Always dreamt of swimming with dolphins? Or just fantasized about catching sight of them dipping and diving out of the water alongside your boat? Well, despite what you might think, you don’t have to venture as far as the beaches of Bali to do so.
Readers heading to Croatia, you’re in luck. Dolphins can be found all over the Mediterranean and more than 200 bottlenosed dolphins are estimated to live in the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea. Dolphin-watching trips achieve regular sightings, and you could even stumble across a pod by accident if you’re cruising the ocean at the right time. With more and more conservation efforts in Croatia, there is also a possibility of spotting the common dolphin, which, despite its name, is a much rarer species.
So, where can you see dolphins in Croatia? From the tourist haven of Dubrovnik to remote Adriatic islands, these are the best places to spot them. Let’s get into it.
Located in the northern Adriatic, Losinj is a spectacular island with striking scenery, fascinating architecture, and picturesque bays. It’s also one of the best places to see dolphins in Croatia and around 100 bottlenosed ones live in the waters around the island.
Losinj is known for its lush vegetation and laid-back vibe. Somewhat of an undiscovered gem, this forested island is dotted with colorful Venetian villages, pebble beaches, and ancient history. The main resort of Mali has a breathtaking natural harbor and you’ll find the Museum of Losinj tucked away nearby. The museum is located in the Fritzi Palace and houses an expansive collection of Italian baroque and contemporary Croatian art.
The Museum of Apoxyomenos is also located in the town center and here you’ll find a bronze statue from the 1st or 2nd century BC that was recovered from the sea.
There are plenty of dolphin-watching tours to sign on to, and the southern part of Losinj, connecting the eastern and western coasts, is even aptly named “Dolphin Way” because of the abundance of playful dolphins that live there.
The medieval walled city is one of Croatia’s most visited destinations, fronting the sea from its southern location on the Dalmatian coast. Dubrovnik is most famous for the huge 16th-century stone walls that encircle the town, but it also plays host to a selection of well-preserved ancient buildings.
From the Renaissance Sponza Palace to the Baroque St. Blaise Church and Gothic Rector’s Castle, now a museum, there’s plenty to entice history buffs and architecture aficionados. The pedestrianized central Placa in the old town is also paved with limestone and punctuated with boutiques and local eateries. You can spend hours getting lost in the winding and steep narrow streets that are characteristic of this magical city.
Dubrovnik is a stepping stone to some of Croatia’s best islands, but its incredibly clear blue waters also offer the perfect setting for tracking down marine life. Tourists have reported swimming with dolphins right off the coast from the sprawling city and bottlenosed dolphins have even been spotted at the top of the Ombla River in Dubrovnik.
Ombla is one of the shortest rivers in the world, with the source being less than five kilometers from the river’s mouth in Dubrovnik, located at the foot of the Golubov Kamen massif. This huge rock and cave straddle the Croatian-Bosnian border. The short length of the Ombla means much of the river is actually sea water, making way for a diverse mix of marine life.
Dolphin tours leave daily from Dubrovnik and much of the journey around the nearby islets that flank Dubrovnik’s shores. However, despite tourists admitting to swimming with dolphins in Dubrovnik, it is prohibited to deliberately disturb Croatia’s small populations of Dolphins as they are considered endangered species.
The Brijuni Islands are a group of fourteen islets nestled off the coast of the Istrian Peninsula, offering untouched beauty and vibrant marine life. The archipelago is separated from the west coast of Istria by the narrow Fazana Strait. While the waterway can be busy with traffic, to the north of Brijuni and its national park, are some of the best dolphin spotting waters in the country.
They might be popular tourist destinations for snorkeling and relaxation, but the Brijuni Islands are uninhabited, which has given marine life great opportunities to thrive. The whole area is encompassed by the Brijuni National Park, established in 1983, and the waters are a protected conservation area. Still, dolphin tours do operate around the islands for those who want the chance to catch a glimpse of these creatures from a boat.
You can also swim in marked areas on the Brijuni Islands and recreational water sports are allowed in designated parts of the park. The only way to reach the Brijuni Islands is by ferry from Fazana on the mainland to the biggest island of Veliki Brijuni. However, you can tour the islands by boat with a number of operators from nearby Pula, the unofficial capital of the Croatian Istrian region.
Some 50 kilometers up the coast from the Brijuni Islands, the waters off the coast of Porec can also offer great dolphin watching opportunities. Porec is a bustling summer resort in western Istria, best known for the 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica complex you can find in its old town. The cathedral complex is one of the oldest of its kind and best-preserved examples of Byzantine Christian architecture and art remaining in the modern world.
Adorned with mosaics and housing an atrium, bishop’s palace, baptistery, and sacred relics from the 4th century, the basilica will fascinate even the least historically inclined visitor. Still, if it’s the waters you’re more interested in, Porec is also a big sporting destination with windsurfing, sailing, and paddle boarding among the popular recreational activities that tourists can enjoy on its beaches.
Slightly further out to sea, in the Croatian part of the northern Adriatic, a good portion of the country’s dolphin populations are also said to dance and play for spectators that wait patiently on passing boats.
The early hours of the morning are the best time to spot dolphins when the water is most calm. Still, there are also a number of sunset dolphin cruises on offer in Porec, which afford spectacular views of the city’s light when you return to the harbor at nightfall.
With an area of just 15 square kilometers, Silba is one of the smallest inhabited islands in Croatia, and brimming with quaint charm. The population sits at less than 300, but several thousands of tourists flock to its shores every summer for the sun, the sea, and the marine life.
Silba is located 30 kilometers from mainland Croatia, in the Zadar archipelago, southeast of Losinj, and nestled between the islands of Premuda and Olib. In easy reach from Losinj’s “Dolphin Way”, it’s no surprise that Silba offers great opportunities for spotting some of Croatia’s largest pods of dolphins, but its own waters, closer to shore, are equally mesmerizing.
Another thing that makes Silba so special is that the island is completely pedestrianized. The port might be popular with ferries and fishing boats, but the lack of automated transport on the island helps keep pollution to a minimum, helping the diverse flora and fauna to thrive.
Dolphin sightings are frequently reported off Silba’s western shores, and it’s not uncommon for dolphin calves to be seen swimming alongside their mothers. Conservationists track the early years of the pups around Croatia’s coast, and your excursion tour guide is sure to fill you in on everything there is to know about the lives of young dolphins in the Adriatic.
Just a stone’s throw from Hvar and the Dalmatian coast, Korcula is Croatia’s sixth-largest island, covered in pine forests and with a jagged shoreline, punctuated by idyllic swimming spots and pebble beaches. Korcula might be just seven kilometers wide, but with its long, narrow shape, it boasts almost 100 kilometers of dazzling coastline.
The ancient greeks called the island “Black Korcula” because of the dense, dark woodland that dominates much of the landscape. However, the quaint old town of Korcula has been dubbed “Little Dubrovnik” thanks to its red-tiled roofs, local houses, medieval squares, and charming churches.
The crystal clear waters are perfect for exploring Korcula’s marine life and deep sea diving is a big sport in Dalmatia. Still, Korcula is no stranger to dolphin sightings and the creatures have even been known to join swimmers in the populated bay of Kneza on the island.
Pods dive through the air in the Korcula channel and boat tours that head out in the early morning have the best chance of spotting them in action. They can also come close to the shore, especially as Korcula has some steep drop-offs along its jagged coast. So keep your eyes peeled when you’re looking out to sea while enjoying that morning coffee.
Known for its barren, almost lunar landscape, Pag is a sprawling and unique island in the Adriatic, located just a few kilometers off the mainland coast of northern Dalmatia. Pebble and sand beaches define the shoreline, and the dry, rugged lands are actually the reason for Pag’s most famous export.
The mighty Bora winds, which can reach hurricane speeds of 170 kilometers per hour, come in from the Velebit Mountain and whip across the narrow strait that separates Pag from mainland Croatia. The fierce Bora blows the salty waters all across the inland meadows, scattering dry salt dust all over the island as a result. This flavors the wild pastures and actually infuses sheep’s milk with a distinct salty taste that can be recognized in the namesake, Pag cheese.
Yet, Pag is much more than its agriculture. The old town is steeped in history and is home to the 15-century Church of St. George, which was part of Pag’s original defensive walls, and an archeological site with the ruins of a Franciscan monastery.
Pag is also surprisingly known as one of the premier nightlife destinations in Croatia. Don’t let the arid landscape fool you, there is plenty happening on Pag’s beaches and Zrce Plaza, in the town of Novalja to the north of the island, is a party hub playing host to a number of international music festivals every year.
What’s more, the vast waters around Pag are also great for dolphin and whale watching. The strait between Pag and Vir is a popular dolphin spotting territory and lively pods make appearances for sunset cruises all throughout the high season. The pristine waters around the Pag archipelago are perfect for dolphins, who only live in very clean seas. Pag is also strategically close to Losinj, and the 100 or so dolphins that population Losinj’s waters often make their way down to Pag’s shores.
When is the best time to see dolphins in Croatia?
Dolphins are most active at the crack of dawn, from around 5 am, until 10 am, and then from 5 pm until dusk. Dolphins are also warm-blooded animals and prefer temperate waters so their populations are most rife in Croatia from May until September, but you could spot them any time of year if you’re lucky.
Can I swim with dolphins in Croatia?
All of Croatia’s marine animals have been protected by law since the 1980s. Dolphins might be a big part of the tourism draw in Croatia, but it is prohibited to disturb populations in any way, this means swimming and even sailing closely beside pods. Dolphin tours can take you close to areas where dolphins dwell and give you a good chance of sightings, but you have to keep your distance and you shouldn’t knowingly get in the water with them.
Are there sharks in Croatia?
Croatia’s waters are better known for their great sporting opportunities and fantastic clarity for snorkeling and dolphin watching, but there are also around 45 species of shark that live in the Adriatic. Fear not, they pose little risk to swimmers in Croatia. Still, blue sharks, bull sharks, and even tiger sharks have all been spotted off Croatia’s coast. Sharks tend to populate very deep waters and drop-offs and keep their distance from humans, and dolphins can actually be a deterrent for sharks.