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STARTING IN DUBROVNIK

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Our trip started at the very southern point of the Dalmation Coast of Croatia, in the coastal port village of DUBROVNIK.  Accommodation was in a private apartment inside of the OLD TOWN.  This city exudes outstanding beauty and rich political and cultural history (also a UNESCO world heritage site).  The main city promenade, Stradun, is surrounded by a myriad (or maze, if you like), of churches, palaces, cultural landmarks, theatres and opera houses, art galleries, restaurants, pubs, pavement coffee bars, boutiques, hand-craft shops and apartments.  A two kilometer long city wall surrounds this 13th century Mediterranean fortress. We spent every free minute exploring the inside of the OLD TOWN, and could probably have spent an entire week as there is just so much to absorb.  Added to the stone architecture is a carpet of lush green flora interspersed with the purple, and various shades of cerise Bouganvilias and Oliander bushes.

As far as diving is concerned, Dubrovnik has two wrecks, TARONTO & TOMISLAV.  We dived Toranto which lay at a max depth of around 40m.  Alot of the diving takes place off the rocky sides of the islands which are strewn along the coast, including wall dives, the most unbelievable passage, cavern and large open cave dives.  The other sites which we dived included LITTLE AFRICA, ABISS and by far one of our absolute best dives ever, LOKRUM.  Lokrum starts off the side of an island, taking one through about a 15m long passage out of the ocean and into a lake in the midst of the island.  We popped up to surprise the bathers and then headed back down and out into the ocean.

Know that a visit to Dubrovnik, and in fact most of these old cities, requires a fair amount of travel by foot, as they were not built to accommodate vehicles.  So parking is outside of the city and for the rest you are left walking and climbing stairs in and out of the city.  At least this provides a wonderful opportunity to absolutely 'pig-out' on an amazing selection of ice-creams, pastries, breads, cappucinos (with froth, not cream), sea-food, and a rich selection of local foods including alot of potatoe, spinach and meats.

These communities are hugely dependent on the ocean, so ports are filled to the brim with fishing boats, catamarans and privately owned yachts (also a large grape farming area).  Considering that just recently this was a war-torn country, they have done an unbelievable job at restoring their buildings and culture and getting back on track.  It seems there is a fair amount of wealth in the major tourist spots (privately owned, perhaps), but this leads to a wonderful feeling of old culture and a touch of Monaco, playground of the rich!

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KORCULA, Vela Luka

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From Dubrovnik, we took a road trip to KORCULA, Vela Luka, situated on the western side of the island.  One can travel by ferry but the road trip is worth the scenery.  We drove to the Island of Korcula, boarded a small ferry at Orebic and sailed onto the fisherman's village of Vela Luka.  This village is also built with the traditional cultural old age stone structures, but sports more colour, it is lined with a large prominade around the harbour.  One definitely gets the feeling of an old time fishing village with the big old colourful fishing boats dotted around the harbour!  Vela Luka has an amazing sense of ease, beautiful peacefulness and charm to it.

Vela Luka is situated on the western side of the island of Korcula, in a large bay with many tiny islets and surrounded by tranquil inlets.  It is an oasis of Dalmatia and Mediterranean influences: mild climate, unpolluted sea and air, olive groves, fig trees, tuneful melodies.  Vela Luka is surrounded by the richness and beauty of nature and it is the 2nd largest settlement on the Adriatic islands, a safe harbour for seafarers.  The cultural identity of Vela Luka arises from the traditional merging of man and nature. A few kilometers from the center of Vela Luka we find traces of early human settlement at the "Vela Spila" cave.

It is not as entertaining as Dubrovnik but is has a number of quaint little restaurants, pubs and coffee bars.  The pizzeria, Alfies, won the Pizza Olympics (or something along that line) just 2 or 3 years ago!

Diving seemed to get better the more north we travelled, and my ultimate goal of this entire trip was to dive the BLUE HOLE, which almost did'nt happen!  Again, alot of the diving takes place along the rocky walls of the islands and sealife up here was also a little more prolific.  At this stage I think it is important to mention that we as South Africans are totally spoilt with the vast amount of sealife we have, so you need to get your head around the fact that it is not the same in this part of the world!!  HOWEVER, having said that, we do not have the beauty of the reef topography which is provided for by the island walls and rock formations.  The mix of good visibility, sun light and the bluest of deep blue luminous waters is something that I will remember for ever.  Even with the smaller amount of sealife, this was truly some of my best diving to date!

Dives sites that we dived included SMUGGLERS COVE, VRANIME, THE BLUE HOLE and EMMANTAL.  I did'nt dive Emmantal so I really can't comment on it, the thing is that this came right of the Blue Hole, and I was just so content with my Blue Hole experience that that was it for me for the day!  The BLUE HOLE entrance is only 9m below the surface, one then follows a big chamber downwards.  Looking back toward the entry points and up at the skylights of the cavern, sunlight reflects varying shades of intense blue water.  The walls are covered in multi-coloured sponges and gorgonias, and near the exit point at 35m the deep colour of red coral branches was revealed by torch light.

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HVAR

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Our day started eeeeaaaarrlllyyy in the morning in order to catch our ferry across to the island of Hvar.  By now we thought we'd figured out just what Croatia was all about, until we got to this glitzy island.  Our hotel was set amidst a beautfiully wooded area, peeking through the trees with a beautiful view over the bay and distant islands.  And if this sounds like the perfect setting, it was only the start of what this glamorous island has to offer.

Voted one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world and praised by renowned international publications, Hvar, has been known for the healing qualities of its pure air and crystal clear sea since ancient Greek times.  It is definitely one of the most exciting tourist detinations on the Adriatic Coast, almost something like St. Tropez or again, Monaco.   It is definitely Croatia’s trendiest summer destination, but still true to its authenticity.

Hvar, again built around what serves as both a port and a harbour, is still a 13th century city, but has a very trendy feel to it with sparkly inserts of fancy hotels, boutiques, restaurants and modern decorations intermingled with the old.  Clearly these communities value and honour their culture!  One can walk along the prominade which probably stretches a good 5kms, but loaded with entertainment.  Bars, pubs and open air clubs dangle over the ocean, each with its own dj, private yachts in the back ground, people bathing, sun tanning or dancing in the ultimate beach fashion, with fancy sun decks, beach umbrellas and chairs littering the rocky beach stretches.We ended up at the most amazing restaurant, overlooking the harbour, set in amongst what seems to be an old ruin, covered in lush green trees and Bouganvilias.  Also, one can get anything from cheap designer childrens sweets to REALLLLYYY expensive designer, hand made shoes and bags, so something for everyone.  Rumour has it that one can sometimes spot the young princes, Harry and William peering out a rediculously ostentacious yacht (one of many that are docked in the harbour!).

Regarding the dives, well Hvar (apart from Korculas Blue Hole), turned out to be the most entertaining of the dives we had completed.  As with the other destinations, some really awesome swim throughs, caverns and overhangs, but more specifically the most beautiful wall dives.  We dived the sites of VELA GARSKA, SIRENNA, SIDARO AND STAMBEDAR.  Every now and then one would actually find a hole in the wall leading into some sort of cavern area.  The walls were covered in beautifully bright and varied corals, together with a variety of the brightest and most delicate nudis, cuttle fish, orangutang crabs, sea spiders and yes, to top it all off, sea horses.  Never in my life, have I been able to get to within 10cm of a cuttle fish, I even got a photo of its eye.

All in all, this was by far one of the most exciting dive trips, and what made it so much more fun was that we were able to incorporate a huge cultural component (but not enough) to the trip.  I'd been working on it for a year, and was a little nervous about how well the logistics would work, but I was hugely impressed with the absolute efficiency of all the operators involved in our trip, everything worked like clockwork.  Everything from the accommodation to the transfers, ferries, dive operators (who were all phenomenal!!!!), restauranteurs and just general public was absolutely superb. But in all honesty 7 days were not nearly enough to experience all that Croatia has to offer.  So . . . . . . . . . . . . we're going back next year!

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