With some 1,200 islands scattered across the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is best seen by boat. And though most visitors will probably choose to avoid a five-week, 400-mile (644-kilometer) expedition like ours, it's very possible to catch the highlights in a few days. Here's how.
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Kayaking and Rafting
Sea kayaking and white-water outfitters are popping up like mushrooms. But Huck Finn Adventure Travel (www.huck-finn.hr), based in the capital city of Zagreb, is the granddaddy of watersports in Croatia. It offers one-day ($38) and eight-day ($550) white-water rafting and kayaking trips on the rollicking coastal rivers, namely the Dobra and Krupa, as well as the river we ran, the slower Zrmanja. Besides guided trips, Huck Finn rents sea kayaks from a variety of bases along the coast and in the islands ($25 a day, $140 a week) and will help you put together your own DIY trip.
Dubrovnik-based Adria Adventure, run by former Miss Croatia Ivana Grzetic, offers week-long camping and paddling tours among the Elafiti Islands ($492; www.adriatic-sea-kayak.com).
Adriatic Kayak Tours (www.kayakcroatia.com) runs day and weekend tours ($44 and up) from town. To get a sense of Croatia's culture without sitting on a tour bus, consider contacting Shane Braddock of Lifejacket Kayak Adventures. He leads day-long paddling trips ($48; www.lifejacketadventures.com) around the island of Hvar that focus on architecture, and he custom-tailors longer kayaking and hiking trips to visit wineries and historical sites.
For a paddling trip with none of the camping, the Berkeley, Californiabased sea kayaking outfitter Explorers' Corner offers a brand-new, ten-day, sailboat-based trip from Split to Dubrovnik ($3,390 per person; www.explorerscorner.com). Aboard the elegant 60-foot (18-meter) sailboat M/L Vila Vrgade (www.vila-vrgade.com), passengers are fed well and dropped in prime paddling spots each day. Former adventure racer Ivana Franceschi offers slightly more adventurous one-day and multi-day kayak trips out of Dubrovnik (www.crochallenge.com).
Just like Capri in the 1950s, Croatia is becoming a legendary yachting destination. To join the party, consider a week-long trip through the Elafitis on the Dubrovnik-based gulet Nostalgica, captained by storyteller and former fisherman Miljenko "Peter" Kisic ($9,000 for eight people; www.gulet-croatia.com).
There are a growing number of climbing areas along the islands' limestone sea cliffs. Check in with Cliffbase (www.cliffbase.com), on the island of Hvar, for info on the 120 well-bolted sport routes nearby.
You don't dive the Adriatic for the aquatic life, you dive it for the wrecks. Possibly the best site in the country is a graveyard of sunken vessels off the island of Vis. Contact the Issa Diving Center in Komiz˘a to plan a trip ($151 for six dives; www.scubadiving.hr).
There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Croatia; the Croatia Travel Agency (800 662 7628) in Astoria, New York, gets some excellent fares (expect to pay about $660). Before leaving, check in with the Croatian National Tourist Board (us.croatia.hr), which has lists of tour operators and hotels.
There are a variety of ferries that serve most major towns and islands and allow for easy island-hopping (check www.jadrolinija.hr for schedules). Be advised, bicycles, motorcycles, and kayaks are accepted only on the larger, but slower, car ferries.
Croatia has about 500 clean and well-maintained campsites (usually about $6 a night) spread along the coast and throughout the islands. For locations and prices, consult the Croatian Camping Union (www.camping.hr). We bookended our trip in luxury at the Regent Esplanade ($179; www.regenthotels.com), in the capital city of Zagreb, and the Hotel Excelsior ($95; www.hotel-excelsior.hr), on the sea in Dubrovnik. After five weeks in a little boat, it was well worth it.
Map by Computer Terrain Mapping
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