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17 Days - Croatia-Bosnia-Slovenia

Hello! We are planning a trip to the Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia in September of 2018. We fly into Dubrovnik and out of Zagreb. We've created the following itinerary but fear that it may be too ambitious - not because of the amount of cities we hope to visit but because of the travel time required to get between cities in the Balkans.

Day 1: Arrive Dubrovnik 5:30pm
Day 2: Dubrovnik
Day 3: Day trip to Kotor
Day 4: Travel from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo (leave 8am arrive 2:45pm - 6.5 hours)
Day 5: Sarajevo
Day 6: Travel from Sarajevo to Mostar (leave 12:30pm arrive 3:00pm - 2.5 hours)
Day 7: Mostar
Day 8: Travel from Mostar to Split (leave 11:00am arrive 3:30pm - 4.5 hours)
Day 9: Split
Day 10: Travel from Split to Plitvice - 2.5 hours
Day 11: Travel from Plitvice to Rovinj - 3.5 hours
Day 12: Travel from Rovinj to Ljubljana (leave 10:00am arrive 1:30 pm - 3.5 hours)
Day 13: Ljubljana
Day 14: Day trip to Lake Bled
Day 15: Travel from Ljubljana to Zagreb (leave 12:45pm arrive 3:00pm - 2.25 hours)
Day 16: Zagreb
Day 17: Flight out

All travel (with the exception of Split-Plitvice-Rovinj) is planned to be via bus. Croatia is such a long country and there is a large gap between Split and what seem to be the more worth while stops farther north. If we were to cut something it would be Rovinj but that doesn't solve the issue of a long bus rides or expensive rental car drop (with one way fees). Any advice is greatly appreciated!

Posted by valadelphia
437 posts

Have you traveled like this before, and is this the kind of pace you prefer? I don't want to jump to conclusions based on my preferences--which lead me to find this itinerary exhausting and a blur of bus stations!
At first blush, I would eliminate Kotor, Sarajevo, and Rovinj. It is likely to still be quite warm in Croatia--no interest in the coast?

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4115 posts

With the exception of Dubrovnik (which is tiny) and Kotor, I don't think you're leaving yourself enough time to really see any of the locations on your list before jumping to another location. If I were you, I would cut down on the number of places you are trying to see and spend more time in each one (at least 2 full days in the larger towns/cities). This itinerary is way too aggressive, even if you're 20 years old. In your itinerary, too much time spent in transit, not enough spent enjoying each place on your list. Each time you change locations, you lose time (not only in transit but getting ready to head out, packing up your stuff, waiting for your mode of transport, etc)...and it gets tiring after a while, believe me.

It seems like cutting out Slovenia altogether would be easiest, and redistributing those days to Croatia and Bosnia. Trying to see all three in 17 days is too much.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
1893 posts

Agree - too fast paced, at least by public transportation. It would be more doable by car, but I still might cut Rovinj (which I loved) or Slovenia (which I also love). Sarajevo/Mostar is the least efficient use of your time, perhaps, because you basically have to do some doubling back.

How are you planning to get between Split-Plitvice-Rovinj? If you were planning to rent a car for that small stretch, why not rent it most of the time? I've found driving in all of these countries very easy, and in September car costs shouldn't be much and there shouldn't be a lot of vacation traffic.

Posted by Megan OP
3 posts

Thanks all - we were less concerned with the amount of places and more concerned with the amount of time spent getting to those places. We aren't having much luck finding good prices on car rentals and didn't want to have one for very long other than the trip to Plitvice. We'd rather not have to worry about driving/directions/gas/parking. We generally try to stay a minimum of 2 nights at each place with additional nights as needed for sightseeing. We're thinking a revised itinerary of:

Day 1: Arrive Dubrovnik 5:30pm
Day 2: Dubrovnik
Day 3: Day trip to Kotor
Day 4: Travel from Dubrovnik to Split
Day 5: Split
Day 6: Split (Hvar or Kocula day trip?)
Day 7: Travel to Mostar
Day 8: Mostar
Day 9: Mostar to Sarajevo
Day 10: Sarajevo
Day 11: Flight from Sarajevo to Ljubljana (1 hour flight plus travel to/from airports)
Day 12: Ljubjlana
Day 13: Day trip to Lake Bled
Day 14: Travel from Ljubljana to Zagreb
Day 15: Day Trip to Plitvice
Day 16: Zagreb
Day 17: Flight out

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
1893 posts

I think I'd break your "two night minimum" rule and take a night from Mostar and add it to Sarajevo.

Also, try to get to Plitvice very early - otherwise, you may find huge crowds in the park. It could be obnoxiously-busy by mid-morning. That's why people recommend staying over.

On my last trip driving from Rovinj down to Kotor and back up through Bosnia to Zagreb in 2015, I think the car rental was about $12 USD/day or so. Not sure what kind of prices you are finding. I found driving there very easy and a smart phone with Google Maps would make it even easier (though I didn't have any GPS when I first drove in 2009 in Croatia/Bosnia - still easy to get around). Some people simply don't want to drive and that's fine. Personally, I prefer trains, but that's not much of an option in this region, where I find having a car is very practical and cheap. And I admit, I dislike long bus rides...

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4115 posts

You have as much time dedicated to Mostar as Sarajevo even though Sarajevo is much larger and there are many more things to do there. I would cut out Kotor and add a full day to Sarajevo. I really enjoyed Sarajevo (I flew there from Split) but I insisted on 3 full days there.

I still think you have too many places in your itinerary, even with the revisions...as I said, I'd cut out Slovenia and save it for another time and redistribute all those days to Croatia and Bosnia.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8072 posts

Please do not attempt to see Plitvice on a day-trip from Zagreb (or Split). I did that in 2015, and it was a disaster. I arrived about 10 AM and spent an hour in line to buy my ticket. By the time I got into the park shortly after 11 AM, the park walkways were so packed by that if one person had stumbled, serveral would have ended up in the water. That is no way to see one of the most beautiful spots in Europe. It's OK to travel to Plitvice from Zagreb by bus, but take an afternoon bus and spend the night in or near the park. You should be able to get back to Zagreb the next day, after seeing the park, but check the bus schedules at the Zagreb bus station, and don't plan to take the last bus back.

I agree with the others that you're trying to cover too much ground and staying in too many hotels for the length of time you have. I have traveled in that area three times by public transportation.

Posted by Megan OP
3 posts

Thanks again for your input.

It looks like if we do a day trip to Plitvice there is an express bus that can get us there at 8:10am which seems just as good as staying overnight. There doesn't seem like much to do in that area if we do spend the night (no where to walk, lack of food choices, etc.) and it seems pricey for what you get.

We couldn't find a rental car for less than $40-50/day (has to be automatic) plus one way drop rental fees.

I keep hearing everyone say that this is a "jam packed" itinerary but it's actually based on Rick Steves' suggestion:

3 days: Dubrovnik
5 days, add: Mostar, Split
7 days, add: Korčula or Hvar (for a relaxing island experience); Montenegro's Bay of Kotor (for dramatic scenery); or Sarajevo (for a more in-depth look at Bosnia)
8 days, add: Plitvice Lakes
10 days, add: Lake Bled and the Julian Alps
12 days, add: Ljubljana, more time for Dalmatian islands
14 days, add: Istria
16 days, add: Whatever you skipped on day 7 (Korčula/Hvar, Montenegro, or Sarajevo)
18 days, add: The Karst, Zagreb

We're actually going less places (skipping Julian Alps, Istria, The Karst, Korcula/Hvar) in the same amount of time.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8072 posts

Many of us (I suspect most) think Rick's itineraries are seriously overpacked for independent travelers.

Posted by Paul
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
794 posts

I'd drop Sarajevo. Great town, but there is so much to do in Croatia that you will be disappointed that you missed.

I'd take your itinerary from yesterday. Move Mostar between Dubrovnik and Split. Mostar is very small. We did it in an afternoon, and it seemed overmuch time at that. Add a day to Split, and take a day trip from there to Trogir.

Here's my suggestion, based on yours:

Day 1: Arrive Dubrovnik 5:30pm
Day 2: Dubrovnik
Day 3: Day trip to Kotor
Day 4: Travel from Dubrovnik to Split - hit Mostar on the way
Day 5: Split
Day 6: Split (Trogir day trip?)
Day 7: Split - Roman ruins at Salona
Day 8: Split to Zadar
Day 9: Zadar
Day 10: Zadar to Plitvice
Day 11: Plitvice - Drive to Ljubljana
Day 12: Ljubjlana
Day 13: Day trip to Lake Bled
Day 14: Travel from Ljubljana to Zagreb
Day 15: Zagreb
Day 16: Zagreb
Day 17: Flight out

Posted by lisa
Austria
13 posts

If helpful: the Sarajevo <—> Mostar TRAIN is running again after years of on again-off again service!

I just took it today (so, hi from Mostar!) and it was wonderfully easy, not to mention a gorgeous ride. Seriously, I wouldn’t miss out on this route as you move from continental Bosnia into more arid, mountainous Herzegovina—or in case of your itinerary, the other way around.

The trip takes two hours and departs twice daily (the Sarajevo-Mostar trip runs at 7:05 and 16:50). Cost was KM 11.90 for one way, includes seat reservation. Your Mostar accommodation should be able to check the Mostar-to-Sarajevo times for you, i.e., one morning and one late afternoon departure. NOTE: verify departure information locally since I’m just reporting what I did -today-.

I used to live/work in Mostar and took the Mostar <—> Sarajevo bus countless zillions of times. It’s perfectly fine and part of the experience (2.5 hours as you posted above, frequent departures and one 5 or 10-minute smoke break for the driver, likely at Konjic, FYI) but the train was more enjoyable and spacious. And faster, if the departure times work for you. Otherwise, do the bus, yes.

Note: don’t let the crappy-looking train stations in both cities put you off! The train itself is new (a Talgo). And bonus: outlets to re-charge your phone at seats.

By the way, I’ve travelled all over this region for years by both public bus and by car—your ‘revised’ version of your planned itinerary sounds doable, but the Plitvice jaunt does sound like a huge haul. Happy planning! Sounds like a wonderful trip.

Posted by ddhostel
52 posts

Croatia is large but everyone here adding Slovenia too :)

In my case to make the easy south trip., Split, hvar, korcula and Dubrovnik. the long Croatian trip will be with Rovinj (north) and Plitvice lakes.