Croatia is apparently a popular summer vacation spot among many Europeans and Americans. It was a rare travel destination that I almost never crossed paths with any other Muslim/Asian travelers. I thought this is rather rare with this crazy interconnected world we live in. From what little insight I gathered from a couple of American travelers I encountered in Croatia, many of them embark on various European cruises. A popular route is taking a boat from Split and travel to other countries like Italy. Others seemed to enjoy the blazing sun and heat. (Not something I thoroughly enjoy, coming from a tropical country.)
With all that being said, I rounded up a couple of things and tips any traveler should be armed with especially if you’re traveling to Croatia for the first time. From bus travel to accommodations, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect when planning your trip and when you’re actually in Croatia.
1. Travel light (or as light as possible)
I think this rule of thumb generally applies to every European destination. (Read: backpacking in Europe) You don’t have you lug your possessions on your back. But I would suggest either bringing a smaller suitcase or packing light. In all the cities I visited in Croatia, all the apartment buildings do not have elevators. Although I had very kind (male) hosts who helped me with my bags, it would really help to lighten your load.
I think among all cities, light packing is crucial in Dubrovnik. This tip is preferably more relevant if you’re staying in the Old Town itself. The Old Town in Dubrovnik is riddled with many flights of stairs that are both steep and cobbled. It was challenging to navigate and try to get my suitcase to keep up with me. So, a light suitcase will not only be easier to manage but won’t break your back.
Cities like Split, Zadar, and Zagreb are much easier to navigate due to the less hilly terrain. So, maybe if you’re skipping Dubrovnik, you can skip packing light. But mind the lack of elevators in apartment buildings.
2. High season, high temperatures, high cost
As mentioned earlier, Croatia is extremely popular during the summer season. The months of July and August are definitely the peak period. Even late June was crazy with crowds. You won’t be alone anywhere. You could expect throngs of people everywhere and long queues to attractions. Vacationers are like flies to heat in this instance. You could either book an early summer vacation in early June or wait till after August instead.
Moreover, peak season also means that everything is much more expensive. Many hotels and even entrance fees take this chance to bump up their prices. Sometimes even a threefold increase in prices!
3. The rare Croatian Kuna
Unlike other European nations, Croatia uses its own currency, the Croatian Kuna. This has to be one of the most difficult currency to find in this part of the world. I searched high and low, from one money changer to the next in Singapore. To no avail, they didn’t have Croatian Kuna or were out of it. So, I had to get Croatian Kuna at Heathrow Airport which can run out due to high popularity. (Surprise, surprise)
Some establishments do accept Euros but in my experience, they would return change in Kunas. But I see no harm in bringing Euros along with you as a backup currency.
4. Accommodations and Airbnbs
Like any other travel destination, you’ll be able to find a variety of accommodations such as hotels, hostels and of course, Airbnbs. I mostly stayed in Airbnbs and have to commend each host for being amazingly great hosts and people in general. 3 out of 4 hosts met us upon check in to give us tours of the apartment and recommendations on what to see and look out for. They were really nice and friendly people. (Don’t worry gave them 5 stars each!)
#traveltip: Please take note that they will take a photo of your passport to submit to the tourism board. By law, hosts need to submit particulars of each guest staying there.
I have to note that I did book my accommodation rather late. So, most of my options were limited to Airbnbs or apartments on Expedia. The listings on Expedia made those apartment options are somewhat “hotels”. They aren’t really hotels since there’s no concierge and all those services except airport transfer. These “hotels” aren’t totally Airbnb-style apartments either since they don’t come with a kitchenette.
5. Traveling via intercity buses
Of course, the best way to really explore a city or country is by driving. But since I don’t (yet) possess a driving license, I traveled from one city to the next by bus. I’m rather familiar with European train travel after trips to Italy and Spain. But to my surprise (and frustration), Croatia doesn’t have such convenience. The best way to get around is by bus. I do highly recommend using specific companies such as Arriva and Antonio Tours. In my experience, they are reliable and don’t have any (surprise) extra charges.
My cousin did the bus bookings during our trip via Get By Bus app. The easy part you can select the option for an e-ticket so you don’t have to print it out. The bus conductors will scan your tickets on the bus so you could just flash your mobile phone. Each tour company operates different routes at varied timings. They do also vary in prices but do keep in mind that a price difference of €1-3 is definitely worth it. Plus, the condition of their buses are top-notch and will not leave you disgusted for 4 hours.
6. Split your daily explorations
Many of our morning adventures in Croatia begin at 9. This might seem early especially since you’re on holiday. But I usually head back to the apartment by midday. The weather during the early afternoon can get real hot real quick. I have to say Croatia in late June and early July is much hotter than Singapore all year. Fret not, the summer days are very long. Most days, the sun will set at around 8-9pm and many places stay open till late. So, you still have plenty of time to explore!
I used my midday break to have my lunch at the apartment, rather than eating out. You’ll also save a ton of money since eating out can be pricey during high seasons. This would be great for Muslim travelers since you might prefer to have your meals at your accommodations since there aren’t many halal food options around. Also, you could easily catch your midday prayers. Of course, this tip is more for days where you’re just exploring the city.
#traveltip: I do recommend bringing along hats, umbrellas and plenty of sunblock lotion to help you combat the heat and prevent sunburns in Croatia.
7. Sign up for daily walking tours
This might be more of a suggestion if you really keen on learning about Croatia’s history, accommodation or part of the Game of Throne’s fan club. There are many walking tours available with a scheduled meeting point that’ll take you through the major highlights of the city. Not only will you not have to do any prior research on the attractions, but it’ll give you a lot of context into the significance of each palace or statue. There are little to none information boards available at each attraction. You’ll just end up looking at stunning structures without knowing anything more. This was definitely one of my regrets during my trip. Something for you to consider.
I hope these insights were somehow helpful to you when planning your first trip to Croatia. There’s a lot to love about this country from its unique “small town” charm to the absolutely stunning landscapes. Just be ready to have your breath taken away.