In our first week in Croatia, we’ve seen natural wonders and man-made monstrosities, condensed medieval cities and wide expanses of open country. The route? Starting at Plitvice Lakes National Park, heading south past Zadar to Split, along the coast to Ploce, across a strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then on to the Dalmatian crown jewel of Dubrovnik. Here’s what to expect:
Plitvice Lakes National Park
The water of the Plitvice (pronounced “pliht VITCH uh”) Lakes is so pristine, no swimming is allowed. That’s a recipe for torture on a hot summer day, but you really can’t blame the park rangers. After all, this place is paradise! Lake after lake cascades to the one below it in a series of waterfalls, and the wooden boardwalks bring you under foliage, through caves and up to lookouts like this one.
Limited time? Visit the “Lower Lakes” for the wow factor. We followed the advice of a local, and arrived early … but not too early. The park opens at 7:00 a.m., and the most eager tourists are there banging on gates. We arrived about 9:00 a.m. (late enough to avoid the initial rush; early enough to beat the tour busses) to Entrance No. 2; took the boat from the stop labeled P1 to P2 and then P3; walked up along the path labeled “sightseeing” (and were especially grateful when we could walk DOWN the steps by the largest waterfall, not up!); explored the lower paths at water level, then hiked up to bus stop ST1 for a ride back to ST2 near our starting point.
When we say people in Split like to stay at the beach late, we mean late!
Split’s old town is set among the ruins of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace. At night, crowds gather near the Cafe Luxor to hear live music. What a setting!
Croatia’s Magistrala 8 (Highway 8) along the Dalmatian Coast south of Split is home to the kind of ugly overcrowding you hope will never happen to pretty beach villages. All day, people wait with signs advertising their apartments for rent.
Once you see the coast that these buildings frame, you begin to understand why they actually fill up….
Further down the coast you find wide, empty spaces, with deserted beaches (even in July)…
…and cute towns as you get closer to Dubrovnik.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Croatian Coast is broken in one point by Bosnia and Herzegovina‘s only sea access. The border crossing consisted of a cursory glance at our passports, and left me pouting that I didn’t get a stamp. Until we saw this roadside grill…. I mean, who can stay mad at a country that keeps their coals burning throughout the day?
And inside? Even better: a homey heat box of a restaurant, materializing as if by magic from decades past:
And finally, the moment we’ve all been awaiting arrives: regal Dubrovnik.
Truth: it’s hard to feel regal when you’re jostling for space with thousands upon thousands of tourists huffing along the city’s stairs under a blistering summer sun. If you can’t hit this city in off-season, then try to spend most of your time viewing it from a distance. Later on, long after the sun has set, sneak in for an otherworldly experience. It will feel as if it’s just you, the city cats, and history: