Although Croatia is barely the size of West Virginia, the Dalmatian coast is part of an enormous 3,600 mile coastline that stretches from Ankaran in Istria, a peninsula that practically touches Italy, all the way down past Dubrovnik to Molunat and the border with Montenegro. Just off this magnificent coastline is more than 1,200 islands. There are three distinct geographical and political areas. Istria of course, is almost its own country and rapidly becoming a must-see Croatian destination although it is a good 5 hour drive from the center of Dalmatia where we live in Split. About two hours from Split, thanks to a super-highway toll road that few locals use so you can zoom along easily, is the Zadar area. Dalmatia is the central coastal area. And then 4.5 hours down the coast from Split is Dubrovnik where the coast narrows almost to a point, quickly becoming Montenegro.
There are really two ways to enjoy the coast: by boat or by car/bus since there are no trains past Split and service is slow and infrequent compared to the bus.
There are a lot of weekly sailing trips between Dubrovnik and Split that stop at the most visited islands as well as key coastal towns. And a similar, though less well developed, cruises in the Zadar area. These boats accommodate between 6 and 60 people and the cost can be as little as $100 day.
There are also a lot of cruise ships, from luxury 200 passenger boats to mega cruise ships holding 4,000. Many included Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik as ports of call, in addition to Mediterranean ports. Some start from Venice or Rome or from ports in Spain, like Barcelona. The best rates are always October/November, which are very nice times to be here!
The other way is by car, about $50 a day and gas is $2 per litre. The roads are excellent, and the coastal road is hundreds of kilometers long and quite spectacular because it hugs the sea and goes through a zillion towns giving you lots of places to stop, even swim, and enjoy.
The bus is fast, cheap, clean and lets BOTH of you look out the window instead of one of keeping your eyes on the road as it winds its way down the coast.
Try to spend a week in one coastal area….resist the temptation to do it all! If you must, then fly from Zagreb to Pula in Istria (45 minutes), rent a car and enjoy the coast and dreamy hill country for 3 days. Then drive from Pula all the way down to Dubrovnik, taking the remaining 4 days to enjoy the cities, towns and islands. Do-able, no diversions, surely fatiguing, but you will see and enjoy a lot………….just follow the coast all the way!