you or eat you. Even if they are there (bears, wolves, lynx, sharks), they are so few and so remote that they are busy going about their lives and will run away far before you can spot them.
Here are answers to two questions that seem to be on the mind of most adventurers we meet.
What can sting you in Croatia?
Sea urchins is definitely the most recurring source of 'injuries' at sea here and the most annoying one. Taking each and every little spike from the foot takes practice and time.
There are sting rays, anenemies, Greater Weever (locally called pauk), scorpion fish, but all those poisons are thermolabile. It means the poisons are easily inactivated by application of moderate heat.
Sharks are caught or seen frequent enough so they spark a lively debate in the local bar every few years. Croatian word for shark is 'sea dog'. In terms of the threat, it's a barking dog (even if the people do the barking) – one that is loud but doesn't really bite.
Are there snakes in Croatia?
There is one seriously dangerous venom snake – Vipera Ammodytes, locally called Poskok. Wikipedia's first sentence says it's Europe's most poisonous and dangerous European snake. It can kill and young child and even adult (if the poison spreads). What is important to know is two things. Firstly, they only hang around rocky terrain. You main run into it as it chills in the sun (in the traditional Croatian tradition, but without coffee). Secondly, you can see them mainly in early Spring when they curl up to warm up on hot rocks. So, if you climb rocky terrain in Spring, keep your eyes open.
What is a rescue service like in Croatia?
GSS stands for Mountian Rescue Service is which is very skilled and covers the entire country with men and all necessary gear. They do most rescues in areas off the beaten path.
At sea, there is a network of police boats and state-owned boats which are used for rescues.
In both cases, you dial 112 in case of emergency and then, based on your situation, you are directed to the appropriate service.
Best ideas for your adventure holidays in Croatia:
- take a sea foraging themed version of one of the sea kayaking trips and learn about the fauna above and under the sea.
3 / Improve your skills on adventure holidays in Croatia
Learn skills on your adventure holidays in Croatia. Once you have and inspiring and safe environment, it can only get you so far. Next thing your ideal adventure holidays may need a is a twist of world-class courses and skills. Either learn how to sea kayak safely, learn or improve your eskimo roll or learn basics or advanced skills for SUP coastal touring.
Best ideas for your adventure holidays in Croatia:
- as a beginner kaayaker, take a sea kayaking course and travel home with your Canoeing Ireland kayaking skills certificate (part of Europass system, read: valid in all sea kayaking nations in Europe).
- as an experienced paddler, take a sea kayak rolling clinic and improve your roll.
- take a SUP touring course (ACA certified)
4 / Walk into history on adventure holidays in Croatia
An extraordinary adventure has that little extra to make it what it is. The extra on adventure holidays in Croatia, is the fact, that wherever you move, you will run into traces of history. It gives us a sense of context for where we are today and where we are heading.
A top line of historic influences last 2 thousand years is this: Greek settlements on the coastal part. They were replaced with Illyrian tribes that dominated parts of Dalmatian mainland and some islands. They fought Roman’s for centuries and in the end, the terrain became a Roman region of Illyricum. When the Roman lost its influence, today’s Croatia was inhabited by Croatian tribes (7th century). Today, there remain traces of their lives – anything from Roman arenas, town urban plans (decumanum), fortifications, small graves and numerous archeological sites from metal age period.
Understanding local dialect in coatal parts of Croatia is almost impossible if you don't understand Italian. Venetian influence on culture and language dates from Rennaisance times when town states in Italy strived to influence and control Croatian coast.
You can hear it in words, see it in little visual cues about it in form of lion sculptures, depicting allegience to Venetian rulers, or you can walk through the latest UNESCO protected site in Adriatic Venetian Works of Defence since 16th and 17th century. (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1533)
Cold War period
More recent history is about Croatia’s role in Yugoslavia. From after WW2 until the end of Cold War Yugoslavia (which Croatia was a part of), had to defend its coast from a potential attack. Some of the points on the coast became strategic military points. One of them was island Molat and it's passage Makinare – shortest route going from open sea to city Zadar. It means that arcihpelago is hidding some stunning military sites, like submarine caves and militay tunnels. Just being in the sites is a kind of adventure, let alone getting there by kayak or SUP.
Best ideas for your adveture holidays in Croatia: take a history themed kayaking trip. Just let us know what you want to see.
5 / Food to match the history
There is no history, only biography. People need to eat something, too. So, understanding what people eat leads to figuring out their biography that all then leads to understanding history. It’s a very tangible use of induction - a powerful reasoning method that starts from facts. It enables you to walk out with your interpretation of history. Instead of reading about what some else reasoned.
Croatian's love to eat. Some like eat a lot, others like to eat well. Many historical influences left their mark on Croatian culture and food. So, today you see remains of Ottoman specialties (like leaf wrapped meats and burek), Venetian (many traditional continental Dalmatian dishes are rooted in Venetian counterparts) and then there is plain simple, fresh and minimalist Croatian food. Running into a fisherman when you kayak out of the bay and seeing what you will eat is now becoming an exception rather than a rule. But it still happening. This dying tradition is a fact that hints you probably need to book your adventure holidays in Croatia soon.
6 / Local life: raw and real
Tourism changes things. Big tourism changes them drastically. Big hotspots like magnetic coastal towns with their ruins and hype and some National Parks are now being avoided by discerning travelers. There is just too many of tourism and too little of local life. Luckily, in a country with 1000 islands and islets Croatia you can still see life as it is. Two reasons for this.
Firstly, Croatians care much about their traditions and way of life. I know this statement is a broad brush stroke. It includes family connections, values, and zillion other things. Let's keep it like this for a second. Value of traditions was only further enhanced by the recent war in the 90s and a new country in need of establishing its identity.
Why do people still choose to live on an island with a declining population? Why do they still fish with traditional methods when commercial fisherman overfish in their home turf shamelessly? Why are Croatians almost anal about sticking to the way 'buzara' is prepared on a specific island and don't even want to hear about soya sauce or honey in their recipes? Why is football so big for Croatians (I'll partially answer this one: because Croatia was 3rd and 2nd in the world, and you need winners to identify with)?
In many places people abandon traditions because there is an easier way: grab a processed ready-made food instead of drying your own catch, go to the shopping malls instead of the garden,x drive instead of walk. That is, partially, why cities around the world start to look alike (and so are big tourism hotspots). Same shops, same brands, same food, same bars. That is why we eat unhealthily, do what everyone else does, go to places where everyone else goes. Because it's easy. If you lose your identity, you'll drop your tradition, too.
Some Croatian traditions are super healthy. Some people stick to them. That is Croatia at it's best – with something you can take home, adopt and make your life better. You find this in the most remote places far from tourism. They are also the most likely places to see life that is still raw, real and inspiring.
Secondly, the fact, according to Crotian tourism statistics, is that in 2017 61% of all accommodation capacity on Croatia was privately owned private (often family operated) rooms and apartments. So, instead of working in big tourism systems and hotels as mercenaries for their salary, prestige, and career, people work directly with travelers. For themselves. They have every incentive to be their true selves (and perhaps be their best selves). If they are not, people just go somewhere else. It is true that in the most mainstream places on the coast that are being reshaped by unsustainably high tourism traffic but go anywhere else and you see everyday life that is still raw, real and picturesque in its daily rhythm. It is yet the best place I have seen Adam Smiths idea of an invisible hand doing some good. The hand that can (and somewhere does) bring the best in people and keeping some of the healthy traditions alive.
What surprised me when writing about adventure holidays in Croatia?
Whenever I travel around the world and I always find one thing very much unique in Croatia. It is the density of experiences, I mentioned before. You can see all of the above just within paddling distance. No car needed. There are very few places I have seen this in the world.
What I find most surprising is a caveat behind the above insight. The closer the distance between the sights, the more pressure there is to see them all. It’s kind of like the curse of the ring from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Even the hobbits succumb to it eventually. Suddenly you find yourself again with 7 days in front of you and 9 places to see.
The ultimate surprise is the need to put some time between the actual experiences. Only that way will our mind and heart digest what we have seen. Less is more.
There are 6 big reasons why you need to book your adventure holidays in Croatia. Just make sure you give it justice it deserves. Travel slowly. Coat your adventure with free time. Allow the silence to speak and see Croatia as it is: raw, adventurous and real.
Long live adventure.
Complement this piece with a story about best moments and thoughts from adventure holidays in 2018, take a look at photo essay about living on island Molat or explore the art of slowing down on adventure travel.
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‘‘Conversations’ isn’t necessarily about the things that we talked about on our trips. It is about all the topics that you wanted to know about or ones that we promised we’ll look into. It’s about that constant pursuit of Croatia’s and region’s adventures, secrets, insights, history and lifestyle. It’s about enabling you to dive behind the obvious and get the best of your travels – challenging the status quo and celebrating cultural and natural diversity.