Traveling between islands in Croatia

Ferries, catamarans & small ship cruises

On the Croatian island of Vis there is a saying, pomalo, pomalo, meaning ‘slowly, slowly’ and when it comes to getting your head around the thousands of islands in Croatia’s various archipelagos, then that’s just what you need. So, the best thing that you can do in Croatia when it comes to traveling between these stunning islands is to get a local expert to take care of all the logistics – leaving you to be Zen about it all and enjoy the journey. That and read this guide on traveling between Croatia’s islands.

The archipelagos

Croatia’s islands, all 1,200 of them, are divided into different groups. The Northern Islands include Krk, Croatia’s largest, up near the Istrian Peninsula, and the Zadar archipelago is home to low lying islands like Olib and Molat. The Central Dalmatian archipelago has Brac with the highest peak of all the islands, and Hvar with the highest disposable income per visitor, as this has long been land of the posh and plenty. But really, the list feels like it goes on forever.

Small ship cruises

One of the best ways to enjoy the archipelagos without the queues or route restrictions is to go on a small ship cruising vacation in Croatia, where you can choose between a number of itineraries, such as through the Northern Islands, the Zadar archipelago and the Dalmatian archipelago. While everyone else gets up at dawn to get in line, your only task is to grab a coffee and head up on deck to sunbathe. The other option is to go completely Zen, of course, and go for a sea kayaking vacation around the islands. See our sea kayaking guide for more details.
Most of our small group vacations that travel out to the islands use ferries, but if you are booking a tailor made vacation in Croatia, you can also ask your tour operator to organise a seaplane, which is becoming a popular mode of transport these days too. Flights take you from Pula, Rijeka and Split, over the archipelagic beauties to land at the islands of Lošinj, Lastovo, Hvar and Korcula.

Ferry frustrating

If you do opt for a tailor made trip, traveling around by public ferry, be aware that there are two aspects of traveling between islands in Croatia by ferry that test the Zen principles just a tad. First of all, the majority of ferries take you from the islands back to the mainland, and do not island hop. So, even though it looks as if you could almost swim from one island to the next, you probably can’t take a ferry there – you have to go back to the mainland first. There are a few exceptions, particularly in peak season, with services running between Hvar Island and the islands of Korcula, Mljet and Bol. The other frustrating aspect is that, even if you or your vacation company books your tickets in advance, the chances are that in peak season you will have to queue for anything between half an hour and three hours (worst case scenario).

When & where do the ferries run?

The majority of ferry services are run by one state-owned company that not only serves the islands, but also runs services between Croatia to Italy, the only international ferry route in Croatia. Most ferries run all year round, with much less frequent services when the summer season (June-September) comes to a close; the small group and tailor made itineraries on offer will therefore vary depending on the time of year. But these are ferry services for the islanders as much as tourists, so they have an obligation to keep up a good service.
To give you an idea of possible routes for your tailor made, self drive or cycling vacation, the following are the main ferry ports from mainland Croatia, and the main islands that they serve. Your vacation company will have up to date timetables, and will ensure that you don’t spend more time queuing and cruising than you do on the islands themselves:

Port of Split: Islands of Solta, Hvar, Brac Korcula, Mljet and Vis.

Port of Dubrovnik: Ferries and catamarans to Mljet National Park island, Lastovo, Korcula, Sipan, Lastovo and Hvar.

Port of Rijeka: Offers an overnight service between here and Dubrovnik, stopping at Split, Stari Grad on the island of Hvar, the islands of Korcula and Mljet National Park Island.

Port of Zadar: Ferries to Zadar archipelago islands such as Iz and Premuda, or to other parts of the mainland like Pula or Rivanj, although many of these islands are uninhabited so it is more sailing territory really.

Ferries or catamarans?

Ferry services that take cars and passengers are slower than the catamarans that are for foot passengers only. The catamarans can get booked out in peak summer season, so ask your vacation company to book early.

Bicycles on boats

Generally, Croatian ferries welcome cyclists, although there is a surcharge of £2-10 depending on the route. In general, the best ferries to take your bikes on are the car ferries, as there is more room; in some cases, they are not allowed on catamarans at all. At times, it can be a bit of a moveable feast, depending on whether you get the right person on the right day. This is the advantage of traveling as part of a small group tour, as your vacation company and tour leader will negotiate all of this in advance. Also, it is a great reason to travel outside the peak months of July and August, as anything seems to go when the majority of tourists aren’t going.
Photo credits: [Top box: Katie Hunt] [Small ship cruises: Petra Bensted] [When & where do the ferries run?: Matthias Damert] [Ferries or catamarans?: Lovro Rumiha] [Banner: Bartlomiej Mostek]
Written by Catherine Mack
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Bartlomiej Mostek]
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