I have a lot to say about Red Adventures and Dejan (one of the owners/guides), so I've decided to break this up into parts. If you don’t mind reading, read all of it, so you’ll understand why the review is so positive. If you don't want to read so much, here’s what you need to know:
Visit Croatia. It’s an incredibly beautiful country, with lots to do and see and taste and drink :)
Use Red Adventures to plan your trip.
Dejan’s input was invaluable. He is a Split-native who knows the whole country well. He understood what we wanted from the trip and made an itinerary that suited our goals perfectly - including both adventure components (sea-kayaking and biking) as well as leisure activities (wine-tasting, swimming and exploring cities). As Dejan got to know us better during the trip, he made adjustments to the itinerary to better suit our tastes and he absorbed the additional costs himself.
Dejan could have charged a lot more than he did, and, though we wouldn't have been able to afford it, the higher price would have been more than justified.
Dejan made us feel like we had a close friend showing us around a country that he loved, and, by the end of the week, that is exactly what we had.
Now the details:
I reached out to Dejan about 1.5 months before an 8 day trip to Croatia with my boyfriend. My idea had been to plan the trip myself and hire Red Adventures for some day activities while we were in Split. When Dejan heard my ideas about what I'd be doing before/after my time in Split, he volunteered some advice that led me to reconsider my plans, and ultimately made possible what became the highlight of the trip.
Originally, I wanted to fly into Zagreb, head down to Split for a day or two, continue on to Dubrovnik for a day and then drive back North to the Istrian Peninsula for a few days of wine tasting and relaxation. My boyfriend wanted the trip to be relaxing and I wanted it to be adventurous, so we thought this division was perfectly balanced. Dejan immediately understood why we had come up with the plan that we had but encouraged us to consider skipping Istria on this trip and instead going to Peljesac, another peninsula, conveniently located between Split and Dubrovnik. Given our limited time-frame, he didn't think it made sense to go all the way to Istria for just a few days before we left, and he thought Peljesac offered as much, if not more, by way of relaxation and wine.
As Dejan became more involved in the planning, I began to worry that he'd expect me to hire him for the full week, which I was sure I'd be unable to afford. He never brought up his expectations with regard to his role, though, and focused instead on helping me plan the full week. Dejan and I exchanged nearly 30 emails over the course of a few weeks and spent around an hour talking on Skype (over a few calls) to make all the plans -- all before he charged me a penny, or even mentioned cost! When the itinerary had finally been made, Dejan suggested that he put it together into a nice PDF with images (to show my boyfriend who was not so involved at this point due to a busy work schedule) and provide me with an estimate.
Certain that I'd be unable to afford whatever he proposed, I was already thinking about what I would say to make it less awkward that we were going to use his itinerary but he'd only be paid for a small part of the trip (the days we were doing adventure-activities in Split). However, when he came back with the itinerary, I was shocked by the price. He included the costs of accommodation, activities, ground-transportation, a few meals (during activities) and still came out at almost exactly the amount my boyfriend and I expected to pay for the week without someone else doing the planning (and guiding!) for us!
Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Arrive in Zagreb, tour Zagreb, drive to Plitvice National Park
Day 2: Tour Plitvice National Park, Drive to Split
Day 3: Full day sea-kayaking trip from Trogir to islands near Split
Day 4: Full day biking trip, with stops at wineries on island of Hvar
Day 5: Drive to Peljesac peninsula, visit Ston
Day 6: Explore island of Korcula, relax at beach, visit wineries
Day 7: Relaxing morning, drive to Dubrovnik, tour Dubrovnik
Day 8: Early morning departure
Satuday: Since I had been traveling in Europe prior to arriving to Croatia, I arrived in Zagreb by train, while my boyfriend arrived via flight from NYC. When my train pulled into Zagreb, Dejan was waiting for me on the platform. We introduced ourselves and headed for the airport where we picked up my boyfriend. As we drove from the airport towards the old town of Zagreb, Dejan stopped to pick up a local-favorite (he described it as what one would eat at the end of a late night of drinking...seems like the equivalent of pizza in NYC) -- basically a pastry filled with meat or cheese, eaten with a side of yogurt. Dejan talked with us about the culture, history, politics, and even architecture of Croatia. Knowing that Red Adventures is primarily an adventure-tourism company, I was very impressed by Dejan's vast knowledge. He has spent significant time traveling abroad (in some very interesting places) and this experience is reflected in his perspective on Croatian life and history.
After a few hours touring Zagreb, Dejan took us to a bar that makes its own beer, which was fantastic and inexpensive, before we got back into the car to continue down to Plitvice.
Sunday: In Plitvice, we stayed in a family-run mini-hotel, which was very comfortable and where we were served a breakfast of homemade ham, cheese, bread and jam (delicious) before going to the Plitvice falls. The falls are a definite must-see in Croatia; the color of the water is unlike anything I've seen before and number of different falls and lakes is really amazing. Only downside is the throngs of tourists, but getting there early, as Dejan ensured we did, will help with that a bit.
After 4-5 hours at Plitvice, we hit the road again, this time headed for Split. Along the way, Dejan pointed out various buildings and towns that had interesting histories - much of which was about the Croatian War of Independence just 20 years ago, but his knowledge extends back hundreds of years to when the Ottomans were Croatia's biggest threat, and thousands of years to the indigenous peoples who once lived there.
A small highlight from the trip occurred when Dejan suddenly hit the brakes and pulled off the road. He had spotted some wild berries in the bushes along the highway. We all jumped out of the car and spent 15 minutes picking and enjoying some delicious wild blackberries.
We arrived in Split in the early evening at a nice apartment with an incredible view of the ocean. Dejan left us there to relax for a couple of hours before he came back to take us on a quick tour of Split’s old town. He told us when we came back that he didn't have so much time available, but since we weren't expecting this kind of 24/7 service anyway, we were more than happy for whatever time he had to show us Split and leave us at a restaurant for dinner. Long story short, Dejan showed us Split’s old town (which is an incredible white-stone fortress with a marina), sat down at the restaurant with us and, after a few drinks, he cancelled his plans for the night and took us to a bar to sample some Rakija (a Croatian liquor, traditionally made at home) before we went to a bar called Ghetto, which had a laid-back cosmopolitan vibe. The crowd was very mixed but definitely gay-friendly. Dejan had a little more energy than we did, so we left Dejan at the bar, talking with some people we had struck up conversations with, and headed back to our apartment.
(One note of caution: we took a wrong turn and came upon a group of rough kids who were looking for trouble. One of them slapped the back of my boyfriend’s head and another tried to trip him before we turned around and went back the way we came…I think this was a pretty rare occurrence in Split, but just be alert at night and know where you’re going).
Monday: The next day, another guide from Red Adventures, Branimir picked us up for our full-day kayaking. Like Dejan, Branimir was very professional, personable, and knowledgable. On our drive to the launch-site, he pointed out the world’s first pharmacy (who knew?!) and was generally a pleasure to be with. He was clearly a very experienced kayaker and we felt very safe and well looked-after the whole day. We left from Trogir and kayaked about 12 miles in total, including a stop by some rocks to jump in for a swim and a picnic on a beautiful island with incredibly clear water. Branimir surprised us by bringing out snorkeling equipment for us to use. We declined but were pleased by the option. The kayaking was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. Being out in the sun and paddling all day left us tired though, so we took it easy that night and got some rest for our bike trip the next day.
Tuesday: Dejan picked us up Tuesday morning for the 10min walk to board the ferry to the island of Hvar (which is also the name of the most popular town on the island). In a last minute change to our plans, Dejan had arranged for us to get bikes on Hvar island, rather than bring the bikes he owned, so that we could take a ferry back to Split which didn’t allow bikes. Dejan picked up the extra cost of renting bikes for the day because he made the change without asking us, and it enabled us to see a lot more of Hvar than would otherwise have been possible. It confirmed what we already knew about Dejan - that he was totally focused on making our experience as great as possible, and was willing to forego some profit to do so. The day in Hvar was amazing. We biked through some beautiful old villages and vineyards, stopped for lunch and wine tasting at a family winery that served home-made sausage, cheese, bread, sardines (I passed), and olives. We had a nice time talking to one of the family members who served us, and when we were good and tipsy, we decided it was time to get back on the bikes for the ride to the party town of Hvar. In Hvar, we went for a long swim to cool down from our bike ride before getting some drinks at a bar along the water and catching the speed-boat back to Split. Dejan took us out to dinner again that night in Split, though we weren’t up for much partying and were in bed by midnight.
Wednesday: When Dejan picked us up Wednesday morning, he had 3 bikes with him in the car (which we hadn’t expected) and told us that based on the last few days he had some new ideas about where we’d go in Peljesac. He thought the bikes would give us some flexibility when we got there to explore places without the car. At this point we really trusted Dejan and were excited to see him making slight changes to our plans based on having spent a few days together. We stopped on our way out of Split to say hello to Branimir, who was with another group of tourists we had met on our kayaking trip, doing some rock-climbing near a river we were passing by. We continued on towards Plejesac. For lunch, we stopped to pick up supplies at a grocery store on the way and then found a nice spot by the ocean where we had an impromptu picnic. Our first stop in Peljesac was in Ston, where we climbed the city walls and looked out at the old town and the salt-beds, for which Ston is famous. Dejan told us that he had originally booked us an apartment in Ston, but after getting to know us decided that we would be happier in a different location. He drove us out to a little village by the sea called Trstenik. This was really the highlight of the trip. The village has a population of 116 people and was one of the most beautiful and peaceful places we had ever seen. The apartment was right in front of the water and we went for an evening swim before dinner. After dinner and wine, the town was mostly asleep, so we joined them for a restful night.
Thursday: After sleeping in, we made our own breakfast and then Dejan drove us to catch a ferry to the island of Korcula. We took our bikes on the ferry so we could get around. We toured another beautiful old city, and then biked out through miles of vineyards to a sandy beach (rare for Croatia…most are pebbled). On our way to catch the ferry home, we stopped at several vineyards for some wine-tastings. After the ferry, we stopped at another winery for a tasting on our way back to Trstenik - this was probably the best wine we’d had on the trip. It turns out that the girl working in the winery recognized Dejan because he was friends with her neighbor growing up, so we got a little more wine than we were supposed to :) (Dejan held back since he was our driver). Back in Trstenik we had a great dinner and a relaxing evening before going to sleep.
Friday: On our way out of Trstenik, we made our final wine-tasting stop at the famous Grgich winery. Dejan had agreed to transport a package for them back to Split in exchange for a free tasting for us, which was especially nice because it is Croatia’s most expensive winery. The wine was great and set us up for a great trip down to Dubrovnik.
In Dubrovnik we dropped our stuff off at a Janis Joplin themed apartment in the “Rock Palace” - the self-named home of a former local rocker. The apartment was clean and comfortable and about a 15minute walk from the Old Town of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is probably the most beautiful old city I’ve seen - it is perfectly preserved and as gorgeous as the internet says it is. It is relatively expensive but truly is a must-see. We spent the afternoon exploring the city, jumping into the ocean from a popular jump spot in the city called “The Hole” because it is accessed through a hole in the city wall, before having a drink at an outdoor bar with a live jazz performance. We went to bed fairly early because we had to wake up at 4am to catch our flight home.
Saturday: Dejan woke up with us and drove us to the airport where we said our goodbyes.
As I mentioned in the intro, I can't recommend Red Adventures strongly enough. One of the things that most impressed me about Dejan was that he remained a professional guide at all times. While we developed a close friendship over the course of the week, he continued to take his job as our guide seriously and, in my view, struck a perfect balance of friendship and professionalism. In our discussions with Dejan, we learned quite a bit about Red Adventures generally, his business partners, and the other guides. The singular focus on satisfying the customer and sharing their love of Croatia (whether through adventure or leisure or both) is as engrained in the fabric of Red Adventures as it is in Dejan himself. Our day with Branimir helped confirm this for us, and the other reviews on this site leave no room for doubt.
Go to Croatia and use Red Adventures. Just make sure you leave Dejan available for our next trip.
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