Croatia: What to Expect
As a disclaimer, I do not consider myself an expert on Croatia and I have only visited a small section of the country. However, there were some surprising things that I learned while planning and then while we were visiting that can help your trip planning.
For preparation for travel when we visited in July 2021, vaccinated travelers were able to enter Croatia without a COVID test. For peace of mind and having a connection in a country whose restrictions were not as relaxed (Amsterdam), we COVID tested before our flight as a precaution to have on us. There was a travel declaration form that we had to fill out that included identifying where we were staying for our trip. When I submitted it, I was sent a green travel confirmation we had to keep with us on our trip. At customs, they asked for our vaccination proof and the travel confirmation.
My biggest stress point was arranging for the required a COVID test within 72 hours (PCR) or 48 hours (antigen) test for our return trip back to the US. Luckily, most tourist destinations that want tourists to come are helping to make this easy and have established testing centers. Zagreb has testing directly in the airport that we took advantage of and it worked out well.
One of the reasons we picked Croatia is that at baseline, everything is outdoors – dining, activities, everything. We were able to be outdoors for the entire trip. In speaking with locals throughout the trip, vaccine rates seemed high in tourist areas because these areas rely so heavily on tourism. The vaccine also seemed available for anyone that wanted it.
Disclosure: This formation is constantly changing so back sure to check both your home county and Croatia’s travel requirements frequently.
Unlike other European countries, Croatia does not have a large network of public transportation and lacking a train infrastructure to get around. Unless you are staying in one spot, you are going to need to rent a car if you are not arriving to Croatia by car.
We had never rented a car in Europe but made sure to a vehicle book ahead to secure an automatic vehicle. Car rentals did not require an International Drivers Permit (IDP) but again, it was not difficult not expensive to obtain so we grabbed one a AAA ahead of the trip as well.
We rental our car at the Zagreb airport from NOVA – be aware they charge a hefty security deposit (800 euro) if you decline car insurance (which we did) – they call it an “excess fee”. This is not a familiar practice of car rentals in the USA.
I always download Google Maps of the destination in order to access maps and directions offline. Do not forget to pack car cable accessories like USB and audio jack cables.
Croatia roadways are very good and they pay for it with a ton of tolls. When we approached our first toll booth, we panicked since we had not taken out kuna (Croatia does not use the euro) currency – how were we going to pay this toll? As we waited in the line, I Googled it and luckily they accept credit cards. If you are driving on the highways, you will encounter many, many tolls. Gas is also quite expensive compared to what we are used to back home so keep both these in mind if you are budgeting a car rental for your trip. They also adore round-abouts as do we!
The locals speak Croatian which despite being so close to Italy bares no resemblance and instead is more of a Slavic language. We learned a few basic words ahead of the trip but we were surprised when we arrived how little we heard Croatian during our trip. English is actually the common language! Croatia is a big tourist destination among Europeans which we saw first hand. Sitting at dinner, we would be surrounded by tables all speaking different languages – German, French, Romanian, Italian, Dutch etc. But when these tables interacting with the Croatian server, they all spoke English. This is a big benefit for English speaking travelers but one we certainly did not expect.
Despite being a member of the EU, Croatia does not use euros and instead uses the kuna as their currency. This was certainly a bummer for the euros I have sitting at home but I know they will be put to good use in the future. The conversion to kuna is a bit tricky but it will be good to know so you can evaluate the value of items. Note that you will mostly likely need a lot of kuna in cash for your trip. Credit cards were not as common outside of the major cities and we found ourselves at the ATM repeatedly. Once we arrived in Zagreb, the story was completely different and everyone accepted credit cards.
Making reservations was a bit tricky at times. Not every place has a website – I used Facebook more than I have in the past to arrange for reservations. Reservations are particularly important during peak travel season in the summer. If you are unable to get a reservation somewhere, arrive early for the best chance to get a table (before 6PM). Dinner time is typically business in the 7P to 8P hours. Be prepared to eat a lot of delicious Mediterranean cuisine that includes lots of seafood and Italian influence.
Navigating the Beach
It is funny how the term beach really transcends as it is certainly not what we know to be a beach back home. Laying on stone slabs, concrete, and pebbles (when you are lucky) just does not sound as comfortable as sand – just not what we are used to. We gave it a good try and learned a lot of future trips:
- Beaches are indeed public and free if you can find a spot on the ground.
- Rent a beach chair, get there early and plan on spending all day there to get the best bang for your buck.
- Bring lunch, snacks, drink, etc! We were really bummed we didn’t do this and perhaps if the weather was better would have indulged.
- Try and pick the best weather day (goes without saying) but if you do not have the flexibility, pick the closest beach and use the free time you do have when the weather is cooperative.
And those are my tips and tricks for planning a trip to Croatia and what to expect. If you have been to Croatia and have more to add to the list, please add to the comments below!