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Just Returned from Croatia...

... and it was a wonderful experience. I had a lot of questions before leaving as it was my first trip to eastern Europe, but thanks to Rick's guide book, these forums, and a few other resources (e.g. TripAdvisor), we had a wonderful, memorable experience. If there's anything I learned from this trip it's just this: relax. It's good plan out your days especially if there's a lot you want to see, but it turned out to be much easier to travel than I had imagined. The land is beautiful, the people are wonderful, and there's enough English spoken that you can get by only knowing a little Croatian. Although, knowing a little Croatian really helps. The locals always noticed (and sometimes impressed) that a westerner had taken the time to learn "dobar dan," "hvala," and some other words and phrases.

The only difficulty we encountered was arriving very late to Dubrovnik (the pilot couldn't land the plane for over an hour because of high bura winds -- at least we didn't have to land in Split and take the bus to Dubrovnik). We happened to pick the wrong day to go sailing, but that only meant we got a much more fun and interesting (some might say scary) sailing experience. :)

Posted by
7050 posts

Can you recap the places you visited and some highlights of each? Thanks!

Posted by
334 posts

The Croatia part of our trip concentrated on southern Croatia in Dubrovnik and Split, although we did get out to Plitvice Lakes. We're saving northern Croatia for a future trip. We had been in Budapest and took the train to Zagreb. We did a day trip to Plitvice from here, and the lakes are absolutely gorgeous. It was good weather, and while there were tour busses, we weren't overwhelmed by those numbers. We took a path such that we got to see all 16 of the lakes and only a couple times did we run into a large group of people -- mainly at the electric boat dock. On the way to Plitvice from Zagreb, we stopped briefly at the open air memorial site in Karlovac and also stopped for a while at Rastoke. It doesn't take long to visit Rastoke, but a stop in that picturesque little town is well worth it.

We returned to Zagreb to fly down to Dubrovnik. The domestic flights are all quite affordable, and we opted for this so that we could be in Dubrovnik the next day and then work our way up the coast. As I mentioned previously, the only problem was that the pilot couldn't land for more than an hour due to the high winds. Still, it was much faster than taking the bus all the way. We based ourselves in Dubrovnik for several days. We did a day trip into Montenegro (Perast, Kotor, Budva), and another day trip to Bosnia (Mostar), as well as spend time in Dubrovnik itself.

While Kotor is better known, we enjoyed Budva a little bit more. We reached Kotor in the middle of the day, and even in May, the cruise ship traffic was thick, so we went on to Budva first. There were still plenty of tourists, but nothing like Kotor. Later in the afternoon, we went back to Kotor. It was good that we did this side trip before we really took the time to explore Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik was by far our favorite Old Town to explore. We hiked the walls, took the cable car to the top of the mountain, and when we were done exploring, we just camped out by the water and enjoyed being on the Adriatic.

Even though it doesn't really fit with an Adriatic vacation, I wouldn't pass up a trip to Mostar. Anyone who has an interest in history or culture should go. It's hard for me to sum up my feelings of standing in the epicenter of the Bosnian War, but it's something worth experiencing, especially for anyone (American or otherwise) who has never known the harsh realities of war. Aside from these reminders of war, the old town itself is vibrant and you can easily lose yourself for a while wondering up and down those little streets.

From Dubrovnik, we took a catamaran up to Split. The total trip was about 4 hours. I had originally wanted to spent time on Korcula, but we eventually decided against it and opted for Hvar only because of the current ferry schedule and Hvar's proximity to Split -- we could much more easily do a day trip to Hvar from Split. From Hvar, we went sailing around the Palenki Islands and stopped for a while at Palmizana. Unfortunately, the day we did this turned out to be extremely windy and not a good day for sailing or swimming. The sailing part was fun, but the weather was a bit of a disappointment. Of course, it was a hot summer day the day before as well as the day after!

While in Split, we spent a lot of time in Diocletian's Palace, nearby old town, and Riva promenade. We didn't have the time (or the energy by this point) to get out to Trogir or Solin. After our days in Split, we hopped on the bus back up to Zagreb and then flew to Paris, and then back home.

Posted by
44 posts

Thank you for the information! Glad you had a great time. I'm heading to Crotia (Dubrovnik, Hvar and Split) in a few weeks and this is helpful as I plan to do a similar itinerary. I do have one question though.. The catamaran from Dubrovnik to Split, was this an organized trip? How much was it? How did you book and how far in advance? We had planned to do a bus tour but I would much prefer a catamaran as it sounds like it would take about the same amount of time. Thank you in advance!

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334 posts

It was a regular high speed catamaran run by Kapetan Luka. In Dubrovnik, you can go to the harbor and find a little travel shop. They can sell you tickets. We got our tickets in the morning that we were leaving, but we could have gotten them right beforehand. The catamaran was only about 1/3 to 1/2 full. Of course, the catamaran will fill up faster in the coming weeks, but even so, I wouldn't worry about getting tickets before you reach Dubrovnik. I don't know how much the tickets cost because my wife was the one who bought them that day, but I remember that they were comparable to equivalent bus tickets.

I preferred the catamaran only because you could get up, walk around, stretch, etc. Also the catamaran doesn't have to stop twice as it enters and leaves Bosnia like a bus would have to.

Posted by
7050 posts

Mike, did you take a rental car to reach Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb? I assume so, since you mentioned stopping in two towns on the way. If so, how long was that drive? Is Zagreb the best launching point to get to Plitvice? And how much time would you recommend for touring the lakes? Can visitors swim in the lakes, or just walk along the boardwalks?

I agree that Mostar is truly a worthwhile visit. Sarajevo is even more so - I would highly recommend going as you can really appreciate what the siege of Sarajevo was like during the mid-90s...and you can stand on the bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot as a precursor to WWI. I was able to see both cities in Bosnia, along with Split, Brac, Korcula, Dubrovnik, and Montanegro. Sadly, could not make it north of Split because the 12 days were already spent at the sites above.

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334 posts

The drive from Zagreb to Plitvice is about two hours and easy. We opted for the itinerary we did as we would be passing through Zagreb anyway. We had looked at flying from Budapest directly to Dubrovnik and including Plitvice as a day trip from Split (~2.5 hours drive one way), but the flight times/cost didn't make sense for us. Zadar is closer to Plitvice, but we weren't going to be there.

For touring the lakes, I would allow at least for a full day trip if you want to see all 16 of the lakes. We roughly followed the "K" route outlined on this page: http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/plan-your-visit/explore-the-park/plan-your-visit/. We're in fairly good shape, and we took the boat across the largest lake, so we were closer to the 6 hour estimate. Our day trip was about 12 hours total (4 driving, ~6 hours at the park, ~2 hours at other stops and dinner after leaving the park).

There is no swimming in any of the lakes.

Posted by
2252 posts

Mike, thank you for this wonderful trip report. I was there (Slovenia and Croatia+ short stay in BH) just a year ago this month and know exactly what you mean about your visit to Mostar. I was there for 2 full days and an overnight. It was truly one of the most emotional experiences I have had anywhere in Europe. Possibly because it's such "recent" history? Plivice is truly beautiful! The day I visited was particularly spectacular due to the torrential rains they had had during the weeks before. And the waterfalls......oh my goodness! When you plan a revisit, do include Slovenia. The Alps, Lake Bled, and Ljubljana are lovely. I had such a great visit there. Thanks for sharing your trip!

Posted by
5687 posts

I was at Plitvice last week too. I stayed overnight near the park - something I highly recommend and ended my trip in Zagreb. Yes, it's an easy drive to/from Zagreb, about two hours. But if you overnight near/in the park, you can get in early and avoid some of the tour groups. I parked my car at entrance #2 at 7:32 - I was the first car in there. I got down to the boat launch across from the upper lakes by about 8:00 (boats start running at 7:00 for the short ride across there). I waited for ten minutes to be taken the short distance across, because I was the only one on the boat and they waited for other people, but eventually I was taken solo across. I saw few hikers in the upper lakes area for the first few hours - it was really nice. Later it was pretty busy all over the park.

I didn't follow any particular route. However, this was my second visit to Plitvice. It's such an amazing place that it is well worth a return visit, my view. Since I had seen it before, I picked out the highlights - and there are many, but to me the best waterfalls are in the upper lakes area near entrance #2 and the park hotels.

Right - no swimming at Plitvice. If you want to swim near a beautiful waterfall, try Krka National Park closer to Split and Zadar. The huge, cascading Skrandinski Buk waterfall at Krka dwarfs anything you will find at Plitvice, though overall I still prefer Plivice to the two parks. But you can swim right below the Skrandinski Buk falls. Few were swimming there in May - too cold. It's probably fun in the summer.

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334 posts

Andi, I really wanted to include Slovenia on this trip, but it and Zagreb got cut so that we could fit in a side trip to Ukraine. My wife's aunt lives in Ukraine and has taught English there for a number of years. Because we'd be close, relatively speaking, we decided to shoehorn in some days in Kyiv and Lviv, and then go to Croatia. I'm already tentatively planning an itinerary to include Slovenia and Austria as primary destinations. No clue when that trip will materialize tho. Some day.

Posted by
2 posts

Mike,

How long was your trip for? I am going to be doing Budapest to Croatia this summer and I wanted to fit in a lot of what your iteniary had in it. Sounds like an amazing time!

Thanks!

Posted by
334 posts

The Croatia part of our trip spanned about 8 days:
* Part of a day in Zagreb after arriving from Budapest
* Plitvice day trip
* 3 days Dubrovnik (including Montenegro/Bosnia)
* 3 days Split (including Hvar)

The itinerary was just a little bit rushed by about a day or so. If I had to do over, I would add an extra day to Dubrovnik as we only had one full day in the city.

Posted by
334 posts

One other thing for those of you with upcoming trips...

The entry vestibule area of Diocletian's Palace is currently undergoing renovations. As of last week, it was all covered with tarps and scaffolding. The klapa singers who regularly hang out there had relocated to the entrance of the Ethnographic Museum. There was also minor renovation occurring on a small segment of Dubrovnik's walls, but this did not interfere with the hike around the walls or the views.

Posted by
43 posts

Just completed the same trip with a similar itinerary. Cannot say enough good about the Balkans! They were beautiful, the countries were clean, and the people very welcoming. Many spoke some English (lots in Croatia). I was there just a bit longer. Did not get to Zagreb and had a rental car. Otherwise, the same cities. We also on the spur of the moment took a drive down a peninsula through their wine country. The drive ended in Orebic, just across from Korcula, so we were also able to visit Korcula. We also visited Mostar, Modjugorje, and Sarajevo. I loved every minute of my time in the countries and would return in a heartbeat! Hvar was beautiful, as was Split and Dubrovnik. I preferred the Bay of Kotar and Kotar to Budyar (can't remember the exact name) in Montenegro. Driving in all of the countries was very easy. We occasionally missed a sign and stopped for directions, which were very helpful. We did not book hotels too far in advance (only a couple of days) so we could be spontaneous. We used booking.com as we travelled and it worked great. Not sure how it would be in middle of the summer, though!

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334 posts

I too was impressed with the overall cleanliness and orderly nature of Croatia. Iceland is still tops in my book in that regard, but Croatia is up there.

Posted by
32244 posts

Mike,

Glad to hear that you had such a great time in Croatia. I was there last September and also really enjoyed the beauty of the country and the wonderful people. My favourite spot was Korcula, and I wish I could have spent more time there (good excuse to return!).

Posted by
15 posts

Yes. Thank you for all this information. We are going to Croatia in July and you have answered all my questions without having to ask!

Posted by
18 posts

Mike and everyone else, thanks for your candid insight into Croatia. I have posted a few questions here recently about a trip there; next year we will be back in Europe in May, and we're trying to decide whether Italy or Croatia is the priority, besides our first week which will be in Czech Republic for work. Your post gave me a lot of reassurance if we do indeed decide to go to Croatia for either all or part of our couple of weeks. It would be our first time in either Italy or Croatia so there is a lot to think about!

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18 posts

Actually I have a couple of questions. You said you liked Budva better than Kotor. Did you spend the night in Budva or just day trip from Dubrovnik?

How did you find the hotels? Did you get what you thought you were getting when you booked? Any problems in particular? Someone else on another forum said, "to me a hotel is more than just a place to spend the night" and I am on the same page- I like for the hotel I stay in to be clean and smoke free but if I'm going to be spending any time there, I like to feel like it's homey while I'm there.

What about beaches? did you find any that you especially liked, or did you not spend time at the beach?

Posted by
334 posts

You said you liked Budva better than Kotor. Did you spend the night in Budva or just day trip from Dubrovnik?

All the Montenegro sites we visited were in a single day trip from Dubrovnik.

How did you find the hotels? Did you get what you thought you were getting when you booked? Any problems in particular?

We typically use a combination of TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, and Google Maps. We trust TripAdvisor a little more in the review department than some other sites. When trip planning, we will create a map of a particular city and start marking the sights, beaches, etc, and then search for hotels and see where they are relative to what we want to see and do. For longer stays, we'll take our time in finding just the right hotel. For short stays, we just get whatever is close to the train/bus/ferry station.

We did not have any problems and got exactly what we had booked in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. In Split, we got what we booked, but it was different than what we had expected. It was our misunderstanding however. We decided late in our planning to extend our stay in Split by one night. At that point we couldn't extend our existing hotel reservation as the hotel had already booked our room. When booking the other hotel for the single night, none of the key words like "sobe" or "apartment" were used in the write-up online, but it turned out to be just that - an apartment. It turned out to be fine, and the owner was the cordial, jolly sort. However, we walked past it two or three times trying to find it because we were looking for an actual hotel.

What about beaches? did you find any that you especially liked, or did you not spend time at the beach?

We wanted to spend some beach time, but ran out of time for it. We spent some time on the beach at Budva during that day trip. Kotor is situated within the bay, but Budva is directly on the Adriatic. Budva is probably your best bet if you spend time in Montenegro. Regarding Croatia, the beaches in Dubrovnik were better than the ones in Split. Our time on Hvar was limited, so didn't have any time to explore the beach options there.

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334 posts

We did not rent a car for Plitvice. We hired a private guide who took us to the park. The rest of our transportation was by plane, ferry, and bus.

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16894 posts

Mike's reminder to "relax... it turned out to be much easier to travel than I had imagined" applies to everywhere I have traveled in Europe, and Turkey and Morocco. The issues you worry about before your first visit to a new region rarely turn into big problems. After equipping yourself with good information, your attitude also goes a long way in making the most of your trip.