Mljet Island: Croatia’s Secret Saltwater Escape

Mljet Croatia

Mljet — Croatia’s Green Island — is 90% forest, 10% water, and 100% tranquility. As we biked along the paths that surround the island’s internal saltwater lakes, it seemed as if a personal aquatic sanctuary awaited us around every corner. The warm waters were inviting and refreshing. The surrounding pine forests offered shade from the sun and shielding from the outside world. The sound of silence was therapeutic.

Mljet’s other nickname — Mystic Oasis — seems fitting in hindsight.

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path alternative to some of the more tourist-saturated Croatian islands, look no further than this serene island paradise. Just over 1000 people live on Mljet, and even during the height of the tourist season in mid-July, the island felt empty. Whether you visit for a day or get lost for a week, you will not regret — and you will never forget — your trip to Mljet.

Come discover Mljet Island: Croatia’s secret saltwater escape.

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One quick note: Mljet → “MEE-YET” !

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Quick links

~ use the links below to jump to specific sections of this guide ~

First, we’ll get you familiarized with the island, help you prepare for your trip, and take you on a tour of the park itself:

Then, we’ll cover travel logistics, explain how to execute a day trip, and offer a couple suggestions for overnight accommodation:

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Know before you go

The island of Mljet is located in the southeastern part of the Adriatic Sea, roughly 30 miles (48 km) from Dubrovnik.

Mljet National Park — which makes up the entire northwest side of the island — is best described as a dense pine forest surrounding 2 saltwater lakes that are fed by the Adriatic Sea. In reality, the “lakes” are not really lakes, but rather inlets of the Adriatic. Semantics!

What’s important is this: the natural phenomenon of Mljet’s internal saltwater lakes — through some combination of seasonality, water salinity, and other nautical science — results in warmer water temperatures inside the island than in the seas outside the island. During the summer, at least. Further reading here.

Basically, come on in, the water is warm!!!

As far as wildlife, you may see mice, hedgehogs, mongooses, boars, turtles, snakes or lizards on the island. We did not come across any of these animals, but did see many birds and LOTS of bees. We were told by the locals “if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you” and we found this to be true.

if you’re allergic to bees: come prepared with the proper precautions

What to pack: Mljet travel essentials

Whether you’re visiting Mljet for a day or staying for a week, make sure you’ve got a backpack or beach bag packed with the following items before you enter the national park:

  • Bathing suit
  • Towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Snorkel
  • Drinking water
  • Snacks
  • Portable speaker
  • Bee-sting precautions
  • Cash (Kuna, not Euros!) to pay for things like ice cream, drinks or ferry tickets to the Isle of St. Mary

bring water shoes! Mljet’s beaches are typically rocky and sometimes the “beach” is merely the concrete sidewalk leading directly into the water. If these rocks don’t bother you, the sea urchins certainly will! Play it safe and bring some water shoes to protect your feet.

A few helpful words to remember before your trip:

  1. Ferry → Trajekt
  2. Ticket → Ulaznica
  3. Small Lake → Malo jezero
  4. Big Lake → Veliko jezero
  5. Bicycle → Bicikl
  6. Bridge → Most
  7. Small Bridge → Mali most
  8. Beer → Pivo
  9. Cheers! → Živjeli!
  10. Thank you!→ Hvala!
Small lake (Malo jezero)
Big lake (Veliko jezero)

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Exploring the saltwater lakes

For the most part, paved concrete paths make it easy to explore the park by foot or on bicycle (more on this, below). We chose to rent bikes both days, and recommend you do the same, especially if your time is limited to 1 day on the island.

Beyond the lakes, Mljet also offers extensive hiking trails which lead to fantastic views of the island, the park and the surrounding Adriatic. Click here to read more about 4 great hiking suggestions.

The park has multiple entrances, but no “official” gates that you pass through to enter. Entrance fees can be paid at kiosks in the villages of Polače or Pomena.

The map below provides a great visual overview of the park, both lakes, and some other points of interest.

Source: www.mljettravel.com

Choose a path

Once inside the park, you can choose to do a clockwise or counter-clockwise tour of the park. In fact, we did both! But for this guide, we’re going to take you on a counter-clockwise tour that begins at the north entrance, 10 minutes from the village of Pomena where we stayed.

After entering the park, we biked down a rocky trail for about 3 minutes until we reached the small lake, and a fork in the road. We chose to turn right (southwest if you’re using a map). After another 10 minutes, the trails became rockier and more difficult, and we decided to turn around. We did take this opportunity to leave our bikes for a few minutes and take our initial plunge into the refreshingly warm waters of the Small Lake.

reflections from DnA: the first impression was unforgettable. In this part of the island, the lake bottom was soft beneath our feet, a mixture of mud and sea grass growing freely. Here, pine trees grew within a few feet of the lake’s shore, many of their branches extending not only over — but into — the surface of the Small Lake. We saw no other humans for 15 minutes. We were now experiencing the undisturbed tranquility that Mljet offers its visitors.

Our first dip into the waters of Mljet

Small Lake, meet Big Lake

We returned to the fork in the road and continued for 5 minutes along the other side of the Small Lake until we reached a small bridge. This bridge, appropriately named Mali Most (literally meaning “Small Bridge”) marks the intersection of The Big Lake and Small Lake. We stopped here for a moment and observed a local vendor selling ice cream and other refreshments, while another vendor rented kayaks to some visitors.

We found this area to be a bit crowded for our taste, so we turned right, crossed the bridge, and continued biking deeper into the park. It should be noted: “crowded” means that we saw maybe 30 people total, which was a lot more than we saw anywhere else on the island!

Find your sanctuary

The formula for Mljet is quite simple. For 2 days, we did — essentially — this:

  1. Ride bikes along the lake until we find a secluded spot
  2. Lean bikes up against a tree
  3. Have a snack (D needs to be fed multiple times/day)
  4. Take a dip in the warm saltwater lakes
  5. Get out, dry off, continue biking
  6. Repeat!

As our tour continues, you can safely assume that this cycle repeated itself every 15-20 minutes. For your own tour, we encourage you to do the same!

don’t worry about someone stealing your bike! In fact, it’s unlikely they will even give you a lock when you rent the bike — this is just the way of life on Mljet!

The Isle of St. Mary

In the middle of the Big Lake you’ll find the Isle of St. Mary, famous for its 12th century Benedictine Monastery. Today, the island is a tourist attraction and the monastery now serves as a restaurant.

You can rent a kayak or paddle boat and take yourself out to the island (this will take about 40 minutes each way) or you can pick up a small passenger ferry from 3 different locations around the lake: Mali Most, Pristaniste, and Soline. Click here for ferry schedules & ticket prices.

Bridge #2: southern part of the Big Lake

As you continue along the Big Lake, you will eventually encounter this bridge. For now, simply continue southeast along the path. No need to cross the bridge… yet.

Bridge over the Big Lake, from afar.

Island, meet sea 

After continuing south past the bridge for about half a mile (1 km), the trail will suddenly come to an end. You’ve now reached the mouth of the Adriatic: where The Green Island and surrounding sea become one. You cannot continue further by bike, but you can explore the area on foot.

See you on the other side

Now, it’s time to backtrack just a bit: head back toward the bridge and turn right to cross it. If you’ve got a bike, you’ll need to hand-carry it across the bridge.

On the other side of the bridge, walk back up to the main bike path and turn right again. After cruising for about 15-20 minutes (and stopping to walk your bike through the village of Soline!), the paved road again comes to end, but the rocky pathway continues through this tunnel of trees.

Tree tunnel; Northeast corner of the Big Lake (Veliko jezero), Mljet.

Emerge through the trees and you’ll again find yourself at the mouth of the Adriatic — on the complete opposite side of the inlet.

Beverage, anyone?

Now, it’s officially time to head home. Backtrack through the tunnel of trees, walk your bike again through the village of Soline, and continue biking northwest along the north side of the Big Lake.

Don’t forget to stop & smell the flowers in the village of Soline.

On our first day, we took this mid-afternoon opportunity to stop for a couple of beers at the lakefront restaurant Mali Raj, where we ended up having some great conversation with one of the owners. As we finished our beers, he brought out a round of homemade (and and very strong!) Croatian brandy: exactly the pick-me-up that we needed!

Afternoon beers at the lakefront restaurant Mali Raj, Mljet.

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2 days in 1 minute (our video tour)

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Getting there

As Mljet doesn’t have an airport, visitors to the island must arrive by ferry. If you’re coming from Dubrovnik, the best option is to take the G&V Line No. 9807 from Gruž Harbor (Petka Pier). This high-speed ferry will get you to Mljet in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

As of this writing, ferry tickets for the Dubrovnik → Mljet route can only be purchased online more than one month in advance. We were unable to purchase our tickets in advance, so we needed to purchase them from the ticket office in Gruž Harbor, which can only be done on the date of departure.

If you find yourself in the same position we were in, we recommended that you arrive an hour before your boat’s schedule departure to make sure you get tickets.

How to buy ferry tickets in Dubrovnik

We were staying within the walls of the Old City, so on the morning of our departure to Mljet, we exited the Old City and picked up an Uber outside the Pile Gate. The trip from the Pile Gate to Gruž Harbor is less than 2 miles (3 km) but took us 15 minutes due to morning traffic.

Once you arrive at Gruž Harbor, you’ll need to find the ticket office. Most of the ticket offices for the different Croatian ferry companies are located in a consecutive row on the main street. The G&V office is an exception, as it is located directly on the pier, in a small white hut, standing alone.

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Visiting as a day trip from Dubrovnik

If you’ve only got time for a day trip to Mljet, it’s still worth the trip. Use this schedule as a guide, and you’ll have at least 5 hours inside the park to explore the island’s gorgeous forests and warm saltwater lakes.

  • 8:30 — arrive at Gruž Harbor (Petka Pier) to buy your ferry tickets
  • 9:15 — ferry departure
  • 10:20 — stop #1 on Mljet: Sobra. This is not where you get off! Wait for the next stop.
  • 10:55 — stop #2 on Mljet: Polače. This is your stop!
  • 11:00 — rent a bike from one of the vendors/shop that you’ll see as soon as you step off the ferry.
  • 11:15 — after your short ride from the Polače harbor, you’ll arrive at the park. If you prefer not to rent bikes, it’ll take you closer to 40 minutes to reach the entrance.
  • 16:30 — get back to Polače to return your bikes and wait to board the ferry
  • 16:55 — ferry departure
  • 18:35 — arrival back in Dubrovnik & plenty of time for a cocktail at Buža Bar before dinner!

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Staying overnight on the island

Where we stayed

Our Mljet overnight was spent at Hotel Odesij, the only hotel on the island! The hotel features two restaurants — one of which is a pizzeria — plus air-conditioning, free WiFi and other nice amenities. After our first long day of biking, we cooled off on a couple of lakefront lounge chairs, then enjoyed some beverages at the laid-back beach bar. The hotel was the perfect place to spend a relaxing evening before getting up early the next day to do it all over again.

if you’re heading from Mljet to Korčula: ferry route 998 operated by Kapetan Luka makes a stop in Pomena, directly in front of Hotel Odesij. Late in the afternoon of our 2nd day on Mljet, this ferry was our means of transportation off the island, and it was incredibly convenient. We came back from the park, returned our bikes, picked up our bags from hotel reception, and walked outside to catch the ferry!

Other accommodation options

Mljet does offer some other vacation rental options such as guest houses. If you’re considering spending any evenings on the island, we recommend that you book in advance as these options are limited and sell out quickly during the summer.

The view from Hotel Odesij.

 

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Many ancient Greeks & Romans — including Pliny the Elder — called the island “Melita” meaning “honey.” Over time, “Melita” evolved to “Mljet.” Were they referring to the nectar of its many winged insects, or the sweet tranquility that the island offers?

Come find out for yourself…

Cheers!

-DnA

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