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Touring Beautiful Croatia

We are renting a car for 12 days in Croatia, In general we love hiking and authentic villages, that's why we're including Bosnia and Montenegro, we are gonna stay in guesthouses\ Sobes in most of the tour (we are young, 19 and 26, so we are traveling in budget and also could camp if possible). I'd like to share my thoughts with you, any alternative edits is welcomed.

Starting from Budapest on the afternoon of 29th of September, that's the suggested plan:
29/9: A night in Balaton Lake.
30/9: A hike in the lake region, later on heading toward Plitvice and spending the night nearby the park.
1/10: Getting onto the walkways of Plitvice Park in the early morning, later on heading to Mostar for one night.
2/10: Enjoying Mostar.
3/10: Heading to Dormitor National Park in Montenegro (do you recommend any nearby villages with sobes?)
4-5/10: Bay of Kotor and staying for the night. (Hiking Lovcen mountain and visiting Perast)
6-7/10: Dubrovnik.
8-9/10: Split.
10-11/10: Zagreb.
On the morning of the 12th returning back to Budapest.

We think this is the optimal route in this period, but any suggestions/ recommendations are happily welcomed.
Regarding the Budget (besides the car expenses) of the places mentioned above, whats the average daily budget?

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4681 posts

This does not seem like a realistic itinerary unless you want a trip that's really fast-paced and doesn't leave much time to actually see something before moving immediately onto someplace else. I just looked your first couple of days and it seems that every single one of them involves 4-5 hours of driving to get to the next destination. And you're doing this in October when the days are shorter. I think you need to look at driving distances and then re-evaluate your plan. This is not solely a Croatia trip because you're also including Hungary and Bosnia. The car rental and gas is going to cost a lot for covering all that distance...have you estimated total price of just the car rental?

Posted by Waleed H. OP
8 posts

Hey Agnes, well that's exactly why I asked here, what do suggest to do?
first of all, I've read some recommendations here that's its best to spend the night before Plitvice Park nearby, in order to enter it first thing in the morning. should I consider else wise?
while I'm reading your reply a thought came up to my mind: skipping the part of Dormitor National Park, and head directly toward the bay of Kotor from Mostar, after that drive back north and do the Croatian coast. then visit Split and finally hit Zagreb before returning the car to Budapest. (as the basic plan)

what do you recommend us to do? in order to have the maximum adventure in our allocated time

Regarding the car rental, I've already booked it for these days, it was a good deal (I think):
I'm picking it up at the Europcar desk at the airport and returning it to the city center just for 435 EUR (with damage excess waiver- full Protection 1 )

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4681 posts

Can you repost your itinerary by adding distances and driving times for each day?

Posted by Waleed H. OP
8 posts

Hello to you Agnes and James, I hope this makes it clear; I added distances and traveling times:
29/9: Budapest > Balaton lake= 1h:45min (164KM)
30/9: Balaton > Plitvice= 3h:45min (364KM)
1-2/10: Plitvice > Split= 2h:40min (260KM)
3/10: Split > Mostar= 2h:10min (170KM)
4-5/10: Mostar > Dubrovnik= 2h:20min (140KM)
6-7/10: Dubrovnik > Kotor= 2hr (90KM)
8-11/10: Kotor > Zagreb= 8hr (690KM) here we either stop to rest a night in a village on the way or a night drive.
12/10: Zagreb > Budapest= 3hr:20min (370KM)

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10681 posts

I don't know your source for those driving times, but folks here normally recommend viamichelin.com, though it is thought to be a bit optimistic and definitely doesn't include time for any stops, traffic issues, getting lost, finding parking, etc. Viamichelin projects 2 hr. 16 min. from Budapest to Lake Balaton and 5 hr. 26 min. from there to Plitvice. Therefore, I assume your source is providing very inaccurate driving times.

Posted by Waleed H. OP
8 posts

Acraven, all these times according google maps!
Is google that bad at estimating traveling times?
(Honestly, I doubt it.)

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10681 posts

I, myself, have never driven in Europe. I'm basing my comments on what I've read in this forum, where I have spent far too much time over the last three years. The consensus is that one should use viamichelin and add some extra time.

I do sometimes look at Google's intra-city walking times and find them quite accurate. But driving times are a whole different kettle of fish. I have always assumed that they base those times on speed limits, and in Europe it is often difficult to drive that fast.

Posted by Waleed H. OP
8 posts

I see, I'll try to calculate them again using Via Michelin. Thanks anyway!

James and Agnes do you recommend my updated tour? Is it realistic? Or should I do some changes?

What about the daily budget do you know how much would cost me?

Posted by Dejan
Slovenia
390 posts

Google's travel times are generally quite accurate, provided that you drive as fast as the locals and do not stop during your drive. A realistic set of assumptions for your daily commute, but very optimistic when it comes to driving as a tourist in a foreign country on unfamiliar roads. Google also does not accurately assess waiting times at border crossings. It tends to underestimate driving times in the type of stop and go traffic you will find at border crossings. For waiting times there, it's best to refer to the country-specific traffic information services - that would be HAK.hr in Croatia.

Overall, I would much rather look at the more conservative driving estimates provided by ViaMichelin, which is geared to tourists. You should also extend those driving estimates by a few hours to plan for any unforeseen events. An accident might close the highway, you may want to stop at a point of interest you hadn't anticipated, etc.

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4681 posts

Ok, given your age, enthusiasm, and the driving times not being as bad as I thought, then I say go for it. Just take the cost of gas into account. I can't guess on the average budget ....what I would do is to set an overall target of spending per day (based on how much money per person you want to spend on this trip) and just pick accommodations and places to eat that will keep you within your budget.

Posted by Waleed H. OP
8 posts

I hope it will turn out realistic,
I'd like to thank you all for the help! You were so nice.
I'll write about my trip when I return.
Have a wonderful week :)

Posted by James E.
USA
8211 posts

4-5/10: Mostar > Dubrovnik= 2h:20min (140KM)  6-7/10: Dubrovnik >
Kotor= 2hr (90KM) 8-11/10: Kotor > Zagreb= 8hr (690KM) here we either
stop to rest a night in a village on the way or a night drive.  12/10:
Zagreb > Budapest= 3hr:20min (370KM)

I suppose you have a reason for 3 days in Kotor? I love Montenegro (returning later this week) but Kotor is just a smaller, less impressive, equally crowded version of Dubrovnik. Drive right past Kotor and go to Budva (high road) for a night or two. Then on the return (low road) stop in Kotor, stop in Perast (see the 2 islands) and spend the night in Herceg Novi before heading back to Zagreb.

If you skip Mostar on the way down you can pick it up on the way back and break up the long haul a bit. If all this eats up too much time, reduce Mostar to one night.

You might also check out the option of flying from Budapest to Podgorica (about $100), using a guide for the Montenegro end for maybe $300, then renting the car in Dubrovnik so it's a one way trip. You will get a couple more days of hiking that way. .

What's funny is you depart Budapest on the day we arrive, and return to Budapest the day after we depart.

Posted by Waleed H. OP
8 posts

Sounds like a good plan James!
I will consider it, thanks for the recommendation though.
I don't need to book any sobes in advance or do I?

What a coincidence! By the way, I'm running in the Budapest marathon on the 15th of october, I guess its gonna be an exhausting trip ( but I don't mind it)

Thanks again & Have a nice vacation!

Posted by James E.
USA
8211 posts

If you need help with the Montenegro end let me know. I have a name...

We fly into Podgorica, spend a week fishing and site seeing, the fly on to Budapest. Wizzair is nonstop between the two.

Posted by James E.
USA
8211 posts

I ran the word through Google Translate before I asked and came up empty. Thanks for explaining (PM). Then its a vacation rental, or generically called an AirBnb. Can't help you much with Croatia in particular, but since i am familiar a little with vacation rental apartments elsewhere in Europe i can tell you that most bookings come in about 60 days prior. Still, i suspect there are plenty to choose from. If i were you i would like to know where i am sleeping well in advance. Otherwise you could find yourself spending a lot of time hunting for a room and less time hiking.

Other than Dubrovnik, I haven't been to Croatia. My experience in Montenegro is that really decent apartments and hotels rent for $25 to $50 a night outside of Kotor. I would suspect because Croatia gets a bit more tourism that they might be 10% to 20% more in Croatia depending on location (a lot more expensive in Dubrovnik). My trip to Montenegro I am spending an average of $60 a night but i am staying in a few very nice places and a couple of places that are about 30 euro.

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1091 posts

We have been to Croatia many times. Several suggestions:

1) Remove Kotor, replace with Sibenik or Zadar. They are similar. The plan for many of the towns along the Adriatic is quite similar, and you gain little by putting in Kotor.
2) Kotor is a day trip from Dubrovnik. If you must go there, take the bus (1. 5 hours).
3) Split is a 2 day stay, Dubrovnik is a 2 day stay.
4) Mostar is a lunch stop. It's very small, with the bridge. Once you see the bridge, that's pretty much it. After Dubrovnik, you won't be hugely impressed. The bridge is cool.

Driving in much of Croatia is very easy. There are not many choices, but the ones that are there are fast and well-maintained.

I'd do this:

Ljubljana -> Zadar -> Split -> Dubrovnik -> Mostar -> Plitvice -> Zagreb

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10681 posts

I can understand the feeling that Kotor is a lot like Dubrovnik (though I visited them 20+ years apart), but the trip to Kotor takes you along the Bay of Kotor, which to my mind is a world-class sight. I would never say that it is a must-see, because after all, there are only so many days available on any given vacation. But I think very few people, after being passengers on that road, would say it wasn't worth the time. It is really stunning. For the driver, well...

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3302 posts

I loved the Bay of Kotor scenery too, even though I didn't fall in love with the town of Kotor itself. The view from above is stunning, too, if you want to hike up the "walls" above the town. I enjoyed a stop in charming Perast more than in Kotor. I am glad I had a car driving around the Bay - I stopped numerous times for pictures. I wouldn't have wanted to be limited to a bus window!

Posted by James E.
USA
8211 posts

I was in Dubrovnik and Kotor last year. Dubrovnik was Stunning! but, Butt to Butt packed with tourists. 2 nights and i was ready to move on. Perast along the way to Kotor was also stunning, but devoid of tourists. Best two nights of the trip; and two of the most memorable nights of our travels to date. Kotor, which we did as a stop on the way over the mountains to Titograd and our flight to Serbia was "okay" but less impressive than Dubrovnik, but just as packed with tourists. https://www.google.com/search?q=perast+montenegr%C3%B3&safe=off&rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS694US697&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj2yqqJ3LLWAhUjyoMKHUFgDo4Q_AUICygC&biw=1369&bih=812&dpr=2

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1091 posts

My suggestion to drop Kotor and replace with Zadar or Sibenik or some other town is simply based on travel times. The bay of Kotor is indeed a world-class sight. But the trip is short. Time spent traveling to and from Kotor could be spent other places.

Posted by Waleed H. OP
8 posts

Hi guys, I wanted to make sure if I could travel from Hungary to Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia.
unfortunately, thats the reply from Europcar customer service:
"Dear Customer,
In Europcar, traveling to Bosnia and Montenegro from Hungary with the rental car is strictly forbidden.
Traveling to Croatia may be allowed, for a cross border fee of 5000 HUF + 23% per day.
You must inform the travel station of your travel plans, in any case."

what should I do? Could they be mistaken?
that changes the whole plan

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10681 posts

That appears to be Europcar's policy. Other car-rental companies may not be so restrictive.

There are public buses between Dubrovnik and Mostar and also between Dubrovnik and Kotor. Plus buses within Montenegro as well. Obviously, you can't move around as fast without your own car, but you would still be able to see part of what you originally planned. I travel this way all the time.

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1091 posts

As to policies of crossing borders, Bosnia is still difficult. You can do Mostar as a side trip, from Dubrovnik. If you rent a car in Croatia, you will not be charged a Croatia surcharge. Simply fly from Budapest to Zagreb, or take the train to Ljubljana. I would not think that a Slovenia car would have a problem in Croatia. Above I recommended dropping Kotor - you can do it as a side trip from Dubrovnik as well if you wish - there are daily buses.

Posted by James E.
USA
8211 posts

You might check out the option of flying from Budapest to Podgorica (about $100), using a guide for the Montenegro end for maybe $300, then renting the car in Dubrovnik and using it to get to Zagreb. Then Zagreb take the train to Budapest. For Mostar; dont know, unless you do a day tour.

Posted by Carla
Boulder CO
932 posts

Can you change your rental car ? We used Sixt for our two week trip and did not incur extra charges to travel to Montenegro or Bosnia - we just told them our itinerary beforehand.

Posted by sjb
Chicago
16 posts

In 2016, on a RS tour (fabulous!), it took over an hour to cross from Hungary into Croatia, so be warned in advance that border crossings can be quite time consuming. Don't get me started on going from Macedonia into Bulgaria. That said, when you are in Plitvice, start at the top half of the lakes, rather than the bottom, where everyone else starts. You'll have the first 1/2 of your day with relatively few walkers. Then, when you hit the popular bottom lakes and it's crowded with tourists, you'll appreciate the solitude you had earlier in the day.

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1091 posts

I agree 100% with sjb. We did that exactly - went counter traffic. We hit PL on Croatian National Day, which was a big surprise to us. By not taking the bus, and walking, we had solitude. A wonderful place.