Croatia was a very popular place with tourists before the war, even during the Yugoslav period, and it became a popular place again after the end of the war. Most tourists are tempted by the beautiful (although rarely sandy) beaches, the warm water and the impressive landscape. Additionally, ancient cities such as →Split and →Dubrovnik, conveniently located at the seashore, make it a worthwhile destination. Needless to say that we were highly interested in Split and Dubrovnik as well, but we were also interested in what Croatia looks like in less frequented areas. Although we couldn't spend a long time in the country, we've soon found out that Croatia is not Dalmatia - there's a great gap between the coast and the other parts of the country.
Most Europeans and many other nationalities do not require a visa - a passport is enough. As with most other countries, the passport should be valid for at least three more months upon arrival.
Finding a place to stay along the coast should be the least of your worries. At least not during the season. It doesn't matter whether you arrive by bus, train or boat - many, mostly older women, approach immediately and offer private rooms (Sobe). Sometimes it's possible to negotiate for the price, sometimes it isn't. The rooms are often basic but clean. The family can be open-minded and very nice, but they can also be completely uninterested. Of course there's a gap in prices and offers between the season and off-season. The price for a private room during summer is mostly between € 10 and € 15 for one night and one person.
In contradiction to that, it's rather hard to find reasonable accommodation in Slavonia and other, less frequented parts of the country. No tourists - no big variety. In some bigger cities off the beaten track, you will only find one or two rather expensive hotels (however, prices are mostly appropriate).
The Croatian currency is called Hrvatska Kuna (HRK), shortly called "Kuna". One Kuna consists of 100 Lipa. The inflation rate is very low. Not to say zero or less - in 2001, one euro was worth 9 Kuna, in 2004 it was € 1 = 7.5 Kuna. There are 5, 10, 20 and 50 Lipa as well as 1, 2 and 5 Kuna coins. Banknotes are worth 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 Kn.
|Croatian 10-Kuna bill|
The Croatian currency is freely convertible, which means that changing money is no problem at all. It's even possible to exchange Croatian Kuna at some exchange booths in neighbouring countries, although the exchange rate is much worse outside the country.
There is no lack of ATM's in bigger cities, accepting common credit cards and Maestro, Cirrus (formerly EC) etc cash cards. The usual fee per transaction is € 4. Cash can be exchanged everywhere, especially along the coast. Many hotels also accept Euro and USD.
Croatia, especially the touristy area along the coastline, is going to get more and more expensive. Still, it's slightly cheaper than →Slovenia but substantially more expensive than →Serbia, →Macedonia and →Bosnia & Herzegovina. Very active travelers staying overnight in private accommodation should expect to pay at least € 30 per day. You can save a lot of money by buying your food on your own - however, by doing this, you will miss many culinary delights.
It's possible to get to Croatia on the bus, the train or the plane. There are numerous direct connections. Especially during the summer months, countless charter and some regular flights connect →Zagreb and every bigger city at the sea with virtually every big city in Europe.
Additionally, many ferries cross the Adriatic Sea. Major ports in Italy for ferries running to Croatia include Bari, Ancona and Venice.
There are many direct buses throughout the entire year from Austria, Germany and many other countries. Sometimes it's the only way to get to and from Croatia: There are no other means of transport (except airplanes of course) between Croatia and →Bosnia & Herzegovina. The same can be said about Montenegro (see also →Dubrovnik and →Kotor).
Croatia's connection to the international railway network is excellent. The main hub of course is the central train station of →Zagreb. From there, direct trains run to Munich (9 hrs, from Zagreb during the daytime, to Zagreb as a night train), Vienna (6½ hrs), several trains per day to →Ljubljana (less than 2½ hrs, above-mentioned trains are all via Ljubljana as well), to Thessaloniki in Greece (22 hrs, stopping after 16 hrs in →Skopje), to →Belgrade (6 hrs, the train to Thessaloniki is via Belgrade, and also via →Novi Sad), to →Budapest (to Deli pu., around 5 hrs) and even as far as Bratislava (in →Slovakia, 6½ hrs). Note that there are no trains from Zagreb to Bosnia & Herzegovina, except for one train running between Ploče at the sea and →Sarajevo via →Mostar. It's limited to only one or two trains a day and I'm not sure whether this connection is still served. Recently, it's possible to board the express train running between →Budapest and →Sarajevo in →Osijek in East Slavonia. During the war and some years after the war, this useful connection was out of service (I can sing a song about that...)
Traveling to Croatia from Germany? Ask at the ticket counter of your local train station for the Kroatien-Spezialticket. It's a return ticket from a city of your choice in Germany to a city of your choice in Croatia. Advantage: fellow travelers only pay half the price (in 2001, a return ticket for two persons was around € 280). Drawback: The route is fixed (but not the time). But you can get off and jump on the train whereever you want. The route between Germany and Croatia is very scenic (because of the Alps).
Croatia has a wellveloped infrastructure and an effective mass transportation system. However, trains to the coast only run as far as →Split resp Ploče. Which means that you can only get from there to →Dubrovnik by bus, ferry or car. The long-distance bus system is excellent. Most long-distance busses are very modern. Be aware, that there's an extra fee for bulky luggage (incl large backpacks!).
Most Croatian islands are served by ferries called Jadrolinija. Some ferries just connect the islands with the coast, others run all the way along the Dalmatian coast. Ferries are slightly more expensive than busses. Needless to say that there are different price categories on long-distance ferries. The cheapest seats are on deck. Some of the ferries served the islands of →Japan before, so don't be surprised when everything is written in Japanese!
There are countless border crossings to the neighbouring countries. Entry procedures are usually fast and without any problems. However, crossing the border to →Bosnia may involve time-consuming luggage checks, which might take up to two hours. There's a small stretch of Bosnian territory at the Adriatic Sea around the Bosnian city of Neum halfway between Split and Dubrovnik. This stretch is only 20 km long, and most vehicles (esp busses) can pass through hassle-free. Further to the south there's one street border crossing to Montenegro.
Food and drinks
Čevapćići and Burek and Co! The typical Balkan stuff. Burek is some kind of greasy meat or cheese pie, often eaten for breakfast. For more information on the Balkan cuisine, see also →Macedonia and →Serbia.
Seafood alone makes a very good reason for traveling the Dalmatian coast. Small squids filled with cheese and grilled with garlic for example are extremely delicious. Everywhere along the seashore, many seafood restaurants offer mostly great dishes for reasonable prices.
Italy is not far - and this can be said about the local cuisine, too. You will find an Italian restaurant virtually everywhere. Most of them are pretty good and not too expensive. By the way, the Dalmatian coast has been taken over by the Italian espresso industry, ie Lavazza and Segafredo. This means that you will get a genuine espresso everywhere. Hope they will take over Japan too...
Croatia produces very good wine. And the typical Balkan firewater. Among them, Rakija and Šljivovica - made of grapes and plums, are highly common. One Croatian liquor is worldwide available in bars: Maraschino - a clear and very sweet liquor made of sour cherries. Needless to say, that beer (pivo) is popular as well. Not to mention the usual soft drinks and some excellent mineral water, often carbonated.