There are many ways to designate Croatia’s regions—coastal and inland, islands and mainland, northern and southern—and the best way to get a feel for the diverse charms of its geography is to look at each from a variety of perspectives.
Dalmatian Coast -- Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is characterized by extremes. From Zadar in the north to Dubrovnik in the south, the terrain that extends westward from the dramatic backdrop of the rugged Dinaric mountain range becomes a sun-washed 3-D mosaic of red-tiled roofs, graceful bell towers, lush vegetation, and shimmering beaches as the land rolls toward the sea. The coast is also a repository of history, with very visible Roman and Venetian influences. Add to that a mild Mediterranean climate that supports a thriving fishing industry and an agricultural economy rich in olives and grapes, and you have the formula for tourism gold. Offshore, Croatia’s many islands (1,168 to be exact, if you include all the islets and reefs, although only 47 are inhabited) lure boating and watersports enthusiasts, sun worshipers, Europeans on vacation, and celebrities trying to get away from it all. They are part of Dalmatia’s mystique and some of its most valuable assets.
The picture isn’t so rosy on the Dinaric’s eastern side. There the sun’s rays become harsh spotlights that emphasize the landscape’s stark and rocky personality, a struggling economy, and the lingering effects of war.
Inland Croatia -- This area reflects a melting pot of cultures, each distinct, but all Croatian. The country’s largest city, Zagreb, is here, a thriving metropolis of more than one million people. Zagreb is the economic and political center of this part of Croatia, which is a gateway to the spectacular natural wonders of the south and to the hilly, winegrowing regions of the north. The extreme northern part of the country is home to many Hapsburg-inspired towns and castles set at regular intervals across the rolling farmland east of Zagreb, through Slavonia, and all the way to the Danube. The countryside here flattens out into farmland and historic towns and villages that have been the subject of battles for centuries (the area was severely affected by the 1991 war).
Istria -- Istria is a peninsula that hangs off the northwestern end of Croatia into the northern Adriatic. Istria is Croatia’s de facto league of nations: It is the part of the country that abuts Western Europe, and it has a complex identity thanks to cultural osmosis and a long history of occupation by Romans, Venetians, Austro-Hungarians, Italians, and Yugoslavs prior to becoming part of independent Croatia. Part of Istria’s charm is its foresight in letting the region’s coastal towns and interior medieval settlements retain their personalities through the centuries. These places still possess unique customs and architecture that are a strong draw for people both outside and within Croatia. Istria knows how to be an excellent host to visitors, who have been flocking to the region’s seaside resorts and Roman ruins from Western Europe (and now from everywhere) for more than a century. Istria also is known as one of Croatia’s food and wine capitals thanks to the excellent vintages produced in its vineyards, the rich supply of truffles found in its forests, and the refined cuisine served in its restaurants, a mix that reflects the region’s cultural past, present, and future.
Croatia’s 5,830km-long (3,625-mile) coastline and the waters around its scattered islands are a diver’s paradise. Marine life, reefs, parts of sunken cities, and rock formations abound, but shipwrecks are often the biggest lure for deep-sea explorers. For complete information on diving opportunities in Croatia, go to www.ronjenjehrvatska.com, which has English texts and a complete list of diving centers and sites. Some of Croatia’s most popular submerged wrecks and their locations are listed below.
USAF Boeing B-17: This World War II military plane settled on the ocean floor off the island’s south coast in 1943 at a depth of almost 75m (250 ft.). The aircraft's fuselage and engines were damaged in a bombing raid on Maribor, and it sank while attempting a landing on Vis. For experienced divers.
“Vassilios T”: This Greek cargo ship went down in a storm in 1939 and is now at rest off the coast of Komiža at depths of 20m to 55m (66 ft. to 180 ft.). The ship’s coal cargo is visible in the cargo holds and around the vessel. Underwater lamps are a plus for viewing the ship's interior. For intermediate divers.
“Meja”: This ship is located in 40m (130 ft.) of water off Brač, east of the isle of Mrduja. Diving is possible in the cabin section, and there is a sunken wall that can be visited on the return from the wreck. For experienced divers.
“Baron Guatsch”: A torpedo took out this Austro-Hungarian passenger ship in 1914 just north of the Brijuni Islands. It has four decks and is at rest 40m (130 ft.) down on a sandy bottom. Only two of the decks are available for exploration, but the ship has become a habitat for a variety of fish, shells, and plants. For experienced divers.
Greek cargo ship flotsam and jetsam: The 2,000-year-old shipwrecks are long gone, but their cargo is strewn over a large area off Cavtat. Amphorae are plentiful and marine life is rich and diverse. There is a “newer” cargo ship from a.d. 400, 30m (100 ft.) down, but it is protected by a steel cage. For beginners diving with a registered club.
Kvarner Gulf -- The Kvarner Gulf is home to some of Croatia’s largest islands and biggest resorts. Croatia’s largest port, and one of the country’s biggest transportation hubs (Rijeka) are also here, as is one of its most developed holiday cities (Opatija). The entire area skirts the Kvarner Gulf, which lies between Istria and Dalmatia. It is a mélange of stark island landscapes, sophisticated resorts, excellent beaches, and some of the most forbidding mountains in Croatia. The islands of Krk, Cres, Lošinj, Pag, and Rab are easily accessed from Rijeka and other points on the mainland, and they’re especially busy with tourists during the summer months. Croatia’s wild and wooly northeastern wind (bura) is the only deterrent to enjoying this part of the country. When the bura blows, tourism goes.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.