Getting to and getting around Croatia takes some planning. There are 5 international airports in Croatia, one in the capital Zagreb with the other 4 on the coastline (Rijeka, Radar, Split, and Dubrovnik). We wanted to depart from Dubrovnik airport so it naturally became the end of our road trip. We then decided on Split as our arrival port because we wanted to visit a few islands on our road trip as well. Rijeka and Radar are further away from Dubrovnik which would have been tight for a 5-day road trip.
The road conditions are excellent in Croatia so self driving is pretty easy. Visiting the islands, however, is a bit more complicated because there is usually no tunnel or bridge connecting the mainland to the islands. You will have to rely heavily on Croatia's Jadrolinija ferries and be mindful of their running schedules. Ferries don't run very often so missing one could mean a wait from a couple of hours to even half a day for those less-frequent routes. Check ferry schedules (note: this is the summer schedule ... the winter one is different) before hand and always leave enough cushion for yourself. Most of the routes are run by car-ferries so you can easily take your car on and off islands.
With its 5,800+ kilometer coastline and over 1,000 islands, Croatia is endowed with natural beauty as well as picturesque villages rich in history. We didn’t have to do much planning ourselves for this trip because we were lucky enough to have some friends living in the area. They planned out a packed 5-day road trip for us starting in Split. And the very first stop they took us to was a beautiful national park, Krka National Park . The main attraction of the park is a huge natural-made swimming pool with cascading waterfalls in the background. We hiked for a couple of hours in the park and then took a dip near the waterfalls to cool off summer heat.
Krka has multiple entrances . We took the Skradin entrace - parked our car and got on one of the park-run sail boats. In the summer months (Jun-Aug), the boats run every hour from 8am to 6pm. The boat route is quite scenic and the sailing time is about 25 mins each way. From where the boats drop off, it is only a 5-minute walk to the bottom of the waterfalls. Please note that the return boats from the park sail at half hours from 930am to 730pm (in the summer months).
Come prepared with swimming suits/trunks so you can take a dip in the cool water. Just be careful when you jump in - the rocks on the bottom of the water are quite sharp if you don’t have water shoes on.
Cathedral and Bell Tower of St. Domnius
morning tranquility ... green grape vines, red-roof houses, and deep-blue ocean
woke up to this view right outside the window
Zlatni Rat Beach (Golden Horn Beach) got its name because of its unique shape and golden color. It is located in a small town, Bol, on the island of Brac. The Adriatic Sea water is crystal clear but the beach actually has no sand at all (only pebbles and rocks), which is typical for beaches in the Mediterranean. So don't get fooled by the online pictures that make it look like a white-sand beach. Nevertheless, Zlatni Rat Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia and there will likely be a large crowd during the peak summer season.
The beach can get pretty windy and the wind gusts change direction throughout the day. The good part is that the beach is two-sided so no matter which direction the wind blows, there is always one side where the water remains calm for swimming while the other windy side is perfect for various water sports. Bol is internationally famous as a windsurfers' destination and Zlatni Rat Beach gets a fair share of those surfers. The beach is also family friendly and there are a few food vendors, bars, and cafes on the beach to round out the experience.
Mostar was a bit of a detour on our way from Brac Island to Korcula Island. It was actually in a different country, Bosnia, but it was totally worth the extra drive. Mostar was as picturesque as it could get for any old town in Europe. The historic town, spanning a deep valley of the Neretva River, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town as well as during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mostar has long been known for its old Turkish houses and Old Bridge, Stari Most, after which the town is named. The Old Bridge area, with its pre-Ottoman, eastern Ottoman, Mediterranean and western European architectural features, is an outstanding example of a multicultural urban settlement. The Old Bridge leads to a web of narrow cobblestone streets in the old town center which today houses the Old Bazar Kujundziluk, a huge market of local crafts and eateries. We picked Restoran Teatar for lunch which has a covered terrace seating area with an unobstructed view of the Mostar bridge.
view from our table
an unobstructed view of the Old Bridge
house cat of the restaurant
crystal clear water
fresh caught sea urchin
take a dip in the ocean
Among all the towns we visited in Croatia, we were most excited to see Dubrovnik, not only because it was the most famous tourist destination in Croatia but also because it's where King's Landing is shot in the popular TV show, Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik was as beautiful in real life as it is on TV. It has a large old town area surrounded by massive fortress walls that protected the city from multiple attacks over the centuries. Inside the walls, we saw many well-preserved buildings ranging from Baroque Saint Blaise Church to Renaissance Rector's Palace, and the main pedestrianized Stradun (aka Placa Thoroughfare), paved with limestones and lined with shops and restaurants. We found a perfect spot for dinner, Konoba Amoret, on the open square in front of Dubrovnik Cathedral. It was our best seafood meal on the trip.
Cavtat is a small town south of Dubrovnik (less than 30 minutes by car). We chose to stay there for the night because we had an early departure flight the next day and Dubrovnik Airport is less than 15 minutes away from Cavtat. Our 5-day trip completed with a nice morning walk along the pretty Cavtat Harbor and a big breakfast at Peco Bakery.