Why do bad trips happen to good people? Here are the top ten errors, misconceptions and mistakes of Croatia-bound travellers.
1. Croatia is small.
Occasionally someone will approach me for a consultation with a request like “I’d like to visit Istria, Plitvice Lakes and Dubrovnik with a stop at an island or two. I have a week”. Um, no. At 56,538 sq km Croatia is not gigantic but the coast is loooong. From Umag in northern Istria to Dubrovnik near Croatia’s southern tip is 725km or a good eight hour drive, without breaks. And that’s not even counting the islands, some of which are a good three hours by ferry from the coast. To return to Zagreb from Dubrovnik, count on spending at least 6 1/2 hours on the road. See a Croatia map.
2. Ferries go everywhere.
Yes and no. Every inhabited island has a car ferry connection to the coast that runs at least daily. Where tourists get into trouble is assuming that anyplace on the coast has a ferry connection to any island and that all islands are connected by ferry. In fact few islands are connected by ferry and those that are connected have passenger ferries only from May to September. See more on Croatia ferries.
3. I can get accommodation on arrival.
At the height of the season (like now for example), showing up without a reservation can be disastrous. There may be a few people holding up soba signs when you disembark your bus or ferry but I wouldn’t count on it. And neither the price nor the location is likely to be optimal. Off-season the situation is better but more and more apartment owners are renting online and see no need to hang around bus stations. In case of emergency, head to the local tourist office. It’s best to book in advance.
4. Croatia is cheap.
Not so much. Croatia provides good value for money and can be excellent value off-season when hotel prices start dropping. Groceries, petrol, clothes and car rentals are on par with the rest of Western Europe. Buses are cheap; car ferries are pricey. Restaurants can be relatively inexpensive outside tourist hotspots such as Hvar and Dubrovnik. Meat, pizza and pasta are cheap; fish is expensive. The sun and sea are free! See more on costs.
5. I need a car to see everything.
The public transportation system is excellent. Buses link all major towns and in summer there’s a wider choice of passenger ferries to the islands than car ferries. Travelling via public transport is slower, yes, but more convivial. With only a few days to visit an island however, you’ll see more if you rent a car for the day. See more on getting around Croatia.
6. I need a cross-border card to visit Bosnia or Montenegro.
If you rent a car in Croatia your insurance papers will cover day trips to Bosnia or Montenegro. Many car rental companies try to sell you a cross-border card but it’s usually not necessary. If you bring a car from elsewhere in Europe, check your insurance papers. See more on cross-border cards.
7. I can plan my trip easily.
If travel planning has you tearing your hair out, rest assured that you are not alone. Because of the long coastline and complicated ferry routes, planning a holiday can be tricky. Try not to cover too much. You cannot see everything in a week or two. Throw away the must-see lists and concentrate on what it is you really like. You do not “have to” see Dubrovnik or any other place. Croatia is a rich and varied country with more than enough to delight you wherever you find yourself. See sample itineraries.
8. With my ticket for the car ferry I can drive up at the last minute.
When you buy your car ferry ticket you do not have a reservation, only a ticket. It means that you are not assured to get your car on that particular ferry. If you are late and the ferry fills up, you’ll have to wait for the next one. When you buy your ticket (which you can do at any Jadrolinija office at any point) the agent will tell you how long in advance to arrive. Pay attention. See more about booking Croatia ferries.
9. I can put everything on my credit card.
Hotels, car rentals, car ferries yes. Private accommodation is nearly always cash only and smaller restaurants and cafes may also only accept cash. Fortunately ATMs are everywhere. See more on money.
10. I’d like to visit several islands from one base.
This is extremely dicey. In certain months it’s possible to do a day trip to Hvar island from Split and it’s always possible to visit Brac Island on a day trip but that’s about it from Split. From Dubrovnik, you can visit Mljet on a day trip in summer and Korcula on certain days in summer. The Elaphiti islands are always doable on a day trip from Dubrovnik. Again we get back to geography. Croatia’s major highlights are fairly elongated from each other and just a little too far to make day trips convenient. See more on Croatia’s islands.
And by the way. . .Korčula is pronounced Korchoola NOT Korkula! (I just had to mention it)