Ok, first of all, you should know two things about me which I have listed below because these opinions influence my reactions to a place. Not all those who travel are alike, so here is a summary of me and how I prefer to travel.
First, I do not like crowds or large masses of humanity, I seek out small, authentic, less discovered places, I want to try new things, eat new food, taste new drinks and learn about the history of the place.
Second, I try to travel gently. I do my best to be gracious, polite and respect the rules and customs of the country I am visiting. I travel to embrace different cultures, and traditions, if we expect things to taste the same or be the same as where we live, isn’t that kind of silly.
DISCLOSURE: THE LINKS IN THIS POST ARE AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING, AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU, I WILL EARN A COMMISSION SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO MAKE A PURCHASE.
Here are a few things to make your life easier when traveling from the U.S. to another port of call. My fabulous friend Kate who is an ex-pat and lived abroad for years suggested getting one of these chargers before I left for our Croatia trip and wow, best idea ever! There are not as many electrical outlets in foreign countries, and this inexpensive device was amazing, and everything charged in one place so we didn’t leave anything behind charging behind a piece of furniture in an outlet. I charged my phone, my Kindle, the iPad, husband’s phone, all at the same time for under $20 bucks.
I also used the Lonely Planet Croatia guidebook for maps, recommendations and day trips – great reference! I also keep a journal when we travel, keeping notes on what we saw, where we ate and suggestions for next visits. I have found that if I don’t, my poor brain can’t keep an accurate and detailed account – I also like to post reviews of TripAdvisor so I will make notations for future reference. I love my Moleskine notebook that my girlfriend bought for me as a gift. It has lasted me years and has an elastic cover to keep it closed, with a pocket on the inside back cover.
Any cards you plan on using (debit cards are great to use at international ATM machines) call the bank/credit card company before you leave the U.S. because some require travel notifications. Otherwise, they may suspect criminal activity and shut your card down (speaking from experience here). Find out if they will charge you transaction fees for foreign transactions and also, while you have them on the phone, check to see if you are covered for rental car insurance and to what extent. I have found that rental car experiences tend to be like an expensive a la carte menu and when I get the bill, I want to die because it is so high.
On the topic of rental cars, get a small, as small as you can because parking is not the same in foreign countries, it is very limited and get a GPS system, this totally saved our bacon on our trip to Croatia.
Electricity Converters. Get a converter package that will accommodate a U.S. plug to a foreign outlet.
Nail clippers, nail files, and tweezers. These are items that you can’t carry on the plane but put them in your checked luggage because, in most countries I have visited, they need to be purchased at a Pharmacy and are expensive. I bought an inexpensive set on Amazon and keep it in my suitcase so it is always there when I pack for a trip. The one linked above comes in a great travel case and a few different colors.
Advil or Ibuprofen. I bring a supply of these as well as Emergency Vitamin C packets, and some CALM packets which help me sleep and regulate to the rhythms of a new place and time zone.
Ok, ready? Here we go.
This was our first trip and oh my, we are in love with these people. They are calm, polite and really nice. We never felt unsafe or like we were being taken advantage of and these people deal with a lot of folks from all over, especially in the port cities and even there, we never encountered a rude person. I used the Lonely Planet Book to put my trip together along with TripAdvisor and ViaTour and for lodging we used Airbnb. We also used the newer feater of AirBnB their “Experiences” for a sea kayaking trip, a sailing tour, and a walking tour.
Although Croatia is a member of the European Union, their currency is the Kuna (June 2018) and the exchange when we were there was just under 6K to 1$. Everyone we encountered spoke English which made traveling so much easier. The people, the scenery, the cuisine, the culture, the history, Croatia is now at the top of our travel list, with so much more to explore.
This was our route: Zagreb, Plitvice National Park, Mali Losinj, Zadar, Sibenik, Krka National Park, Trogir, Split, Brac, Dubrovnik, Zagreb.
Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia and only recently became a tourist destination. The airport is new and the buses are right outside the main terminal, departing every 30 minutes to the main bus station in the city. Tickets can be purchased from the bus driver for both the trams and the bus and they are very inexpensive. The city is not crowded, there are many lovely things to see and do, the city is clean, safe and the people are really friendly. There is a lot of green space, you can walk everywhere easily, there is a wonderful outdoor market, museums and beautiful architecture to admire. We ate at some amazing places, sat out on the avenues for evening drinks and morning coffee, went on a bike tour of the city with Blue Bike Tours. I highly recommend a tour with this company and you can find their information here for times and different offerings. The tour gave us some great insight into the culture, the history, restaurant recommendations, and a great feel for the layout of the city so we could explore later. We learned on the tour that Tesla was Croatian (who knew?) and rode through many of the lovely green spaces located throughout the city. Great pizza and I am not really a beer drinker but the Croatian beer was really refreshing and light!
This national park is beautiful and there are so many waterfalls. Wear sensible shoes for hiking and a raincoat, June is a rainy month so be prepared to get a little wet. Go early to avoid crowds and large bus tours, also bring some food and drink with you as it is expensive to buy in the park but is available. The parking system is a bit tricky. You take a ticket once you enter and when ready to depart, you take that ticket to a kiosk and are given another ticket to insert into the machine at the exit which raises the guardrail. This park is so lush and green, I half expected a hobbit to pop out at any moment.
Leaving the park to meet friends we traveled west to Mali-Losinj. This island is called the “Island of Vitality”, and is so clean it blew my mind and the water is absolutely crystal clear. The salty Adriatic, the sea air, the biking and hiking trails and the relaxed vibe of the whole island will refresh and revitalize any weary traveler. We met friends here and stayed for two evenings at Hotel Televrine which had amazing sea views and an impressive breakfast buffet. We were sorry we didn’t arrange to spend more time here on this beautiful, tranquil island.
Leaving the island we continued south to Zadar. In Zadar, we ate at our first traditional Croatian restaurant called a Konoba. The menu is traditionally brief, featuring meat and fish that has been cooked with local herbs and spices in an outdoor bbq oven for many hours. This was probably one of the best meals for both flavor and value during our trip, it was delicious. We went on a mountain bike tour which was around the city walls because unlike Zagreb, bikes are not allowed inside the city walls. Zadar was crowded, with cruise ships and after Mali-Losinj, a bit of a letdown and not as clean. We went on a sailboat tour to the Kornati Islands which was really beautiful, saw the sea organ and sun solar display. The walkway along the sea is lovely for a morning or evening stroll and if you find yourself in Zadar, have a meal at Rafaelo Konoba, it won’t disappoint. It is outside of the center, near the marina, we took and Uber there for a minimal charge. *Uber was very handy in Croatia, download the app to have it handy when you visit.
Sibenik is stunning and often passed over for her more well-known and neighbors. We had some wonderful dinners on the narrow winding streets, swam in the sea and visited Krka National Park which was less than a 30-minute drive. If you take the day trip to Krka National Park, I would suggest going early to avoid the bus tours and crowds. All the staff at the park were very helpful and kind. During June, we paid 110 Kuna entrance fee each which was at the time around $20. We stayed in a stunning Airbnb with a balcony, and view of the sunset. We fell in love with this town and could have stayed a few more days exploring. Our last morning we took a walk up to the Barone Fortress for a breathtaking view of the city, it is a lovely place for a coffee or evening libation. They have an Augmented Reality headset and glasses you can utilize for free with the price of your ticket. It explains some of the history of Sibenik and Croatia as a country and was very enjoyable and well put together.
Leaving Sibenik, our next overnight stop was Split. We stopped in Trogir on the way south and got caught in a crazy rainstorm. Again, we encountered the crazy parking ticket situation where you have to take the ticket into the building, pay the amount based on the time spent in the lot and be issued another ticket to put into the machine to exit. Trogir is a beautiful, small island connected bridges. We parked in a lot and walked over the bridge and were instantly smitten with the cozy feel of this place that was granted World Heritage Status in 1997 because of its large collection on Romanesque and Renaissance buildings. There is a wide promenade which would have been a great place to walk had the rain not been coming down in buckets. We wandered the streets until the rain became torrential and stopped to have lunch at Konoba Idra. The food and the atmosphere provided a perfect spot to escape the rain, have some wine and relax. The restaurant seating is inside a small stone room with high windows that kept the rain out. Konoba Idra had great service although higher priced. We found that the further we traveled south, the more the prices increased across the board; food, lodging, tours, etc. I would love to spend more time exploring Trogir in the future. The dessert in the picture is called a Rafioli Trogir on the menu and was a local specialty with a nut and almond paste filling. Delicious. Lunch finished, a quick espresso and we made our way back to the car to continue traveling south to meet our Airbnb host in Split.
Our Airbnb host was amazing in Split. She saved us a free parking space for car and the apartment was off the charts adorable and comfortable. It was located in a nice neighborhood away from the center with great views of neighborhood life from the windows and a quick walk to the city center. Split didn’t wow me when we first arrived and went into town to walk around because it was checking all the boxes of things I try to avoid when traveling. Split is a large port where several cruise ships stop each day and there are lots of crowds. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with cruises, they just aren’t my preferred method of travel and with all the crowds I just feel that the culture of a place can be diluted when the local economy is trying to please such a large and diverse tourist population. That first night we wandered the city center and found the meeting spot for our pre-booked walking tour with Airbnb Experiences. That tour and our guide, Emil, drastically changed my opinion of the city. It was only the two of us in the group, and Emil was born and raised in Split so was able to show us great places to have coffee for almost half of what you pay along the promenade, great restaurant recommendations off the beaten path. Our tour was arranged as 2 hours but we wandered and talked with him for 3 and loved every minute of it, I would highly suggest booking a tour with him should you visit Split. Diocletian’s Palace is beautiful and the various squares and the Jewish quarter were really fascinating. His tour took us into various businesses where Roman ruins have been preserved under glass, in particular, we viewed the beautiful Roman built drains that took waster water into a sewer system. Pretty incredible considering how long ago they were built and they were not only functional but beautifully built. Did you know that the Croatians invented the necktie? I know, who knew? The word cravat was derived from Croat and you will find many tie shops where you can buy a memento to bring home with you.
Brac is easily reached by a ferry from the main port in Split. We purchased our tickets the day of travel and the travel time on the ferry was just under an hour making it an easy day trip. We went to the city of Supetar which is stunning. Brac is the island where the white stone was quarried to build Diocletian’s palace and the Whitehouse. All the buildings gleam brightly in the sun and there are many places to swim. We did find an abundance of sea urchins in Croatia so make sure to pack some water shoes to avoid stepping on one of their spines in your bare feet. The island was a nice break from the city, sleepy and quiet with an abundance of small sailboats and some great places to swim. We wandered the streets and alleyways, drank a beer in the sunshine and took a dip in the sea. There is more to explore on the island but you would need a car to visit the other towns and a bit more time. Supetar on Brac Island is well worth a visit.
Before our trip, I read many recommendations by other travelers to stay outside of Dubrovnik because of crowds and cost. I was glad I followed their advice and booked our Airbnb in Lapad Bay. Our place was lovely, had a view of the sunset from the bedroom and a nice quiet patio that faced away from the street and looked over a beautiful abandoned ruin. Everything cost more this far south and our Airbnb was not equipped with anything, no toiletries, paper towels or laundry soap. Not that these are required but they were standard in all the other places we stayed prior to this. There were two large supermarkets in town and the main street was very crowded but a little exploring and we found some amazing sights. There is the main swimming beach but even better are the spots built into the rocks for swimming (jumping in is required) all with ladders to climb back up. We loved strolling along the Setnica Walking Trail and found some great places for coffee, drinks, and dinner.
We took the bus to Dubrovnik to walk the city walls and just as the guidebooks advise, go early because it is hot up there and food and drinks along the route are at a premium. It doesn’t take as long as noted, we heard 2 hours or 4 hours, this may depend on how crowded and if cruise ships are in port. We went early, right at 9 am and were able to walk at our own pace and it took under an hour. The view from the top of the wall was beautiful but we were happy to head into a cool alleyway for some lunch after descending.
We booked a sea kayaking tour in Dubrovnik which was great fun, a bit windy, but enjoyable. Alas, I have no photos because I surely would have dropped my phone in the sea. After three days here we flew from the Dubrovnik airport back to Zagreb for our last night in Croatia. We stayed at the Palace Hotel again and they arranged our transfer to the airport in the morning for our early flight. We were very happy to be back in Zagreb and have one more evening to wander the streets with no crowds, actually, there were very few people out (such a nice change from Dubrovnik) and it was great to have the city to ourselves. We had an incredible meal at Lanterna where the service, atmosphere, and food were all top notch. I cannot express how welcoming this country was and what an incredible 3 weeks we spent exploring!