Think of Croatia and you probably instantly imagine sun-drenched beaches and deep blue waves. But what is underneath those waves is just as exciting as those ionic vistas.
Here you will find some of the safest and most accessible snorkeling in the world. The reefs in the Adriatic are not as colourful as they are in some areas, but you can snorkel here without worrying about sharks or whales. You also can look forward to encounters with friendly dolphins in some of the cleanest, clearest water around. This means that snorkeling in Croatia is great even for beginners and families.
You will notice that there are not a ton of organized snorkeling tours along the Croatian coastline. That means that you probably will need to plan your snorkeling outings yourself. Where can you go? Here are some of the best snorkeling destinations in Croatia!
1. Brijuni National Park
There are eight national parks in Croatia. Among the most famous is Brijuni, located at Istria’s south coast. There are a couple of reasons why snorkeling in Brijuni is a magical experience. The first is that the area has been protected for several decades, so there is incredible underwater diversity here. In fact, you can even spot the elusive date-shell and pen-shell here, both of which are protected species.
The other reason Brijuni offers a unique snorkeling experience is its history. There are ancient Roman ruins here, some of which are underwater. There are even guided expeditions here to the archaeological sites below the waves. While you are exploring and uncovering the mysteries of Croatia’s past, don’t be surprised if dolphins come out to play!
2. Pakleni Islands
You can sail to Pakleni islands on your Croatia charter boat from Hvar. Surrounding the limestone islands of the archipelago, you will find a number of spots which are great for both snorkeling and diving. What is really cool is that many of the islands are so close together you can hop in a kayak and paddle from one to the next, snorkeling and exploring different reefs around the area as you go.
3. Cape Kamenjak
This park is also located in the south of Istria, close to Pula. There is so much you can do here, both in the water and out of it. Between kayaking, windsurfing, cycling, hiking, and snorkeling, you could easily fill several days with fun activities without even leaving the area.
While you are snorkeling around Cape Kamenjak, you will be astonished by the clarity of the water. The highlight of the area is the underwater cave system you can explore, complete with various caves and corridors leading between them. In these caves, you can encounter one of the world’s most endangered creatures, the Mediterranean monk seal.
4. Drvenik Veli
This spot used to be one which was well-known to locals, but not so much to tourists. Alas, Croatia’s secluded snorkeling getaway spot is no longer so secluded—there are now a lot of tours which come and go from here every day. But that is not a reason to stay away.
In fact, you should come and explore Drvenik Veli anyway. Ignore the crowds, and you will find yourself in awe of your surroundings. There are few spots where the color of the water is quite so vivid as the Blue Lagoon. Whereas the sea bed in a lot of Croatia’s snorkeling destinations is comprised of coral, rocks, or pebbles, here it is sandy, which makes it a great spot for children and beginners to get their feet wet with snorkeling (pun intended).
You will find many small fish in the area along with crabs, urchins, and even octopi. If you show up before noon or after five o’clock in the afternoon, the crowds are not so bad, and if you are not here at peak season, you might even have the place more or less to yourself. But even if you are traveling during peak season and can only get here during the middle of the day, it is worth it—even with the crowds!
5. Mljet Island
For those in search of beautiful foliage, Mljet is an Adriatic paradise. Go hiking through the national parkland here, and then jump into the clear waters to cool yourself off and explore. Swim among sponges, crabs, anemones, and octopi, and marvel at scorpionfish. While there are a number of areas where you can snorkel, the ones you don’t want to miss are Veliko Jezero (Big Lake), and the Odysseus and Rikavica Caves.
The name “Rikavica” translates to “Roaring.” This is because as the waves crash, they compress air in the rock fissures of the cave. This produces a sound like roaring. Access to the cave is only available underwater, so this site is ideal for diving.
As for the Odysseus Cave, there are some awesome spots on the surrounding rock walls for jumping into the water. Once you are in, put your snorkel on so you can take a look around. The water is stupendously clear, likened by some tourists to “being in an aquarium.”
6. Dugi Otok
You’ll find Dugi Otok at the northern end of the Zadar archipelago. There are two nature parks in this area, both of which are protected: Kornati National Park and Telascica Nature Park. That means that there are plenty of fish living in the coral reefs surrounding the island. You will also discover some of the most gorgeous sandy beaches you can dream of here.
Plan to hit at least a few different spots around Dugi Otok before you venture forth to your next destination. Start out at the Lagnici Cliffs by Veli Rat lighthouse. There is a shipwreck here dating back to 1983. Over the past few decades, coral reefs have started forming around the old vessel, and quite a few species of marine life have moved in.
Next, head to the west coast of the island and check out the underwater Brbiscica Cave. The play of the light in the cave creates some stunning colors and contrasts in the water. Swimming through those fluid veins of color are stunning fish, flitting between patches of light and shadow.
Finally, be sure to drop by Telascica Bay at the south end of Dugi Otok. The bay is enclosed by high cliffs, and screened off from the winds by pine and oak trees. In the bay, you can explore numerous coves and islets and see some of the most diverse marine life along the Croatian coastline. More than 250 critters call Telascica Bay their home, residing among more than 300 types of underwater flora.
7. Vis Island
This is arguably the best spot to snorkel along the entire coastline of Croatia. The reason is that Vis was once a Yugoslav National Army base. During those years, foreigners were kept away, and as a result, the island is beautifully preserved. That applies to the surrounding reefs as well. The remoteness helps as well.
Some spots to explore are Green Cave, Blue Cave, and Stiniva and Srebrna Beach. While you are at it, make sure you check out the sea tunnels which once sheltered warships.
8. Makarska Riviera
The Riviera is a large region which should go on any beach-lover’s itinerary. Spanning 60 kilometres, it contains numerous lovely beaches, bays, and villages, with the most sizable settlement being the municipal center of Makarska.
The benefit of going to the Riviera is that you can simply sail up along the coast and move from one snorkeling spot to the next. You will find more to explore here than you can see during a single trip, and you will love every minute of it.
Conclusion: Croatia is Paradise for Snorkeling Enthusiasts
Croatia is not the world’s most famous destination for snorkeling because its reefs and fish are not the most colourful. But Croatia boasts benefits that you will not find everywhere for snorkeling. You will be hard-pressed to find clearer waters anywhere. The Adriatic also is warm and safe, and offers an environment which is ideal for novices as well as those with extensive snorkeling experience.
So whether you are visiting Croatia on your own or with family or friends, plan to stop by at least a few of these remarkable spots. You will discover that what Croatian reefs lack in color, they more than make up for in terms of biodiversity and stunning ambiance.