In 2016, with just backpacks on our backs and a huge coffin surfboard bag, we headed to Europe with our 5 kids for a 6 month road trip through Europe.
After visiting 13 other European countries before arriving in Croatia, I now know what all the hype is behind Croatia.
Besides the physical warmth of the sun and the locally grown food that replenishes your cells, Croatia is like the Caribbean of Europe. A tropical escape for anyone looking for beautiful turquoise water, outdoor activities, culture, and solitude.
Although I was reluctant at first to travel here, I ended up loving our road trip in Croatia and was happy we experienced this beautiful country and its friendly people.
But honestly, I never thought I’d make it through 25 days on our road trip to Croatia. When I first crossed the border, I was worried not about safety or comfort, but boredom. If it wasn’t for needing to spend some time outside the Schengen Countries, I never would have come here.
My brother told me I’d love it here, but I was skeptical. After all, he partied here big time, and as much as I need a glass of wine or cold beer every day, that’s about where my partying side ends.
I saw the photos of beautiful Croatian beaches, but there are no waves for me to surf and lying on the beach suntanning just isn’t my thing.
Upon arrival, despite reading about the national parks’ beauty, the scorching heat dashed my hiking plans with the kids.
Only 24 hours into our 30 day stay in Croatia, I started to worry that our road trip in Croatia was going to be a big mistake. But…it was me who was mistaken.
Croatia has some incredible destinations that we ended up absolutely loving!
Table of Contents
10 Tips For Planning Your Trip To Croatia
1 | The Water in Croatia is Gorgeous, But Cold
For some reason when I saw pictures of the beautiful turquoise waters of Croatia, I just assumed they’d be warm. However, by the looks of the number of people swimming here, the water temperature obviously doesn’t bother them. For me, I have a 20-minute threshold in this temperature before my bones start going numb, but it is refreshing and the water is very clear.
2 | Pay For The Higher End Campgrounds
I loved spending my days at the bar overlooking the water while my kids played on the beach.
I tried to be cheap and stay in one of the lower priced “auto camps”, but quickly realized this wouldn’t cut it. There was little to do and most are very tight campgrounds where campers are parked practically on top of each other. The resort like campgrounds are awesome.
Everything you need is here and it really felt like a treat to have a beach close to our campsite, super clean showers (with unlimited hot water), a restaurant that made delicious pizza, a bar overlooking the water (this was my office for most of the days drinking americanos and red wine depending if it was before or after noon), a kids club to do arts and crafts, and a grocery store on site.
Staying in a campground allowed us to experience a whole other side of Croatia that we may have missed if we had just slept roadside or opted for the value campgrounds. Keep in mind it is against the law to sleep on the side of the road in Croatia. We ended up liking Camping Split campground so much that we stayed there twice.
The kids loved this high dive at the campground!
3 | National Parks are Worth the Money
The teal waters and messy waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes NP are one of a kind
I hated feeling nickeled and dimed at first. This country depends deeply on tourism and it shows. Everything costs. Every national park costs $15 or more per person. Any type of tourist attraction (even if it’s just a long walk around a tiny city like Ston) is going to cost you.
Campgrounds and ferries charge per person so if you have a big family, things add up fast. But then I caught my family saying things like “This is like Costa Rica, but cleaner.” Or, “I feel like I’m in Mission Bay.” (Our home turf.) I realized those tourist dollars and taxes have created an incredible infrastructure that is clean, safe, and provided me comfort and peace of mind that you don’t always get when you travel.
Be sure to visit Paclenica NP for amazing rock climbing!
4 | Croatia Gets Hot In The Summer So Hike Early In The Morning
It’s hot here, at least it was in the beginning of September when we were first arrived. If you are going to hikes, so it at the crack of dawn or you will melt. By the end of September we were in Roving and the temperature was an idealistic seventy-degree and we were able to spend the days hiking, biking, climbing, and running.
5 | The Wine is Really Good and Super Cheap
It is so cheap to sit down at a bar or restaurant and order the house wine. There are even wine bars in some of the campgrounds where you can fill a liter plastic bottle for 20 Kunas (That’s less than $3!). We especially enjoyed the wine from the Pelješac peninsula. If you don’t like wine, don’t worry. Their beer is pretty good too (my personal favorite was Pan on draught in a frozen mug on a hot day) and also very cheap.
6 | Croatia Has Delicious Healthy Produce & Fresh Fish Everywhere
There are farm stands everywhere along the roads in Croatia. For less than $20 I could walk away with more fruits and veggies than I could carry (luckily I have a lot of kids to help me!). It was some of the best tasting produce we have come across. So good that my kids would eat the tomatoes like apples and ask for zucchini and bell peppers for dinner every night.
We tried to save money by not eating out and these farm stands helped us not only save money but eat really healthy which paid off in how great we felt.
7 | Almost Everyone Speaks English in Croatia
Sure I love experiencing other cultures, but it makes things much easier when you can communicate freely (and joke around) in your native tongue.
8 | Croatia Has Many Off-the-Beaten-Path Spots
For as adventurous as I like to be, some places take awhile to grow on me. The first time I went to Kauai I hated it. There were geckos crawling on the table and in my room. It’s so pitch black at night that I was scared of something attacking me. Now, Kauai is one of my favorite places on Earth.
What confirmed up my biggest fears at one point in my life, now bring me the most happiness…nature and solitude. Croatia was a little like that.
A lot of Croatia, especially Istria, reminds me of a much less populated San Diego. I love my hometown, but sometimes the traffic and congestion get to me and here you can get into nature or run along the water without feeling like you are running through a maze of people.
9 | Croatia Has A Lot of Nude Beaches
You’ve been warned. It felt like every beach in Croatia was a nude beach. While it seems like Croatia is trying to keep the nude beaches separate, they are still right next to each other so if that bothers you, youmay want to do more research before heading there.
10 | Inflatables in the Water
Our best memory in Croatia was jumping on a large inflatable obstacle course in the water at Zlatni Rat on Brač Island. While I wouldn’t recommend this overcrowded and way too touristy beach, the inflatable was awesome. There were many others that we saw in Croatia, just none as large as this one.
5 Favorite Destinations in Croatia
1 | Paklenica National Park
The approach to the climbing area is less than five minutes and there are walls and walls of routes for all levels. It’s very developed with large sidewalks, routes labeled, picnic tables, and a snack shop. You can buy the climbing book at the snack shop too. There are also great hiking trails here. I highly recommend hiking to the cave and paying for the short tour.
2 | Plitvice Lakes National Park
Yes, it’s really touristy and crowded and drove me crazy that each tourist stops and takes a picture of the waterfall with three different cameras. But it’s gorgeous and you just have to see it. I hate paying for touristy things and I was really glad that we went here. Try to get there right when it opens and walk though fast before the tour buses show up.
It is very easy to hike the boardwalks and trails that connect the chain of 16 terraced lakes. There are well marked trails the entire way and maps you can purchase or take pictures of.
We hiked the K route, which was about 8.5 miles in all. We started at P1 and hiked trail number 8 to 2 to 3 to 1 to 5 to 7, then a boat ride from P3 to P2, then we hiked trail number 12 to 15 to 11 to 14 to 10, and finished with the short boat ride from P2 to P1.
3 | Peljac Peninsula and Little Dubrovnik
Make sure to take the boat ride to Little Dubrovnik and check out the cobblestone streets and its rich history. We loved the surf vibe here, the delicious gelato, and relaxing time on the beaches swimming.
We stayed at Antony Boy Campground and enjoyed our lifestyle while here. This area is very well known for it’s kite surfing and wind surfing.
4 | Rovinj
This was a great place if you are active. There were trampolines on the beach, rock climbing on the seas, and a sidewalk from the town to the campground where we’d bike and run. There were plenty of food options both in grocery stores and quaint restaurants on the water. The town of Rovinj is another must see with its cobblestone streets and artisan shops.
The sunsets here reminded us of being home in San Diego. Every morning we’d swim in the bay and during the day we’d ride bikes from the campground into the town of Rovinj and stop at the restaurants along the way. The cobblestone streets of Rovinj are filled with markets, restaurants, and artisan shops.
5 | Split
I loved spending our days relaxing at Camping Split. While I don’t recommend staying here your entire time, it was a really nice resort for when you are ready to sit by the water, have a drink, and let the kids play in the water and jump off the high dive. If you go into Split, be sure to walk to the top of Marjan hill.