If there’s one thing you absolutely have to make a part of your European Summer, it’s a Croatian island hop. Despite the various conflicts of the 90’s that carried on in the Balkan region, Croatia has since taken a very successful explosion in the tourism industry. The small, horseshoe shaped Balkan nation is well and truly up there with Europe’s most popular summer tourist attractions – and for good reason! Based on the Adriatic Sea, Croatia offers stunning beaches, crystalline waters, the all-famous Game of Thrones set and one of the greatest party scenes in the South of Europe.
Since the commencement of our trip planning, Croatia was at the top of my list. I had seen so many photos of the amazing waters and beautiful national parks that I was overwhelmed and spoilt for choice on where to stay and what to do. I remember thinking do I stay on the mainland in Split and Dubrovnik, or on some of the islands? Then I discovered the Topdeck sail tours. What a great idea they are! Basically, you stay on a boat for 5-12 nights and with a Croatian crew and Topdeck travel guide you hop between the many amazing islands Croatia has to offer. As first time travellers it seemed the perfect way to see the most of the nation with the limited time we had.
Here's five reasons why you absolutely must consider discovering Croatia with a tour company:
#1 Its all organised
The most relieving thing for us about an organised tour was just that – it was organised. After eight weeks by ourselves fumbling through Europe, Topdeck presented us with a seven-day itinerary, including meals, day trips, relaxation time and even where to party! All you have to do is get on the boat on time and they take care of the rest! The overwhelming feeling of how to make the most of your days, and picking a place to eat becomes totally non-existent as your wonderful tour guide takes care of it all. Any traveller will know how exhausting it can get, constantly having to research and organise as you go so while we do love to do our own thing it was so easing to be able to kick back and just follow the crowd.
This photo was taken in Mljet National Park, a beautiful park which borders two salt water lakes on the island of Mljet, Croatia. We stopped here for a day and were free to hire bikes and kayaks and explore the island.
#2 Seven nights means Seven Stops
One thing that I wasn’t aware of was that each night you dock at a different island. We sailed from Split down to Dubrovnik, meaning every afternoon we docked at another beautiful town with its own charming way of life. You sail for about 2-6 hours each day between islands, which may seem like a while but its a real treat being able to lie on the top of the boat and soak in the sunshine and salty summer air between beautiful locations.
Admittedly the seven locations does turn the week into an absolute whirlwind but its worth every second. The perks of staying on a boat means you can see seven different islands without the difficulty relocating brings with it. There's no unpacking/repacking, checking in/out, and theres certainly no boring train or bus rides. You get to stop somewhere new every day and it barely even feels like travel. I’d say that without a guided tour we probably would have only visited one or two islands aside from the mainland stops, making the tour absolutely worth it as a way to make the most of our time in Croatia.
We got to spend an afternoon wandering around Korcula, the sixth largest Croatian Island. There was also an awesome rooftop bar on one side of the island that was easy to walk to that I would highly recommend called Massimo.
This is take on a walk down from the Cathedral on an island called Sipanska Luka. Sipan was our last stop before Dubrovnik as its just 17km Northwest of the mainland.
#3 The Swim Stops
Everyone’s favourite time of day (because happy hour ran all day long) was the swim stops. Each day, and sometimes twice a day the captain would stop the boat for an hour or two at some incredible swimming spots. From what seemed like the middle of nowhere somewhere in the Adriatic, to tucked in magical bays offshore uninhibited islands, the water was always something else. Most of the places were only reachable by boat which was one of the blessings of staying on the boat as day trips from mainland islands each day would cost a fortune. There is no other way to describe the water than magical. It was like it was straight off an advertisement, crystal clear and unbelievably picturesque as you plunged into it from the top of the boat. Swim stops really were the most fun, from jumping off the boat to just sun baking on its roof drinking pina coladas, there is no more remote way to spend a European summer day hidden away from the mainland tourist crowds.
Flipping off the top of the boat into the Adriatic
#4 The People onboard
I suppose if there’s one reason to do any sort of guided tour, it’s for the people you meet. From the hilarious Croatian bar tender we had on board, to the fellow travellers, there was something really special about the ease of the friendships we made on board the tour. I suppose its got to do with your obvious common interest – to travel. Regardless of where you’re all from or what goes on in back home, you’ve all chosen to get on a boat and discover the beauty of a nation together.
Our group on Hvar. We were taken to trek to the top where there were some amazing old Ruins and an even more amazing view. What better way to sweat out last night's hangover right?
Our last night on tour at a Mexican restaurant before heading out in Dubrovnik.
My favourite thing about meeting so many fellow travellers was swapping stories and advice. Because our tour was only seven days and most of the boat was Australian, we had almost all worked the Topdeck tour into a much larger European adventure – after all if you’re going to travel for 24 hours, you’d want to make the most of being over there. Everyone had a different story for a different country and advice on where to stay and what to eat and all the rest of it. Our boat had become one giant pool of knowledge that we were all definitely making the most of, constantly questioning and learning from each other.
Also, because we were almost all only part way into our adventures many of us still had the same destinations left on our agenda and now had friends to meet up with when we reached them! We had great fun meeting up with a couple from the boat at Oktoberfest in Munich later in the year and funnily enough ended up by chance in the same hotel as another couple in Athens only a week after the tour. Since the trip we have also seen frequently on social media since the trip, people still meeting up with one another and bumping into each other all over Europe!
A large portion of the group stayed on at Dubrovnik a few days after the tour's conclusion there. Here is some of the group rekindling on the walls of Old Town Dubrovnik before we set off our different ways.
#5 The Parties
I think we can all appreciate that one thing organised tours such as Topdeck, Contiki and other Sail companies are notorious for is the parties. Let me tell you, a Croatian sail week is no disappointment. Whilst there was no pressure to party and one could easily have made the week a very relaxing one, free of hangovers; the week was labelled Schoolies 2.0 (on our boat anyway). Each night when we’d dock at an island there would be almost 15 other boats that were the exact same concept just with different companies. That’s thirty boats packed with 18-35 year olds ready to have a good time. Each night it was the tour guide's job to take us at least one bar and show us the ropes of the party scene. Our tour guide, Kimmie was UNREAL. She would generally start the afternoon at a trendy bar of some sort before dinner and then take us back to the boat to get ready and drink at the boat’s bar, before guiding us through three different venues, usually two more bars and then a club. Now while I won’t speak for all tour guides, Kimmie was brilliant at her job. She always made sure everyone was okay and comfortable and despite definitely being guilty of partying with us – she was very responsible and made me feel very safe considering we were in such a loose party environment in a foreign country. The one advice I would give – stock up on nausea tablets before you jump on board because nursing a hangover on rocky seas is far from ideal…
Sailor and Pirates Party on board the boat before heading out the night on Korcula.
Our boat in particular had an immense drinking culture about it but I promise they aren't all quite as intense. We were definitely one of the rowdier boats in the harbour as you can see our group passing a bottle of wine around the table, no doubt several rounds in.
yes, yes & yes
Now, whilst I can appreciate that people often steer clear of guided tours due to a preference for independent travel, Sail Croatia is hands down one of the best opportunities for young travellers. They're relatively short and affordable in relation to many of the companies' existing tours making them perfect to slot into a longer trip's itinerary. It's also such a fabulous way to maximise your stay in a country with so many islands worth visiting that would otherwise require a lot of transport planning and expenses to get between them. Whether its at the start, middle or end of your European escape I could not recommend something more. Its an awesome way to spend a week seeing the very best a country as to offer in amazing company.