After visiting 13 other European countries before arriving here, 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. I ended up loving our road trip in Croatia and was happy we experienced this beautiful country and their friendly people.
I never thought I’d make it through 25 days on our road trip in 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. I had read blogs about how great the national parks were here and was planning on breaking up this dreadful stint of our trip with long days on the trail, but as soon as we entered the country I felt the heat. I knew there was no way I would be able to convince the little kids to hike steep mountains in eighty degrees weather.
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!
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. Here are some things you should know about Croatia before you go.
The Water is Gorgeous, But Cold (Sorta)
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.
Pay For The Higher End Campgrounds
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. It 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.
National Parks are Really Nice
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.
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.
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.
Delicious Healthy Produce 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.
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.
Lack of Crowds
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.
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, you may want to do more research before heading there.
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. 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.
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