Croatia was a country I honestly never planned on visiting. Like, ever... Maybe because it's so close to Italy, that it just sort failed to grab my attention. I never dreamt of it, because I really didn't know much about it.
Until all of a sudden I kept hearing about it. Everybody and their mom, wanted to go to Croatia. Everybody was going to Croatia. Because Croatia is so beautiful. Because Croatia is so exotic. Because Croatia is all that and a piece of chocolate.
Then one day, my turn came and while I was planning my trip to the UK, I received a message from my cousin in Poland "Hey, let's go to Croatia" Well that's the short version at least..
Now, I'm usually not a difficult person to talk into any type of trip really, so quite naturally I said yes. Not because I honestly cared to see the place, I was more keen to see my cousin (we live an ocean apart). WOW was I wrong! Not about my cousin, of course, about Croatia!!!
I cannot tell you how much I wish I could do it ALL over again. Start from the beginning, grab a calendar, pull out a map, pop open a bottle of wine and seriously plan like my life dependent on it!
Now, don't get me wrong, I did get to see a lot of beauty that Croatia has to offer. I enjoyed the food and the wine as well as the local hospitality. I got an awesome tan (I'm a bit of a pale white girl) and took some amazing photos. I also discovered a whole new love for lavender!
Though I'm ashamed to not have taken FULL advantage of the week I had in this beautiful country, I rounded up all my observations and everything I learned to share with you so you can plan an amazing adventure! (and hopefully there is a do-over waiting for me somewhere in my future)
1) The Timing
This is the part we almost definitely nailed. September is the month to be in Croatia. Growing as quite a popular tourist spot for Europeans, Croatia gets pretty busy during the summer months between June and August. As tourist pour in, the prices climb up.
I said "almost definitely" because Croatia apparently has a reputation of always having sunny weather, and yet, the one week I come, after enormous wild fires and droughts, it rains. For 3 days. Huh..
We literally saw the flames from a wild fire that's been going on for months in Croatia, when we were heading back to Mimice from Dubrovnik, so it was difficult to be upset about the rain.
Maybe it was a coincidence.
Maybe you should visit Croatia in May.
Also some of the attractions and ferries become very limited after October, so September and May are the months you'd want to plan your trip for a less crowded adventure, with still plenty of sun to enjoy.
2) The Transportation
I flew to Croatia from London via Wizzair. The flights are easy and very affordable especially if you pack light.
Once you arrive, there are many beautiful places worth visiting but they are quite the distance from each other. I can't say much about the public transportation because where I was, there seemed to be none. I don't recall seeing any buses or trains either.
Fortunately this is another point we nailed. (hey so far so good!) Though driving in the balkans can be... adventurous (I do recall a moment where my life flashed before my eyes) it's definitely the way to go as far as getting around. Make sure to give yourself a chance to take a drive down (or up) the Adriatic Coast. You won't be sorry.
3) The Accommodation
This is where we dropped the ball. If at all possible try to break up your accommodation into at least two spots.
We didn't. I wish we had.
With that said, staying in one place (like we did) means you'll either be limited to seeing only what's near by, or doing a lot of back and forth driving. By staying a few nights on the south end e.g. somewhere near Split, and a few in the northern part, I'd say above Zagreb, you'll be able to see a lot more.
I stayed in Mimice for a week, from which the drive to Dubrovnik was over two hours south and the drive to lets say Plitvice National Park, was over three hours north. There were great places around Mimice that I got to know but there was a whole northern part of Croatia that I wish I had a chance to see as well.
If you plan an even longer trip, consider spending a night or two on one of the islands too. Korcula or Brac are some great options.
4) The Food
When picking places to eat, you can wing it, like we did OR you can be a "responsible explorer" and actually do a little research ahead of time.
I like winging it. It's ok to wing it. Sometimes winging works. However, sometimes it doesn't.
When you are hungry and tired of wondering around for hours looking for a place to eat, it's easy to cave and settle for a spot that might not have necessarily been the most enticing option. That might have happened once or twice to me...
So if you're not a planner and ya wanna wing it, (go you) be proactive and keep an eye out before your stomach starts doing the work for you.
Restaurants will often have a host standing in the street, inviting potential clients in. If you have no clue where you are or are browsing, they will spot you a mile away. Some of them are quite charming and hard to say no to (curse that sun kissed skin and those dark, sparkling eyes) but they are generally quite friendly and can explain a few things on the menu, which often is conveniently displayed in front of the restaurant.
I seriously still get hungry just thinking about the pizza I enjoyed in an alley of Dubrovnik. That one was definitely a win!
5) The Locals
Croatian people are generally friendly and hospitable. We rented out an airbnb apartment from a little sweet family who was very open to any questions we had prior to our arrival. What I wish we had done, was had a chat with them once we actually arrived.
It wasn't till our last day when we were checking out and thanking our hostess, she might have mentioned a few places that sounded like they're totally worth checking out!
This seems now like kind of an obvious thing to do, but between the poker match (that I totally won by the way), sunbathing (I told you I got a killer tan) and finding a store that sold mint for our mojitos (there seriously was none) it sort of slipped my mind. (silly me)
So talk to your host or casually strike up a conversation with a local. They are full of useful information.
6) The Beaches
It's no secret that one of the most desired attractions of a tropical holiday, is soaking up the sun. Aaahhhhh...
This is kind of weird of me to say because I live in Florida and always complain about the heat, the sun and how pale I am, but once I find myself in a place like Italy or Croatia, a sunbathing monster wakes up in me....
Though the beaches in Florida have powdery white sands, Croatia does not! Be prepared for pebbles, pebbles and more pebbles. Small pebbles, big pebbles, colorful pebbles, round pebbles, ridget pebbles, you get the picture. At one point, we had a pebble war (nothing violent, just some teasing).
So what makes laying on pebbles bearable? Mats.
Or, or, or! Inflatable mattresses! Bonus: You can bring them in water! Whaaaat? Make sure you don't leave them unattended because a gust of wind will send them flying. Far. Trust me on this one!
7) The Water
Two words: SEA URCHINS.
The water in Croatia is absolutely mesmerizing and super refreshing after a hot day in the balkan sun. But mind you, stepping on a sea urchin will end your trip in a hospital.
No, I don't speak from experience on this one. Hopefully you never will either.
Invest in some water shoes and make sure to buy some before your trip, as the ones in Croatia can be very pricey. I myself did not bring any, therefor my experience in the crystal clear waters is very limited. The one time I did get in, I was in very shallow water, petrified I'd step on one of those darn, spike-y, things!
My cousin, on the other hand, lives for water and came prepared for this one (I should of listened to her). She spent plenty of time under water, so if you enjoy snorkeling, keep an eye out for the spineless sea urchins. Their shells are so beautiful and make for neat souvenirs. Just don't accidentally grab a live one.
Consider yourself warned.
8) The Cash
I say this because there are so many little stands with souvenirs in places like Split, that don't just sell post cards or straw hats, but sell all sorts of lavender soaps, salts, satchels, and oils.
I was never a fan of lavender, possibly because the lavender I knew was artificial, perfumed soaps I found in retail stores. But the 100% natural lavender I got a whiff of in Croatia, made me appreciate it, a whole lot more!
I remember the good stuff being around 20-30 kuna. So either a bar of 100% lavender soap, or a little mesh packet of lavender for your closet with lavender oil, or face creams etc. Of course I wanted to get something for my sister, my mom, my cousin, my aunt and half the town aaaaand I ran out of cash real quick..
Figures, the little kiosks don't take plastic!
Though I can think of many things I wish I had done differently on my trip, I am very grateful that I got to see this amazing country. Seeing the glimpse that I did definitely fed my curiosity and I can definitely see why everyone warned me, it'd be so stinkin' beautiful! I look forward to one day planning another adventure and diving deeper into the Croatian culture. In fact, I already have a few ideas in mind!