Unfortunately for many tourists, Croatia is too often “experienced” via afternoons spent wandering aimlessly through historic port cities like Dubrovnik and Zadar, soaking up the 21st century shopping set inside 8th century architecture. Beautiful though they may be, these hotbeds of cruise-ship folk do little to present the country in all its natural splendor, teeming with beautiful lakes, limestone mountains, rugged gorges, forested national parks and, of course, incredible Adriatic scuba diving. So unless you’re content with bypassing some pretty wild and often rarely-experienced Balkan adventures, take a few minutes to read up on all the Croatia you heretofore didn’t know existed.
And yeah, we used “heretofore” in a sentence. EO’s goin’ old-school on you.
Two of the biggest names on your list will be national parks Plitvice and Paklenica, if only because they’re conveniently located close some of the country’s most well-traveled thoroughfares. The former is a series of beautiful lakes cascading one into the other, which offers more scenery than adventure, while the latter provides some of the best rock climbing and mountain excursions this European republic has to offer (as well as a convenient location next to the famous Maslenica Bridge, for those interested in some adrenaline pumping 56-meter bungee jumping). Head further along the coast in either direction and you’ll run into either Sjeverni Velebit or Biokovo Parks, keeping with the theme of scenic coastal-mountain trekking and killer limestone rock climbing. There’s also cool exploring to be had along the rugged and much more esoteric Samborsko Gorge near Croatia’s Slovenian border, as well as in the forested mountains and wetlands of Papuk and Lonjsko Polje southeast of the capital.
But if your heart is set more on Dalmatian islands and the clear waters of the Adriatic, and less on inland excursions, Croatia’s adventurous bounty as got you covered there, too. From a profusion of wreck and cave diving options around the island of Vis to Hvar’s selection of rock walls well suited for both climbers and cliff jumpers, you’ll find that these jewels of the coast are way more than just eye candy. Couple destinations like these with the unspoiled beauty of Croatia’s Mljet Island National Park and you’ve got yourself a formidable to-tackle list during your jaunt away from the mainland. All in all, the moral is pretty simple: don’t be so quick to leave the tent and hiking boots behind when planning for your journey to the Croatian side of the Balkan Peninsula. You may just be surprised by the grittier side of this picturesque European getaway.