September 12, 2017

Croatia's Dalmatian Coast: A Travel Guide

It seems that everyone is going to Croatia right now. When we decided to go, a mere 5 days before we left, almost everyone we told mentioned they were either going to Croatia this summer or knew someone who had just gotten back or was headed there shortly.

This was really surprising because I had always thought of Croatia as a somewhat off-the-beaten-path destination. In 2011, when I traveled to Bosnia and Serbia, I remember people being utterly confused not only at why I wanted to travel to those places but why I lamented the fact that my trip wouldn't give me time to visit Croatia.

It seems like Game of Thrones has really changed that. I know people who have never left the country who say that Croatia is first on their bucket list because of the show. Because of that, I've decided to write this travel guide before diving into the details of how we spent our trip! 

Croatia was wildly different from what I expected. Having traveled to the region before, I expected it to be similar to Bosnia and Serbia. While I know that Croatia is a different country, that has only been the case for about 20 years so I was surprised to see just how different they were!

For example, in both Bosnia and Serbia, all of the signs everywhere are written in Cyrillic, where as Croatia uses the Roman alphabet! In Croatia, English was widely-spoken, whereas the language barrier definitely posed a challenge when I was in Sarajevo and Belgrade! There were other differences, which I'll share below.

I really enjoyed our trip to Croatia but it wasn't quite the trip I was expecting. Today, I'm sharing some tips so that you know exactly what to expect if you're planning a trip there.

Where We Went
We started our Croatian adventure in Dubrovnik and ended in Trogir. We chose to rent a car for the day to drive from Dubrovnik to Split. Typically, this drive takes about 3 hours but we took our time and made a few stops along the way, including on the Peljesac Peninsula (an absolute must if you like oysters) and Krka National Park. 

We opted to stay in Trogir instead of Split for a few reasons: it was less expensive, a bit more off the beaten path and therefore quieter, and close enough to Split to allow us time to visit.

Where We Stayed
When The Pilot and I travel, it's almost always a pretty last minute decision. Croatia is not a destination I would recommend for last minute travel. Hotel prices were astronomical so we turned to Airbnb. When we looked at our options in Dubrovnik, Split, and Trogir, there were only about 12-15 available places remaining in each city for the dates we were traveling and all of them had wildly strict cancellation policies. This really came to bite us when we didn't make our connection from Munich and lost a day in Dubrovnik. Because of the unpredictability of the way we travel (flying standby), we've always preferred hotels or Airbnbs that are a bit more forgiving with changing travel plans. In hindsight, part of me wishes we had opted out of Croatia so that we didn't lose money and chosen to go at a time when more was available so that we could book places with flexible travel policies.

What We Ate
One of my favorite restaurants in DC is a Balkan restaurant that brings back all of the flavors and tastes that I enjoyed so much in Bosnia and Serbia. I couldn't wait to get back to the Balkans and get my fill of one of my favorite cuisines. Croatian food, however, is wildly different from what I ate in Bosnia or Serbia. It's funny...I know that Croatia is a different country but less than 25 years ago, it wasn't and I expected there to be a lot more similarities but there weren't any.

This was not the easiest dish I've ever consumed. They still had eyes! And I accidentally chopped off one of their heads and it flew at my husband. Oops.
Where the food in Bosnia and Serbia offers bread, pasta, meat, and pastries filled with vegetables and spices, Croatia had an interesting mix of Mediterranean and Italian flavors with a ton of seafood. I absolutely loved it. I was very happy to find a Bosnian restaurant in Dubrovnik though to get my fill of the Balkan food I expected!

A Note about the Beaches
I had read that the beaches in Croatia are pebble beaches. I've been on pebble beaches before and liked them. Smooth, black pebbles that are a little warm to walk on but are otherwise fine.

Croatia does not have pebble beaches. Croatia has jagged, rocky beaches that are wildly painful to step on without water shoes. The beaches were so rocky, in fact, that a lot of people carried yoga mats to lay out on, as they offered a little bit more protection from the rocky beaches than towels.

We had planned to bring water shoes but forgot them which really put us at a disadvantage. And the one day we tried to go to the beach, the water was so breathtakingly cold, I couldn't stand it.

It wildly hot in Croatia. The temperatures were only in the high 80s but being that much closer to the equator really had an impact. I'm someone that usually loves hot, summer weather. I've gone on 20-mile runs in 90-degree heat and it hasn't phased me but Croatia was a different story. Every day by 2 pm, we were completely drained from the heat and I wanted nothing more than to dive into the water and cool off but, with the beaches too unpleasant to walk on and the water too cold to enjoy, I really regretted not booking a hotel with a pool. It would have been really nice to take an afternoon dip every day and then go out in the evenings when things cooled off. So, every afternoon, we would climb back up to our Airbnb and sit in the A.C. for a few hours to cool off. 

We did manage to find one beach that was a true pebble beach, just outside Trogir but we only had about one afternoon to spend there by the time we found it.

If you're traveling to Croatia in the middle of the summer and you're looking for some beach time, do not forget to bring water shoes. But if you aren't a fan of ice cold water, try your luck at a hotel that has a pool!

On Currency
As of writing this post, Croatia's currency is the kuna. Croatia will be switching to the euro in 2018 and from what we learned, Croatia has mixed feelings about this. All over Dubrovnik, shop windows featured signs with the euro symbol and an x through it. We saw a few encounters of tourists trying to pay in euro and being vehemently denied. 

Interestingly, in Split and Trogir, they welcomed the euro! We actually ran into a few instances where we were quoted prices in euro and had to calculate the exchange rate into kuna in order to pay. Everywhere we went, you can only take kuna out of the ATMs, so it was a little bit confusing to find places that only accepted euro. 

One other note about currency, carry small change! The smallest bill you can take out of an ATM is 200 kuna and most shops won't accept bills that large so I recommend finding a way to make change either at a restaurant with a larger meal or with a larger purchase. Trying to buy ice cream for 10 kuna with a 200 kuna bill won't cut it.

Final Thoughts
I know this post might lean toward the negative but I really did love Croatia. The whole time we were there, The Pilot and I kept talking about what we would do when we came back. I did love it but it wasn't what I expected and, had I known about a lot of the things I've just shared, I might have planned this trip at a different time.

I wanted to share this post for anyone who might go into planning a trip to Croatia with the same thoughts I did. I was looking for a beach trip in a European destination where I could balance sightseeing with relaxing on the beach. This wasn't that trip. We definitely did a lot of sightseeing but this wasn't a beach destination. 

I absolutely recommend traveling to Croatia but I think you should know what to expect before you go because I certainly didn't!

Stay tuned for more about our trip to Croatia including how we spent our time in Dubrovnik, our road trip to Trogir and visit to Krka National Park, and what we did in Trogir and Split!

Have a great week!

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