Croatia is about the size of West Virginia and has more than a thousand miles of shoreline and almost 1,200 islands, many uninhabited. The most popular stretch of shore—and the one this guide focuses on—is the section of the Dalmatian Coast which stretches 350 miles from the mainland city of Split south toward the medieval town of Dubrovnik. The region has 17 inhabited islands, including Brač, Hvar, Vis, and Korčula. All are within easy reach of one another and the mainland, linked by an elaborate ferry network.
So what's the best way to plan a trip? The classic route is to fly into Split and spend a day or two, then ferry southward along the islands, spending time as your interests dictate. You'll end up in Dubrovnik, where we highly recommend a stay of several days (check out our Insider Guide.) You could also reverse this route easily, and fly out of Split.
Like their Greek cousins, each of the islands has its own interests, character, history, and topography. You'll find that most Croatians are very specific about dates and their heritage, and that the land they live on often has been in the family for generations. Throughout the centuries, the country has seen domination by Romans, Austro-Hungarians, Venetians, and Nazis; it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. (Most fighting in the region ended in 1995.) And while folks no longer talk incessantly of the 1991 conflict between Serbia and Croatia—though they'll give you an earful if you have the time—the history of the region informs daily life in surprising and often charming ways. It's one of the most fascinating aspects of a visit here.
WHEN TO GO
Dalmatia's high season has traditionally been July and August, when temperatures are around 80 degrees and the average rainfall is less than two inches per month. Summer also means big crowds and scarce hotel rooms. Plan well in advance, or consider visiting in April, May, June, or September, when the weather is a tad rainier but still grand. You'll find the locals even more accommodating and places like the Blue Cave much more enjoyable. One caveat: By October many of the ferries between the islands run on restricted schedules, and nightclubs such as Carpe Diem sometimes close during the winter.
HOW TO GET THERE
The main hub for the Dalmatian islands is Split. From the city block–sized chunk of land at Split's harbor you can catch buses, trains, and ferries to the rest of region and Europe, as well as shuttles to and from the airport (385-21-203-555; www.split-airport.hr)—recently made busier by the arrival of low-cost carriers Wizz Air (48-22-351-9499; www.wizzair.com) and easyJet (44-871-244-2366; www.easyjet.com), which started flying from London in spring 2006. Neither of these airlines fly to U.S. so you'll have to organize a connecting flight from one of the major hubs such as London, Frankfurt, Rome, or Paris. The major carrier is British Airways from the U.S. to Split (stopping at Heathrow).
Split has a multitude of car-toting ferries and fast-boat catamarans. Jadrolinija (385-51-666-111; www.jadrolinija.hr) is the main ferry company; tickets to Hvar, Vis, Brač, and Korčula can be purchased at one of the kiosks scattered along the harbor. While it's not necessary to purchase tickets before you arrive in Split, it's a good idea to check out the timetables online to get a sense of how connections jibe with your itinerary. Not all ferries leave every day from every island: In some cases you'll have to return to Split to connect to another island. From Split, ferries take about one hour to Brač, and about two hours by catamaran to Hvar, Vis and Korčula.
Renting a car, while not strictly necessary, will give you more freedom to explore the islands. There are agencies at the Split airport; ferries accommodate cars for an extra fee.
Croatia National Tourism Office (U.S.A.)
350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 4003
New York 10118
Tel: 800 829 4416
Croatia National Tourism Office (Split, Croatia)
7 Obala Hrvatskog
Tel: 385 21 348 600