This. Place. So beautiful.
How to best describe the national park Mljet? Basically, imagine the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea. Imagine a very green island in the middle of that sea. And then just reproduce the same on that island haha. What I mean is that two salted water lakes (‘veliko’ =large and ‘malo’=small ‘jezero’=lake) are located in the middle of the island. They stretch for about 4 kilometres, with water that is beyond crystal clear. Also, the lakes are connected with the blue sea. This also explains why the lakes are a little bit salty.
The highlight. The monastery.
The historical and geographical highlight of the park is probably right in the middle of the larger lake: the island of St. Mary (Sveta Marija) with a big Benedictine monastery on top of it. Today it serves as a restaurant / cafe for tourists and is reachable by boats that go there from each side of the lake. No worries, the benedictines did not need to leave because of the tourists. The monastery actually got disbanded in 1809 during the rule of Napoleon. If you ask me, perhaps that was karma. Why? Well, it was the monks who dug a channel from the larger lake to the south coast of the Adriatic sea, in order to ease their transportation problems to the monastery. That led to an ecological disaster, turning both lakes from fresh-water lakes into seawater based ones. Wasn’t that smart to build the monastery on an island that is located on another island after all, was it?
Avoiding confusion. Island Mljet ≠ National Park Mljet.
To avoid confusion, Mljet is not only a national park, but also Croatia’s greenest island and the first larger one to come up when you are discovering Croatia on a boat from south to north. Also, in my opinion it is most probably the Croatian island with the most difficult name to pronounce for foreigners 🙂 . The national park covers only the north-western part of the island with an area of 54 km2.
How to get there.
The park has two entry points: the villages of Pomena and Polače, with the ladder being one of the largest and safest bays on the whole island. I arrived on Mljet by boat, anchoring in this beautiful bay. Polače is not only very popular with sailors, it also has a number of ancient ruins from the 1st – 6th century, which gives you plenty of opportunity to stroll around, imagining how life back then may have looked like.
If you do not happen to be sailing across the Adriatic sea as I have been, you can reach the island of Mljet via public transport. The official ferry is leaving from either Prapratno ferry port (close to Dubrovnik) or Split via the island Korčula with Croatia’s public ferry transport Jadrolinija.
Get yourself a guided tour.
If you are traveling on foot, the best option for you might be to book a daytrip to the island or to take the catamaran ferry that is bringing you daily from Split via Hvar, Makarska, Brač, Korcula and Dubrovnik to Mljet. Alternatively, you can always book our own guided tour.
In both villages, there is no official entrance point to the park. Only a small ticket counter shop at the end of the road. The ticket price is 70 kuna (≈ 9 €) in low season and 125 kuna (≈ 17 €) in peak season (01.06.-30.09.), with a discount for kids and students, so make sure to bring your ID! Now that you are good to go, you might think about the best way to explore the national park.
Rent a bike.
I recommend to rent a bike as the national park is comparably small. Also, it does not allow cars or other electric vehicles, so a bike is a good alternative. Be careful though. I was traveling with some friends from abroad who did not speak a word Croatian. I arrived at the bike stand a couple of minutes before my friends and asked for the price. As it was already afternoon, I needed the bike only for a couple of hours. The rent a bike lady told me it was mine for the rest of the day for 50 kuna. I did not even have to negotiate. Only 5 minutes later, my friends arrived and asked for the same. The only difference: they asked in English. The price they got was 100 kuna for the exact same bikes. Of course, I intervened making the locals realize that I am traveling with the strangers, making us all get the better deal.
This wasn’t the only time while traveling that locals treated me differently just because I spoke the local language. But I will write a separate post on this topic. Just note at this point, that it is worth negotiating, especially when you are a student and traveling in low season.
Back to Mljet.
Once we got the bikes, we bought our entrance tickets at the ticket shop I described a few sentences ago. And then the sweating begins. You need to drive (or walk your bike) up a hill for several kilometres before arriving at the larger lake. Walking takes you about 40 minutes, with the bike it depends on your fitness level 🙂 The positive thing though was the scenery. How do I describe it best?! It reminded me a lot of the jungle scenes in the popular series ‘Narcos’ that were shot in Colombia. I really did not expect to find such a green island in Croatia.
Swimming in the lakes.
After a nice bike ride, we arrived at the lake. There, my friends chose to do a boat tour that took them over the whole lake to the island of St. Mary where they were having coffee in the former monastery. I on the contrary preferred to explore the scenery by myself and to drive around the whole lake with my bike. On my way, I just couldn’t resist to stop at one point and jump into the water. People who know me would be shocked by this, as I usually never and I mean never swim in lakes. I know it sounds snobby but when you grow up with the Adriatic Sea in front of your house, you kind of have your preferences haha. Nevertheless, the lake in the national park was the only lake I ever swam in just because I wanted to. It was crystal clear, just like the sea and you could see the bottom at any point. There was not even a difference in the taste of the water as both lakes are salted.
I finished my round around the lake by crossing a cute little bridge at the point where the lake connects with the sea. I would definitely recommend to take the whole day for spending in the park, as this gives you the opportunity for both cycling around and doing the boat tours. The lakes are obviously the main attraction of this national park, however it has much more to offer on land.
Hiking on the island. The walking trails.
If you have the time and are into hiking, you might find it interesting that there is a 43 km long, dedicated hiking trail. It is split into 4 shorter routes that are all clearly marked with signs at 20 control points along the way. They allow you to take it easy and enjoy the beautiful views over the island. With good weather, you can even see the island Lastovo and the peninsula Pelješac. I have created a map for you with the approximate walking routes. Before starting your trip however, make sure to get a real map in the tourist information centre.
When you’re there, you might notice that there is almost no birdlife on the island, which is kind of weird given the rich vegetation. The reason for that is not so much karma but human intrusion in nature. Apparently, there was an overrun of venomous snakes on Mljet in the early 20th century. To solve the problem, humans introduced small asian mongooses onto the island. They did not only get rid of the snakes. Moreover the killed 95% of birdlife and are causing damage in vineyards and orchards. Maybe it is karma overall.
Are you hyped for national parks in Croatia? Check out the national park plitvice lakes here and enjoy studying the infographic!
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