The Velebit mountain range has several caves perfect for spelunking. // © 2016 Creative Commons user xsannyx
Feature image (above): Croatia has become a hot spot for cyclists. // © 2016 iStock
Croatia has long been known for its splendid coastal towns, sleepy islands and food and wine — hardly activities that would get your blood pumping. But adrenaline junkies are in for a treat, as Croatia is also packed with opportunities for adventure. With miles of bike routes, great terrain for rock climbing and prime spots for off-the-beaten-path caving, the country offers plenty for sporty travelers. Here are our favorite adventure activities in Croatia and the best places to do them.
Among serious cyclists, Croatia is a rising destination, offering miles of quiet, paved backroads, as well as higher-intensity mountain-biking routes. The country has roughly 1,100 miles of coastline, as well as 1,185 islands, making the Dalmatian Coast one of the most picturesque places for cycling. Dalmatia has strikingly blue Mediterranean water, and its islands are packed with history and culture, serving as colorful and scenic cycling spots. Andro Tartaglia, an adventure travel expert and specialist with Meridien Ten, as well as a local guide with kimkim, recommends the islands of Vis and Hvar for beautiful cycling tours.
Hvar is one of the more well-known Croatian islands, with legendary nightlife and beautiful beaches. But cycling on Hvar is also one of its more unique activities. The destination used to be one of the largest producers of lavender in the world, and a must-do is biking past its beautiful, sprawling lavender fields. The largest are located between the towns of Hvar and Stari Grad and, fortunately, there are cycling and hiking routes that cut right past them for the perfect photo op.
Vis is one of the more off-the-beaten-path Croatian islands, spanning only 34 square miles, but it’s jam-packed with treasures to be discovered on two wheels. Because it’s more isolated, cyclists can view an untouched environment. Just 2,000 people live in Vis town, with only 3,500 people inhabiting the whole island. Leisure cyclists can bike from Grandovac Beach to Prirovo Beach in about 30 minutes without breaking a sweat, but the island also has a network of paths that are perfect for more extreme cycling. Since everyone on Vis gets around predominantly by bike, there are also plenty of rental bike companies on the island.
According to Tartaglia, Paklenica National Park is the best area in Croatia for rock climbing. But be forewarned: The word is out, so the park can get busy. Paklenica is located in northern Dalmatia and is marked by two canyons, Mala and Velika. The best way to explore the park is by hiking along its more than 120 miles of trails, which range from easy strolls to paths designed for mountaineers. It is the most-visited climbing site in Croatia and one of the largest in Eastern Europe.
“The best times for climbing in Croatia are April, May and September,” Tartaglia said. “Locals climb all year long in the coastal area. July and August are very hot and not convenient for rock climbing — or cycling for that matter.”
Other spots for rock climbing include Marjan Hill in Split, which is great for sports climbing; Omis, near Split, which is suitable for both sports and traditional climbing; Sveta Nedija on Hvar; and Kalnik and Pokojec near Zagreb.
Spelunking in Croatia is definitely an activity for those who like a challenge. It’s a wild endeavor, as there are essentially no areas that are safely roped off for tourists. Spelunkers traveling to Croatia are serious professionals. But for those who are up to the test, Croatia’s mountains safeguard elaborate and beautiful cave systems.
Tartaglia recommends the Velebit mountain range, which has several deep caves with startling vertical drops. Within this mountain range, travelers will find the “Lukina jama” cave, the deepest cave in Croatia, measuring 4,600 feet in depth. At the base of the cave are ponds, streams and a variety of cave fauna.
On Hvar, travelers will find the “Grapceva spilja,” a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites. This is also one of the more important archaeological zones in Croatia, according to Tartaglia, who says that archaeologists have found remnants that date back to the Stone Age. The only way to access the cave is from the village of Humac, but even then, access to the cave is permitted only with a guide. This is true of most caves in Croatia, Tartaglia says, as it is not possible for tourists to take themselves.
“Spelunkers go caving privately with their own arrangement or with guides,” he said.