Welcome to Mljet population approximately seven hundred and decreasing. It seems like islanders are turning their seaside homes into summer retreats and moving to more urban mainland cities. As a vacation destination Mljet is a magical place to visit in the Mediterranean. This Adriatic island’s geography makes it breathtaking with its beaches, saltwater lakes, aquatic life, forests, caves, lookout spots, beautiful sunsets and rich cultural history. You can hike, bike, swim, scuba or just lounge around and bask in its natural beauty. There are thousands of web pages on the internet including Mljet’s own tourism page passionately and accurately describing the island as a must see place to visit. Like a siren song even though Mljet is beautiful at the same time it can be hazardous to your health. Natural and technical hazards such as heat waves, heavy rains, rock slides, narrow roads, earthquakes and high winds can pose a risk to anyone visiting Mljet.
Getting to Mljet requires taking a high speed passenger catamaran from Dubrovnik or a larger car ferry from Pelješac. The catamaran takes about one and a half hours while the ferry takes about forty-five minutes. The island bus times coincide with the catamaran so if you aren’t driving then it’s better to take the catamaran over the ferry. In the summer season the weather is ideal for making the trip. Yet if you’re traveling off-season be prepared for a potential delay. Heavy storms plague the region and there have been a few times where the catamaran turns back after it sets out or doesn’t go at all. When it does make the trip expect a ride far more crazier than any extreme rollercoaster can offer. The catamaran heaves-hoes, rocks and rolls in all directions. If traveling with a friend then the two of you can make a bet to see which passenger tosses their cookies first.
Kudos, you’ve made it across without giving up that tasty burek you ate before you boarded the catamaran. Whatever your next mode of transportation is, scooter, car, bus or bicycle, be sure to drive or ride carefully. The narrow roads & sharp turns next to the steep cliffs will have you grinning happily like a newborn rally car driver or grinding your teeth like a nervous wreck. There have been reports of cars driving too fast into a turn and going over a cliff and cars brushing each other as they travel in opposite directions. There are a few spots where a three point turn is a no-no but people still do it anyway with disastrous results and with complete ignorance of their own personal safety and to the obliviousness of their environment.
As you’re driving along you’ll see on one side a steep cliff that you can drive over if you’re not careful and the other side a wall of solid rock. Rockslides happen from time to time but only in small amounts (so far), notability during a heavy thunderstorm or after an earthquake. So maybe you want to keep your windows rolled up as you drive or your seatbelt fastened securely.
Rain, Wind and Lightning
Heavy storms during the winter off-season create wind speeds that reach over a 100 km/hr; flying debris can severely injure anyone daring to go outside. Torrential rains easily turn steep stairways into waterfalls and make the road more slippery and dangerous to drive on. If you happen to be on Mljet during heavy rains and can’t get off for days because the boats are also stuck then make sure you have internet and/or coffee and rakija since we don’t want to recreate The Shining with you as the main character. Homes are not grounded since they are built on top of limestone. You should unplug your sensitive electronics or appliances such as your computer else it might get fried. Brown outs and blackouts mostly occur during the off-season’s stormy months. There are two power cables one at each opposite end of the island to supply electricity to Mljet. Any power outage usually lasts for an hour or two unless the handful of island electricians are sleeping. Yet if there’s a football game on the power is restored almost instantaneously for some reason.
If you wake up on Mljet to the feeling of a large truck rolling by it’s probably not a truck. The biggest recorded earthquake on Mljet was 4.2 magnitude which happened in the 1990’s. Mljet has at least a dozen or more 3.0 quakes (average) every year. These quakes could trigger rockslides so if you’re driving when it happens keep a good lookout. On the day of this posting there were two earthquakes on Mljet. A 3.5 magnitude one at 07:00 hrs UTC and another one at 2.9 magnitude at 11:30 hrs UTC.
The chances of a tsunamis occurring from an earthquake and affecting the island is extremely rare. There have been only fifteen of them in the Adriatic over the last six hundred years. If a tsunami did ever occur it would come from the south side of the island since there’s not enough room on the north side to generate a large enough tidal wave. The island’s steep terrain makes it a shorter trek to escape to higher ground.
It’s hot and dry during the long summers with the temperature rising up to over 40 degrees Celsius. The locals call heatwaves “sunny days”. And there are plenty of other places in the Adriatic that have them too. If you’re not hiking or biking lightly and aren’t carrying enough water then you will dehydrate, get sunstroke or worse. Shade can be your cool friend or you can go to the nearest café when it’s hot so you can drink a cold tasty beverage. A refreshing swim will also cool you down. There are areas that are labeled as beaches and swimming spots yet don’t let that stop you for just jumping into the water anywhere else.
So you decided to take a dip “anywhere else”. Keep in mind that there isn’t a proper sewage plant on Mljet. Septic tanks can hold and provide some level of sanitation. Yet there might be brown water runoff going directly into the bay. Crabs quickly clean up the mess. Unfortunately, some people even pour household chemicals directly down the drain and it’s been rumoured that visiting boaters and sailors also do this to a degree.
There are plenty of benign aquatic life in Mljet’s lakes (opens to PDF) to explore. Though keep a look out for sea urchins and the occasional stinging jellyfish around Mljet and it’s lakes. You’ll find them in other places in the Adriatic as well.
The side effect of extended heatwaves on Mljet is drought. Water conservation is on many villagers’ minds during the long hot summers. Most water is collected from the rain runoff into large cisterns at every home. When the water gets really low it has to be ordered and shipped via tanker which takes a couple days to get to the island. As a tourist you need to be aware that leaving the tap on or taking an extra long shower will leave others in the room or apartment building you decided stay in without water. Don’t be “that guy”!
Another secondary effect to heat waves and drought are forest fires. There are multiple lookout posts on top of hillsides manned by forest rangers around Mljet. They keep an eye out in case a fire spontaneously erupts from dry vegetation or someone throws out a cigarette in the wrong spot and starts burning down the National Park of Mljet. Don’t be “that guy”!
In the early 20th century the island was overrun with venomous snakes. Then mongooses where intentionally introduced to curb the snake population which also did away with most of the bird life. There is the odd chance a small handful of vipers remain. After the mongooses feral cats then made their home in the 1980’s. You may also see wild goats, wild boar or deer if they haven’t already been hunted down.
That pain in your chest may not be heartburn. Or that headache may not be from the twelve shots of rakijia you had the night before. Even though there is a “hospital” on Mljet it’s probably in your best interests to go to the mainland for a second opinion. There’s no airport though medevac by air or even a high speed police boat from the mainland are options in extreme cases. A sprained or broken ankle is not an extreme case. Feel free to make friends with a doctor and bring him/her with you as a travel companion. Or take a first aid course; someone next to you at an island restaurant may choke on the fresh catch of the day and you can save his life; drinks all around!
Godzilla and Mothra
Travelers can be exposed to many risks when exploring new places. Visit Mljet to experience the island’s natural beauty and history as many others have done. You have a much higher probability of spraining your ankle walking down a flight of stairs than getting injured from any of the above hazards. Since it’s one thing to be paranoid and stay home it’s another to enjoy the spice of your travels.