Croatia Islands budget hopping is an inexpensive way to experience the beautiful islands of Croatia however, depending on the season, day of the week, and weather, Croatia island hopping via ferries requires careful planning. There are two main ferry companies (Jadrolinija and Kapetan Luka) that operate between the islands at very affordable rates. The ferry companies allow both online (some exclusions apply) and in-person ticket purchases, allow car transport (certain Jadrolinija ferry lines) and allow you to bring your own food and beverage onboard.
This was our second time visiting Croatia. Our first time in Croatia was 5 years ago in 2012 when we island hopped via a yacht with The Yacht Week for one epic week! This time we chose to revisit some of our favorite islands and try out some new cities; we start out in Dubrovnik and island hop our way to Split. The following is our 2 week Croatia island hopping itinerary.
Dubrovnik/ Zaton veliki (5 days)
We flew into Dubrovnik. Our Airbnb we booked was just outside of Dubrovnik, located in a little beach town called Zaton veliki (12 km, 20 minutes by taxi, Uber or public bus). Zaton veliki is a quaint little town with 3 private beaches and several local restaurants, cafes, and bars overlooking the crystal clear, turquoise sea.
We opted to stay in Zaton veliki to keep our cost down on both food and accommodation. Hotels in Old Town, Dubrovnik cost $200/ night on average during September. Our Airbnb was $55/ night. We also had a local supermarket within walking distance from our Airbnb (5 minutes) that had fresh produce and local wines to choose from. We used Uber and the local bus to get to and from Old Town to see the sites. Uber cost $12 one way and the local bus cost 26 kuna/person one-way ($4.10). We also love the beach (if you can’t tell) and we wanted to be close to the water!
Old Town, Dubrovnik itself is a huge fortress built into the cliffs. Guards dress in brightly colored uniforms watch over the entrance gates. Inside the medieval fortress walls, one can find orange-tiled roofs and narrow cobblestone streets lined with churches, museums, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, hotels, jewelry stores, art studios, and gelato shops. Fans from the Game of Thrones can be seen wearing costumes and taking tours; checking out the sites where the HBO series has filmed specific scenes. Old Town is alive and full of life inside. It is truly unique. There is so much to do and see.
Day Trip to Lopud, Šipan & Koločep
We found a day trip boat excursion located the Zaton veliki boat marina. The day trip left from the Zaton veliki harbor at 0800 and picked up other passengers at different marinas along the way. The tour was to include a three island tour of the Elaphite islands; Lopud, Šipan, and Koločep. Lunch (vegetarian option of course) and beverages were included (soft drinks, water, wine, and brandy).
Our first stop was Lopud where we were able to spend almost 4 hours. Lopud island was lined with sandy beaches and full of medieval architecture. There were many boutiques and souvenir shops and art studios. There was also a place where you could rent bicycles by the hour. We spent most of our time walking leisurely on the island checking out the little boutique shops and taking time to enjoy the sunshine on the nearby benches overlooking the sea.
Our second stop was the largest of the Elaphite islands, Šipan. On Šipan, Skočibuha castle, built to repel pirates at the time, along with coffee, wine, and ice cream shops could be visited. We spent about 1 hour on this island.
Our final stop was Koločep, also known as Kalamota amongst the locals. This is the smallest, settled island of the Elaphite islands. The island thrives on fishing. We watched the local children fish off the side of the marina with nothing but a fishing line and hook! The landscape of the island is quite unique in that it has sandy, white pebbled beaches surrounded by thick pine tree forests. We spent about 1 hour on this island.
Bonus: We were able to see the Old Town city walls from our boat as we had to pick up other passengers at the Old Town, Dubrovnik marina from Zaton veliki! It was such an interesting perspective to see the city walls from our vantage point and the people walking high above us along with their tour guides and the kayak tours in the sea below us.
BRAC (Milna) (3 days)
We took the ferry from Dubrovnik to Milna in order to continue on our Croatia Island Budget. We used Kapetan Luka ferry company and we were able to purchase these tickets online in advance. The ferry we took was ferry line: Split-Milna-Hvar-Korčula-Mljet-Dubrovnik. The trip took 3 hours 45 minutes; stopping in Mljet, Korčula, and Hvar along the way. The total cost was 200 kuna/ person ($32/person).
Though still cheap, this was our most expensive ferry ride as it was our furthest distance traveled while Croatia island hopping. We stayed at an Airbnb in Milna that cost $60/ night. The Airbnb was located just steps away from the marina, shops, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.
Milna is a quaint little town with a very peaceful vibe, located on the island of Brac. There are several local beaches where you can swim or catch some rays. It’s a great place to go if you are looking to get away from the crowds of tourists and spend your time sampling the local wine and dining on great Mediterranean food.
Hvar (3 days)
We took the ferry from Milna to Hvar Town. We used Kapetan Luka ferry company and we were able to purchase our tickets online in advance. The ferry we took was ferry line: Split-Milna-Hvar-Korčula-Mljet-Dubrovnik. The trip took only 30 minutes as there were no stops. The total cost was 70 kuna/ person ($11/person).
We opted to stay just outside of Hvar Town (15-minute walk) to keep our cost down on both food and accommodation. Hotels in Hvar Town cost $100/ night on average during September. Our Airbnb was $55/ night. We also had a local supermarket within walking distance from our Airbnb (5 minutes) that had fresh produce and local wines to choose from.
Hvar is unique in that it has something to offer for everyone. There is something magical, almost magnetic about Hvar. From the very first time I visited Hvar (five years ago may I remind you), I just could not stop thinking about this place. The energy is electric.
When you walk the cobbled streets admiring the hilltop fortress in the backdrop you know and feel that you are walking the foreign streets of Croatia however, your senses become overwhelmed by the buzzing sound of hundreds of people coming into the marina from the ferries and yachts, people chatting at nearby restaurants over food or a cocktail, children playing in the nearby park and courtyard, the beautiful beaches and aquamarine, blue sea, techno music playing at the nearby clubs, and the smell of lavender in the air being sold at the boutiques throughout the main square.
Vis (4 days)
Getting to Vis was the most difficult part of our island hopping in Croatia. Prior to Croatia island hopping, we knew both ferry companies would not leave Hvar and go to Vis on a Sunday. Currently, the only day in September that Kapetan Luka travels from Hvar and arrives in Vis is on a Tuesday. There are three ways in which you can work around this.
You can hire a private water taxi transfer, find a day trip excursion that visits Vis (or the island you would like to go to) and reach out to the company and ask if they can drop you off along the way or you can take the ferry to the main marina such as Split or Dubrovnik and find another same day ferry that will take you to your final destination. Of course, the latter option is very time consuming but it will eventually get you to your final destination.
We decided to make the most of our trip and take a day trip excursion that would allow us to explore more of Croatia (explore the Blue Cave, Bisevo, and surrounding areas and would take us exploring on and around the island of Vis). Matt contacted the company prior to our arrival in Hvar and asked if it would be okay for us to stay on Vis Island instead of returning with the rest of the excursion back to Hvar.
The company agreed and our plan for getting from Hvar to Vis on a Sunday was set. We would leave with the excursion from Hvar in the morning, stay on Vis after exploring around on the island and not return to Hvar with the rest of our group. The total cost of the excursion was $154 for two persons. (Yes this is very expensive but we were going to go sailing, snorkeling, exploring caves AND get a ride to our next destination!).
As we all know, many things in life are “weather permitting”. The day before our planned excursion we received an email explaining that the excursion would be canceled due to inclement weather and we would receive a full refund. Time for our backup plan.
Plan B. After the extensive online research into water taxi transfer companies (I personally reached out to the four companies via phone and/or email and read numerous internet blogs and Tripadvisor reviews), I found a company called Munsun Transfers and Excursions that would pick us up at Hvar marina and take the two of us to Vis for 900 kuna total ($142).
The boat that would pick us up would be a Marshall M100 (6 m RIB). Now prior to inquiring about a water taxi transfer, I knew nothing about these types of boats. This brings me to my next point. These boats are great and safe IF it is not raining/ storming. As I mentioned, the day before we were supposed to leave Hvar for Vis and the forecast called for a severe storm (hence, our day trip excursion was canceled). When I called to arrange a pick-up, the water taxi transfer company informed me that we could not leave in the morning due to safety issues. Safety first. I totally agreed.
Plan C. We decided it would be in our best interest to leave a day early to avoid the hassle of dealing with bad weather and potentially getting stuck in Hvar and not making it to Vis the next day as planned. On Saturday, a day early, we took the last ferry from Hvar to Split with Jadrolinija. Line: Split-Hvar-Korčula. Total cost 100 kuna/ person ($16/person). Then we took the last ferry leaving Split to Vis with Jadrolinija. Line: Split-Vis. Total cost 54 kuna/ person ($9/person). The total trip time took 6 hours from start to finish (Hvar-Split-Vis).
In the end, it all worked out because we met a pretty cool firefighter from Canada in Split and talked for hours over coffee about his time spent training in Dubai, our travels and his upcoming trip to Oktoberfest. We also were able to check into our Airbnb a day early in Vis without any complications.
We stayed at an Airbnb in Vis that cost $49/ night. The Airbnb was located just steps away from the marina, shops, restaurants, supermarkets etc. We even had the most amazing beach located just a 5-minute walk from our front door. It was perfect! Vis was perfect! The tiny, quaint island of Vis is known for its vast landscapes of vineyards and wineries. It is the perfect place to get some rest and relaxation.
The island by far was my favorite of the islands during the 2 weeks we went Croatia island hopping. We watched an open-air movie at the movie theatre overlooking the sea, walked for hours amongst the narrow, cobbled streets that overlooked the sea, and met the sweetest Croatian born man (now lives in Canada) by the name of Vladimir who invited us into his 400 year old, family home after church one evening for fresh grapes and wine from the local vineyard. We ended up talking for 5 hours about everything and anything!
Split (1 night by the airport)
We took a ferry from Vis to Split using Jadrolinija ferry company and we were able to purchase our tickets online in advance. The ferry we took was ferry line: Hvar-Vis-Split. The trip took only 30 minutes as there were no stops. The total cost was 54 kuna/ person ($9/person). We ended our trip in Kaštela, Croatia (staying at an Airbnb), about 25 minutes from Split.
It was located conveniently by the airport, however, to our surprise the city of Kaštela was quite charming! The city itself has 7 different towns built around 16 different castles! The 7 towns are all connected to each other by an 8km long boardwalk overlooking the sea. There are cathedrals, restaurants and small shops tucked away in hidden alleyways and whitewashed stone buildings hugging the shoreline.
Tips for Croatia island hopping by ferry: Online purchase of tickets is not allowed on the date of travel for high-speed lines. To enter the ship you need to show and scan the code that you received when you purchased the tickets online. You can either print your scan code via the email confirmation or show the scan code on your mobile phone. If there is inclement weather predicted for the next sailing day, in-person ticket sales will cease until further notice.
Pay attention to the route of the ferry as all the ships look the same; your ticket should match what is printed on the outside of the ferry ship. For example, if you are going from Dubrovnik to Milna, your ticket will say: Linija: Split-Milna-Hvar-Korčula-Mljet-Dubrovnik. This is the line indicating the stops in which the ferry will make along the way. The ship you will board should say the exact same thing on the outside of the ship, “Split-Milna-Hvar-Korčula-Mljet-Dubrovnik”, thus indicating you are boarding the correct vessel.
Traveled September 2017