Elafiti Islands: A Dreamy Archipelago Just North of Dubrovnik
21. February, 2023
The Elaphiti islands, a dreamy archipelago just northwest of the better-known town of Dubrovnik, are a must-see for boaters traversing the Adriatic. Named after the Greek word ‘elafos,’ this small island group comprises 13 islands and islets and owes its unique name to deer. Pliny the Elder is credited with saying the hoofed mammal roamed the islands long ago. While there is no evidence of this, we think it adds to their charm.
Of the 13 islands in this archipelago, only three are populated and boast content for visitors - Šipan, Lopud, and Koločep. Interestingly, with a total land area of around 30 square kilometers, the Elaphiti islands have a population of just 850 inhabitants, who mostly spend time there during the warmer summer months.
A go-to for sun-seekers since ancient times, the Elaphiti islands have always been a popular vacation destination. A place where old aristocrats and modern travelers could kick back in nature, surrounded by dense pines, olive groves, and pristine beaches. An Adriatic escape where the mild Mediterranean climate brings life to diverse flora and fauna.
Today, the Elaphiti islands are hard to miss on any Dubrovnik sailing route, and with three marinas in the area, it’s easy to see why. However, we think it’s best to dive into this archipelago from ACI Marina Dubrovnik in Komolac, just 6 kilometers from Dubrovnik at the mouth of the Ombla river. And once you’ve set sail? Here’s what you should explore on your sailing tour.
Let’s start with Šipan. Coming in at 16 sqm, this island is known for more than being the archipelago’s largest. Šipan is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most olive trees per square meter! Historically, Šipan’s fertile plain was used as a reserve field by the Republic of Dubrovnik long ago. This island was also famous for Dubrovnik aristocrats who used the island to build their summer homes, the most famous of which is the 16th-century summer residence of Vice Stjepović Skočibuha in Suđurađ, one of the two only settlements on this island. In the village of Šipanska Luka, on the other side of the island, you can find the remains of a Roman villa and a 15th-century Gothic duke’s palace. Records show that there are around 42 summer homes on the island today. Šipan is also home to more than 30 churches that once served as shelters from pirate raids. You can find the remains of them scattered around the island, though under 20 are still in operation today. It’s easy for boaters to explore Šipan by heading to the island's eastern coast. You can moor on the small stone waterfront there or head to the island’s southwestern side, where you’ll find a 20-meter-long dock.
The car-free Lopud is the second-largest of the Elaphiti islands, just seven nautical miles from Dubrovnik. The most developed island in this archipelago is also considered the prettiest, decorated with stunning stone houses, Mediterranean gardens, and old fortresses. The island's western side is adorned with sandy beaches, though the island’s most popular beach is undoubtedly in the bay of Šunj, located on the south side of Lopud. Šunj can be reached by boat, on foot following the marked and wooded trail from Lopud village, or by taking a golf cart for a few euros. The bay is a dream for sailors as it is protected from most winds.
Lopud is also the best island for tourists, thanks to its vibrant history. Lopud was once a regional center for the Republic of Dubrovnik, boasting over 1,000 inhabitants at one time, while the island’s shipowners had their own fleet and a shipyard! There are also 36 churches and chapels around the island and Franciscan and Dominican monasteries, but we will get into that later.
And then there is Koločep, the island closest to the Adriatic pearl, just six nautical miles away from Dubrovnik. The smallest of the Elaphites’ three inhabited islands, Koločep boasts more than its olive orchards, citrus groves, and carpeted pine-forest landscape. Known locally as Kalamota, a centuries-old name the locals still use today, Koločep had been part of the Republic of Dubrovnik since the 11th century. The fact that Koločep is another car-free island doesn’t hinder its less than 200 inhabitants, either. There are only two villages on the island that are just 3 kilometers apart, after all. Koločep is also known for its sandy beaches, Dun Djivan and Donje Čelo, which are easy to enjoy given that this island welcomes 250 sunny days a year. Fortunately for sailors, both of the Koločep’s villages sit behind coves. Donje Čelo, on the island's western side, is well protected from southern winds and is a great place to drop anchor to gawk at the old village views.
But the archipelago’s three biggest islands aren’t the only ones with something to offer boaters. The uninhabited island of Jakljan is situated immediately west of Šipan. This small island’s northeastern side is the best spot to drop anchor, where the heavily forested island landscape is in view. Kosmec is another popular anchorage, while Veli Jakljan is the island’s largest cove and is rarely visited by sailboats.
Attractions and Activities on Elafiti islands
Lopud is its own cradle of Croatian history and certainly the most developed in the archipelago, with many Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic attractions to visit. For example, the Lopud Franciscan Monastery was founded in 1483 on the island's east side overlooking Lopud bay. After an incredible (and quite long) restoration, this monastery has been transformed into an exclusive luxury hotel. The Beckhams even celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary there last summer!
You can also visit the beautiful Đorđić-Mayneri garden, grown by the Venetian baron Augusto Mayneri, which sits next to the summer villa of the noble Dubrovnik family built in 1494. It’s not hard for nature lovers to delight in a summertime stroll through here, and a fun fact? The park is the second-largest park in the region!
If you don’t mind hiking uphill, you can find the 16th-century remains of the Sutvrač Fortress. We promise the views over the island are worth the summer sweat.
Koločep is also great for those looking to stretch their sea legs with a hike, as the highest peak on the island is 380 feet above sea level. The most famous trail leads from Gornje Čelo to the lighthouse. The path heads towards Placet, located on the island’s southern side and known for its picturesque beaches at the bottom of dramatic cliffs. Once you arrive at the headland overlooking the lighthouse, you’ll find a series of steps leading down to the sea and back up to the lighthouse. Enjoy the views, as you’ll be able to see Dubrovnik and Daksa Island.
Šipan is excellent for hikers, too, especially those wanting to hike to the island’s highest peak - Veli Vrh. At 243 meters above sea level, this moderate hike leads you through olive groves and Mediterranean flora. And the best part? You’ll be rewarded at the top with a view over Šipan and the surrounding islands.
We know these activities will work up an appetite, but don’t worry - the Elaphiti Islands aren’t shy with their culinary offer. However, a few restaurants are especially worth a shout - and they’re both located on the island of Šipan. Like Konoba Kod Marka in Šipanska Luka. A family affair started by father Marko and continued by son Đino, Kod Marka is a casual seaside eatery and haven of local cuisine where seafood is king.
Near Suđurađ is another must-try spot - Bowa. Following the ‘best of what’s around’ concept, Bowa was born in 2016, thanks to the shared dream of a sailor, architect, and restaurateur. Located in the secluded Vrbova Bay, Bowa serves only what they can source on the island and modernizes age-old recipes from the region. Pulling up to this seaside joint by boat will make you feel more like James Bond than ever. No matter where you tempt your taste buds or which island you choose to explore, the Elaphites are one of Dalmatia’s dreamiest archipelagos. Don’t miss a chance to meet them on your next sailing trip.