If you thought Dubrovnik was beautiful from land, you ain’t seen nothin’ until you’ve seen it from the sea. This review talks you through my experience kayaking with the wonderful Adventure Dalmatia. Paddling into the ancient Croatian harbour as the sun came down was an unforgettable experience. In fact, it might just be one of my top travel experiences of all time!
Anyone who knows me will know that I’ve always been a bit of a water baby. Perhaps it’s because I grew up on an island. Maybe it’s because I’ve been going swimming since I was just a tot.
“Fun fact. Our family were such regulars at the local pool that the lifeguards used to watch me as I snoozed away in my car seat when I was just weeks old! “
Whatever the reason, I love being around water and have never exactly been afraid to get my feet wet (see proof below…) .
Naturally, when the opportunity came up to take part in a sea kayaking expedition around Dubrovnik, I jumped at the chance.
Adventure Dalmatia run several outdoor activities across Europe and were kind enough to invite Fraser and I to take part in one of their guided kayaking tours of the city. Although there are several departure times a day, there was no way we were turning down the opportunity of a sunset tour. After all, where better to watch the daylight trickle away around this beautiful coastal town than from the sea itself?
Safe to say, the experience did not disappoint. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it’s been one my favourite travel experiences to date!
Shortly before our 4pm meet-up time, we headed along to Tvrđava Bokar. Funnily enough, we had somewhat of a love story going on with this wee bay already.
Game of Thrones fans might recognise this rocky cove as the foreground of King’s Landing, and the site of the infamous Battle of Blackwater. To us, it became known as “our spot”. Our apartment was just a stone’s throw away (close enough to pop around with a glass of wine in the evening – huzzah!) and the beauty of the place kept luring us back throughout our trip.
I’ll admit that arriving for our expedition was somewhat of a nail-biting experience. For Fraser, it was the first time he had kayaked. For me, the number of folk looking to set off from the harbour was a tad overwhelming. Thankfully, not everyone was on the same tour. Turns out several kayaking companies use this bay as a departure point too. Phew!
It transpired that we were setting out in a much more palatable team of thirteen (6 couples plus our guide, Alex). I was glad to be part of a smaller group. It was much easier to get to know our fellow kayakers, and – importantly – easier to keep track of each other when out on the water!
It was nice to see a mix of abilities too. Many folk, like Fraser, had little kayaking experience. Plenty, like myself, needed a refresher. Thankfully Alex was on hand to give us an introduction to paddling techniques. We were also given a safety briefing, should we find ourselves in a tricky spot. Thankfully, that wasn’t to be the case today. “We haven’t lost anyone yet”, laughed Alex, with a glint in his eye. Emphasis on the yet.
Given that I’d a wee bit more experience, I was happy to jump into the front of the kayak and lead the way. I was relieved to find that all that childhood practice of paddling around Stromness harbour came back to me!
Once everyone from our group had pushed off from the bay, Alex led us out towards nearby Lokrum island, stopping at times to share stories of Dubrovnik and its history. He also filled us in on his personal connection to the city. He moved there only a year ago because – as he put it – he had “fallen in love, both with the place and a girl”. Yup; that’ll do it.
I’d been intrigued by Lokrum Island since arriving in Dubrovnik. No matter where you are in the city, you can’t escape the gaze of this pretty, green gem, poking up through the water. The island has held many uses over the years. It was once a monastery, and then a botanical garden, with plants and foliage donated from across the country. Today, it’s a peaceful haven for the locals to escape and kick back amongst the Cyrpus trees, or hang out with the resident peacocks and rabbits who have made the place their home.
Paddling around Lokrum proved to be an endurance test for two reasons. First, the changing tides, which involved a fair deal of negotiating with the arm muscles. Second, the unexpected discovery of a nudist colony! Some things you just can’t unsee.
After a brief rest to let the biceps recover, it was on to the secluded Betina Cave, which can only be reached by boat. After a couple of hours on the go, the azure waters were looking seriously inviting. Unfortunately, it was a tad colder than we were expecting!!
Although busy with various kayaking groups, Betina Cave was a real treat to discover. I can only imagine how lovely it would have been to have this place all to yourself.
As we set of into the third hour of our trip, I was beginning to question how we were going to find the strength to get home. Although I’d consider myself a confident kayaker, my energy levels were starting to show signs of defeat. As the evening waves began to gain momentum – particularly with the wake of passing boats – every stroke became more and more taxing.
And then – just as our motivation began to waver – along came the boost we needed. A change had come over the sky. The sun had lowered, and long sweeping shadows crawled their way down the distant mountains. The clouds above us became a canvas, marbled with dashes of pink, purple and orange.
The walls of the city came into view, the limestone sparkling with golden excitement. If I’d thought Dubrovnik was beautiful in the daylight, it wasn’t a patch on what the city had to offer at night.
Before our final paddle into the bay, we took a breather just to stop and take in the view. To our left, the final glimpses of sun cascaded across the water. To the right, the moon rose hazily through the veil of clouds. Above, a murmuration of starlings danced in perfect unison. It was hard to imagine a more perfect end to the experience.
So how would I sum up the experience?
Amazing. Exhilarating. Exhausting. Unforgettable. I can think of several words! It was everything all at once, and utterly magical.
With its nautical history and ancient walls, I truly believe that Dubrovnik is best explored from the water. While boat trips are definitely an option, the freedom that kayaking around the harbour can give you is hard to beat. You’ll spot all sorts of hidden nooks and crannies to come back and explore…including the gorgeous Buza Bar which is perched right on the cliff edge and would be easy to miss from land!
The added bonus of kayaking with a group like Adventure Dalmatia is that you’ll be in the safe hands of a local guide, who’ll fill you in on all kinds of insider knowledge. We got super lucky with Alex, who had a cracking sense of humour. I’m sure whoever leads your tour will have you well looked after.
Sounds great, right? Here’s the small print.
- During the summer, Adventure Dalmatia offer three departure times; 9.30 am, 1.30pm and the sunset tour, which leaves at 4pm. This might vary according to season.
- Advance booking is a must, particularly during the summer months which often sell out! Follow the link here to bag your spot.
- Tours can last up to three hours and you’ll cover approximately 7km over that time.
- All equipment will be provided, from the DAG Lagoon kayaks to lifejackets, water and sealed bags/tubs to keep your belongings dry. This is super handy if you want to bring your phone or camera for photos. You’ll also get a bottle of water and even wine and bruschetta at the end of the sunset tour!
- The meeting point is just by the Pile Gate. Just walk under the steps and cross through the park to the bay, where you’ll find a stand for the company.
- 9.30am and 1.30pm tours cost 230 Croatian Kuna (approx £28), while the sunset tour is 250KN – in my view, worth every extra penny.
- Experience is not necessary – full instruction will be given.
- Although the tours are open to anyone ages 4+, I’d think carefully before bringing children or anyone with mobility trouble. You’re out on the water for 3 hours and it is physically demanding at times. If you’re unsure, pop along to the desk during your stay and talk to one of the team. They’ll offer the best advice!