It’s funny how we ended up choosing the different places to visit on our trip. Our choice for Croatia came from a conversation on top of a mountain in Alaska the summer before. We had hiked up to the top of a small mountain with a grand view of Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park and met up with a couple of other hikers who were from Europe. It seemed a long way to come from Europe to Alaska and as we talked with them we asked them where a favorite place was for Europeans to travel? They both responded the same way…Croatia. They talked of beautiful beaches, affordable prices, and enthralling history. Before this conversation, I wouldn’t have been able to pick Croatia out on a map and certainly didn’t think of it as a beach destination. But as we planned our trip, this conversation came back to us, and as we did further research, we realized many people considered Croatia at the top of their travel list. I would like to say “Thank you!” to our European friends from Alaska for putting Croatia on our travel radar, because it exceeded our expectations every step of the way.
As we posted on Facebook about our adventures in Croatia, I had multiple people say it is now on their bucket list to visit someday. Since we now have some experiential knowledge of what it is like to travel there, I am going to write this post as if I was your travel agent (I know they are obsolete at this point, but humor me). Unfortunately, I got sick with the flu a couple days into this leg of the trip. I was fevered, aching, and nauseous most of our time in Croatia, so I feel like I really need a do-over. So, if you would like to invite us along on your trip when you go, we would be happy to join you!
I am planning “your trip” as a two week vacation because it is usually hard for people to get much more time off than that, and I think it would allow you to do all the things that you should, without moving at a frantic pace. As a side note, all three cities we visited and that I have you visiting in my plan are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This means that they have been designated by the United Nations as a site that has cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are protected by international treaties. UNESCO regards these sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.
Day 1: Split, Croatia
Fly in to Split, Croatia airport. We stayed in an apartment and the owners picked us up from the airport. They were super accommodating the whole time. They gave us a tour of Diocletian’s palace and when we left they knew we were driving and so gave us a bunch of candy for the kids on our drive. I would definitely stay somewhere very near, or inside Diocletian’s palace. We use tripadvisor.com and booking.com to compare places, look at pictures, and pick the one that feels right to us. If you use these websites with real reviews by former customers, you can almost always come up with a great pick with almost no surprises. We have stayed in over 20 places so far and have not had any issues to this point.
Spend the afternoon resting (you will be jetlagged) and then wander over to have dinner somewhere in Diocletian’s palace.
Morning: Tour Diocletian’s Palace. As I said, the owners of our apartment we were renting gave us a tour of Diocletian’s Palace, but if you don’t stay there, there are many companies offering tours. Diocletian was a Roman Emperor in the 4th century AD. He built this palace to retire in and it is the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace. It’s not what you would envision as a palace, because it is more like a walled fortress and over the past 1800 years, it has been lived in by the people. So it is a mixture of ancient ruins, shops, restaurants, small hotels, and even banks. I would highly suggest getting a walking tour because you are able to learn a lot of history that would be hard to get any other way. I would also do this in the morning because it gets quite hot walking around later in the day.
Afternoon: Head down to the beach for the afternoon and eat dinner down there at sunset. Honestly, the beach isn’t that great and it was really crowded when we were there, but we had fun playing on the blow up playground out in the water (much more difficult than it looks!) and you have to watch the locals play this game of what is essentially paddle ball without the paddles in the water. I really wish we had been there longer so we could have given it a try as it looked like a blast!
Take a boat out to Hvar Island. We didn’t do this because we didn’t have time, but I am giving you more time than we had so you should do it.
Rent a car and drive out to Plitvice Lakes. It is a series of lakes cascading into one another that will simply take your breath away…again and again and again. The roads are very easy to navigate and GPS took us right there. While the mountains and water are beautiful in Croatia, the landscape is very dry without much vegetation (at least in the areas we drove through). So when you enter into this park, the dichotomy between where you were and where you are now is incredible. You can easily spend the whole day hiking around looking at the hundreds if not thousands of waterfalls throughout the park (I was pretty sick by this point, so we didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked). There are two different sections and it is worth it to do both. I guarantee you have never seen anything like this before. It lives up to it’s reputation of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Head out to Krka Waterfalls and swim in the waterfalls. We didn’t get to do this. We had planned to do it the same day as Plitvice, because we didn’t realize how extensive the area was there. Our travel style is to do one thing really well instead of trying to pack a bunch of things in and not really experiencing anything completely. So when we realized that Plitvice would take the whole day, we decided we would have to Krka “next time.”
Book the “Extreme Canyoning” trip through Iris Adventures and have an adventure you will never forget! This looked like so much fun but the age limit said 8 years old. I emailed asking if Luke could go and they said if we thought he could do it, they were fine to let him try. Because we had the boys we could only book the “Canyoning” trip, but we learned that the only real difference between that and the “Extreme Canyoning” is that you don’t do the rappelling. Everything else was so amazing, we didn’t even notice.
Here is what you can expect. We were picked up near our apartment and driven out to a little house about an hour away that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t see water anywhere, and I was hoping it would live up to the reviews. We got there and they outfitted us in wetsuits, life jackets, and helmets. I thought it seemed like a little bit excessive considering it was almost 100 degrees outside, but we got ready to go and headed out. We hiked down a gravel road and then came to the edge of a beautiful canyon. It wasn’t very wide at all but had crystal clear water running through. The hike to get down was intense and let us know that this trip was no joke. Fortunately, one of the guides stayed with Luke the whole time because I was just trying to keep up myself. Parker and Tyler were, of course, right in their element and enjoying every second of the adventure.
We spent the next 4 hours hiking, climbing, and floating down the canyon and the rapids! There were even 10-30 foot cliffs to jump off of along the way! It was incredible! It didn’t take long for me to realize that the wetsuits were as much for protection from slamming against rocks as to keep us warm, as we were rushing down natural waterslides and through rapids. I was so impressed with the boys for being able to keep up with all the adults. I was struggling a bit myself and was feeling like I was getting old, but realized that night that I was feverish and weak because I had the beginning of the flu, not because I was getting too old for this kind of fun! As a side note, this was the most intense thing I had done to this point on my hip I had surgery on last September. I was so pleased that, besides a few limited range of motion issues, it didn’t give me any problems at all!
Spend one more day exploring Split. Go to the park, spend more time at Diocletian’s Palace, or just relax by the beach.
Day 8: Dubrovnik (stay inside the walls, it’s worth it! Try Air BNB for more affordable options that will often have kitchens so you can have breakfast and/or lunch at home)
Morning: Drive down the coast to the walled city of Dubrovnik, with the well deserved nickname, “The jewel of the Adriatic.” On your way down you cross briefly through Bosnia, which is kind of fun to check off as a country you have visited (if you count driving through for a few miles).
Afternoon: Wander around the beautiful city. It’s like nothing you have ever seen.
Morning: Wake up early and do your obligatory walk around the walls of Dubrovnik. I hear it’s beautiful from my family. I started up the stairs, almost passed out (remember I had the flu), then headed back to the room to sleep the entire day.
Don’t feel bad if you have never heard of this place, neither had I until we started planning this trip. The reality is, it’s only been a country for about 10 years, as it was part of the former Yugoslavia, and it only has a population of about 600,000 people. We discovered Kotor because it was voted as the number one city to visit in 2016 from Lonely Planet (another great website for travel advice) so we thought we had better check it out. Also, it’s just a few hours drive from Dubrovnik so it fit in perfectly with our schedule and with yours! It was a quaint little walled town next to the Bay of Kotor and surrounded by towering mountains on every side. Just above the city high on the mountain sits Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni with walls climbing up to it that make a stunning backdrop to the town.
Spend the afternoon wandering around the small city having lunch at a cafe and get your bearings.
Morning: Hike up to the top of the magnificent walled castle (we didn’t do this because I was still too sick and Jeromy and Luke had unfortunately, caught it from me at this point).
Afternoon: Either hire a boat (the owner of our Air BNB offered to take us on his boat) or go on a group boat to see Our Lady of the Rocks Island. The story goes that it was created when two shipwrecked fishermen found a rock with an icon of Mary with the Christ child and promised to build a church dedicated to this icon. Fisherman would throw rocks on the island to show their thanks for a safe journey and that is the foundations of the church. When we were there, there was a wedding at the church so we couldn’t go inside, but it was so fun to feel a bit like we were part of the celebration on the island. From there you can visit the quaint town of Perast, and then find an isolated beach to swim.
Spend the day driving into the mountains, shopping, swimming, or just relaxing. The beauty of Kotor is that there isn’t much to do but relax and enjoy the majesty of your surroundings.
Day 13: Split, Croatia
Drive back to Split. Get a map to make sure you go the right way. Our GPS took us up through the mountains on dirt roads, one lane roads, and abandoned towns in Bosnia. I have to say, we did end up back in Split eventually, but there were times I wasn’t sure we would make it!
I loved our time in Croatia and Montenegro so much! It exceeded my expectations the whole way. I think one of the things that made me like it so much, is that I didn’t have any idea what to expect. In the rest of Europe where we visited, I knew a lot more about the places and had already visited many of them previously. I was especially surprised at all of the ancient history that was there, which I had never learned about before our visit. I can’t wait to go back when I am not feeling so sick, because it definitely caused us to miss out on a few things I would really like to have done, but when you are traveling for a year, that’s bound to happen every once in awhile!