If you’re heading to Mljet Island, Croatia, then hiking to Odysseus Cave is an absolute must.
Let me start off by saying that the entire island of Mljet is absolutely stunning. Compared to busier places in Croatia such as Split, Zagreb, Hvar, and Dubrovnik, it is an absolute oasis on the Adriatic. Think turquoise waters, palm trees, hiking, friendly locals, boat rides, rose wine on patios, and space to have quiet alone time.
I had the opportunity to spend about a week on Mljet Island, and it easily became my favorite destination in all of Croatia. Guys, I fell for this place HARD.
Also, of all the sites I visited in Croatia, I’d have to say Mljet was the most off the beaten trail. Despite there being an absolutely gorgeous national park that takes up much of the Island, there is no mass tourism infrastructure. And for that, it is perfect.
The towns of Mljet are small, and despite the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of touristy areas, tourism is a huge deal for the people living there.
Mljet is a place where everybody knows everybody, shop owners and fishermen hang out on the docks together, and locals make friendly conversation with two young Canadian women who arrived just before the tourist season.
But enough on Mljet Island for now, as I wrote about the top things to do on Mljet Island in a whole other post. Right now, I want to talk specifically about hiking to Odysseus Cave, and why experiencing this will give you a rush of adventure.
Hiking to Odysseus Cave on Mljet Island, Croatia
The Odysseus Cave Legend
So by now, you are probably thinking, “Odysseus Cave, that sounds familiar, does it have something to do with Homer’s The Odyssey?”
Okay, so you might only be thinking that if you’re a nerd like me, but to answer that question — yes, yes it does.
So, as in the poem, legend has it that after surviving a shipwreck, a man named Odysseus found shelter in a cave on the coast of an island. There, he was struck both by the Island’s beauty and by the nymph Calypso. Because of these things (and a bit of kidnapping on Calypso’s part), he stayed on the Island for seven years.
It should be noted that there is also a cave in Malta that bears the same story, so like, make of that what you will. But this cave and Island are definitely beautiful enough to stay for seven years.
The Road to Odysseus Cave
Like with most activities on Mljet, it pays to do some research on how to get to Odysseus Cave, Mljet beforehand. Oh, and you’re definitely gonna need a car or scooter.
Our Airbnb on Mljet was in a cute little town called Polače. And, lucky for us, about two doors down from our apartment was a car rental place. We literally showed up the morning of, adventure gear in tow, and got the last car on the lot – a cute little orange zipper (that we named Babino) which had a Croatian music cassette stuck in the deck.
Now here’s the thing about getting around Mljet, Island – there is only one major road.
If you’re used to driving in North America, you’ll do find on Mljet Island, but just keep in mind that because one side of the road is sheer rock face, and the other is a drop off into the ocean, this road can be a little scary.
My friend and I rarely went faster than 45km/h and when the inevitable big trucks, cars, and school buses came up behind us because we were going so slow, we just waved them on by.
Finding the Odysseus Cave Trailhead
Odysseus Cave is close to the southern coastal village of Babino Polje, so when you’re driving down the highway, you’re going to want to look out for a grocery store near this town called Tommy. This is SUPER easy to find as it’s the only supermarket on the road. Cailee and I used this place to stock up on some snacks and water before we started hiking.
To get to the entrance of the trail, hike up the highway a few minutes the way you came until you come to a sign pointing to Odysseus cave.
The entrance itself is pretty nondescript, so if it looks like the only way onto the trail is to barrel down the side of the hill on a path that maybe three people have gone down in the past 10 years, you’re on the right track.
Hiking to Odysseus Cave, Mljet
From the road, it took Cailee and me around an hour to get to the coast, and this included short breaks.
If you’re someone in a relatively fit condition, you’ll find that although this isn’t the toughest hike ever, it certainly isn’t the easiest. In a lot of places, there are sharp, jagged rocks that you’ll have to maneuver around, slopes so steep that you will slide down them on your butt, and some steep cliffs that will make your legs wobble.
Basically, leave the kids and stroller at home.
Also, when we initially researched this hike, we found some info online that said it should only take about 20 minutes from the entrance to the cliff. If you find this kind of information too, know that it is a total lie. That is unless you have a superhuman level of fitness and don’t stop for breaks.
Anyway, after hiking for a while, you’ll find yourself near the cliff, and in order to get to the entrance of the cave, you’ll pass through a hotel. Yes, you read that right, a hotel. It’s called the Hotel Penelopa (named after Odysseus’ wife, though I’m not sure if you can actually stay here), and they do sell drinks there at the Bar Calypso, in case you fancy a stop.
All of this makes the site sound super touristy, but I assure you, compared to the rest of Croatia it is not.
This hotel is essentially a rugged little oasis by the sea consisting of a few pieces of wood slapped together and some hammocks blowing in the breeze. You will probably meet the owner on the way, as we did, while he smokes marijuana and casually nods that you are indeed headed in your intended direction.
From the hotel, the edge of the cliff is no more than a 3-minute walk.
What to Expect at Odysseus Cave
After the walk from the hotel, you’ll find yourself on a smooth-ish rock face with no indication you’re in the right place but a rope attached to a metal rod sticking out of the rock. This rope is so that you can pull yourself back up on the rock when you’re done swimming, because yes, you’re about to jump into the water.
There is no classy way to do this.
The rock isn’t super high from the water’s surface, but it’s high enough that you can’t just gracefully slip into it.
You’ll fling yourself, the water will be cold, and if you lack the forethought such as Cailee and I, you won’t bring a life jacket. Luckily, the water is salty enough that you will be relatively buoyant, and you’ll find it fairly easy to swim unassisted in the open water (assuming you know how to swim that is — if you don’t THEN DO NOT GET IN THE WATER.)
Once you’re in the water, you swim. You swim into the cave with water crashing into the rocks all around you, not really knowing what you’re in for as you go deeper into the dark cave. Not knowing how deep the water is nor how long it will take you to get inside.
This is why I’m not posting a video of the cave, of which there are many on Youtube. Not knowing is so much better.
What I will tell you though is that once you reach the inside of the cave, there is a place for you to rest and take a break before you head back. There will be little fishies and beautiful pink rock on which to lounge. All you’ll hear is the sound of water crashing into rock, bats squeaking overhead, and the echo of your own voice.
Like Odysseus, you will be mystified.
While my friend and I were there, we ran into a pair of girls around our age hiking back from the cave, a supremely fit young man carrying lumber presumably to the hotel, and an older couple who got to the cave just as we were swimming away.
Other than that, we had this experience all to ourselves.
That’s it for my guide to hiking Odysseus Cave Trail on Mljet Island, Croatia!
Odysseus Cave is truly a phenomenal place to visit, and you won’t regret adding it to your Croatia itinerary.
Have you ever been to Odysseus Cave on Mljet? Would you go? Let me know in the comments!