13 islands and islets
Koločep, Lopud and Šipan are the biggest of Elaphiti islands and the only ones that are permanently inhabited. However, they are not the only islands of Elaphiti archipelago. Even if we don’t take into account a large number of reefs and cliffs, Elaphites consist of eight islands and five islets. Along with the before mentioned “big” islands, there are Daksa (the first island you see when leaving the Gruz harbor, Saint Andrija (you’ll recognize it by a lighthouse), Ruda, Mišnjak, Jakljan, Kosmeč, Goleč, Crkvina, Tajan and Olipa. The total land area of Elaphites is around 30 square kilometres (12 square miles). Less than thousand people live on the islands during the whole year.
The Deer Islands
The history of Elaphites or Elafiti, how the locals call them, is quite an interesting one. They were mentioned by name as early as in 1st century. Roman author Pliny the Elder in his work Naturalis Historia called them Elaphos. The name comes from the Ancient Greek word for deer (Doric: ἔλαφος; elaphos). Unfortunately, we can’t help you with the reason behind the name. Some say it’s because of the deer shape of the archipelago. On the other hand, some claim that the islands used to be populated by deer. Whatever the reason may be, the islands are truly beautiful. It would be a shame to miss them if you plan to stay in Dubrovnik area for more than two days. So, you might want to consider seeing them all on a private speedboat tour with a skipper.
Seamen, fisherman and coral harvesters
The history of Elaphiti islands begins with the Illyrians, whose defensive walls were found on Šipan. Roman remains can be traced in the ruins of a Roman villa in the Šipanska Luka, a settlement in the west of the island.
While Šipan is known as a favourite holiday spot for the patricians of old Dubrovnik, the chief distinction of Lopud is its fleet and shipyard. The island has always been the home of the captains and sailors of the Dubrovnik Republic and still is.
On the other hand, Koločep was famous for red coral and the local coral harvesters were known far and wide. Today the corals can be found only occasionally tangled in fishing nets. However, the locals still go sailing every morning and come back home with nets full of fish, shellfish, and even lobsters.
Elaphiti islands today
Elaphites have been the guardians of the Dubrovnik coastline throughout the turbulent history, protecting the wealthy and prosperous Republic of Ragusa from pirates. Thought the history the islands were also known for Mediterranean farming (grapevines, olives, citrus fruits, etc.) and cattle breeding (sheep, goats). Times changed and most of the locals today work in tourism. However, if you walk around you’ll see that many of them still grow organic vegetables and fruits, including wines, olives and citrus fruit. Occasionally you might even come across a goat or two.