…. but not so much for backpackers.
Now sit back, relax, and imagine turquoise waters, where rocky hilltops climb up to the blue skies and warm sun peaks through the palm trees, while you are sitting in a nice sea-view restaurant and enjoying your mussels picked with fig jam. Yes that’s Croatia for you.
After the ugly divorce from Yugoslavia, Croatia has made everything to show its costal line beauty to outside world, and they are doing a darngood job. Just in the past year they hosted about 14 million tourists all staying together for more than 73 million nights throughout the season. Even though Croatia stretches also to far east in its size, the most popular destination of the country is the southern part of coast called Dalmatia. Maybe doomed by its own beauty, and aching under the masses of tourists, the locals in the business are enjoying the crowds and due to that everything here comes with a ridiculous price tag.
Knowing all that, we took Croatia more as a passage way to cross over to its not so fancy neighbor Bosnia and Herzegovina. While doing that we had a mission to discover new and exciting places and trying to find ways how to manage it all on a shoestring budget.
There is no cheap accommodation in the coastal area of Croatia. Period. So we got by in the following ways:
Set a tent up illegally
and spend a night silently creeping in the woods. We did that once, when we were waiting ride away from Krk Island to Zadar. The unfortunate thing with wild camping is, that you have to know where to set your tent up. From the war period, still certain areas are not fully cleaned from land mines and therefore an extra caution will come in handy.
Stay in the cheapest hostel you can find, even if it says: “Save Yourselves From The Hell” on the sign.
It was getting dark, we were trying to find a hostel in Rijeka where we arrived by train. Going from door to door and receiving a prices starting minimum of 18€ per night per person for a dormitory rooms, we almost wanted to give up. Then suddenly, out of nowhere comes a gypsy lady, asking if we are looking for a hostel. Well, can you imagine that, yes we were – I guess our backpacks did betray us a bit. And like in a movie, she had a solution for us, she had a hostel just right there, two doors down the street. But this wasn’t like a scene from a great adventure movie but more something from a thriller or a horror movie, cause when waiting her in front of the door, we could read the scribbles on the Anas Hostel sign from previous guests: Save yourselves from the hell; A terrible hostel, and many more that were tried to wash down. “ Did they ever leave the hostel?” we questioned.
Then there was a price bargain and considering all the other hostels, 12€ seemed to be a fair deal. We followed her to through a dark stairway to a narrow apartment, where we were greeted by a grandmother of some sort, puffing a cheap cig from form her mouth. Walls of the place were grimy and it seemed that the whole family lived there in the hallways while the hostel guests had their rooms. Well, our room was – as cheap as it could be. Dormitory of 14 beds with everything inside the room seemed to be utilized and then reused. Even banana peels on the table seemed to be there for at least a month and had started to live a new life. Lets make it short and say, that everything in that place looked like that and therefore I found it even more amusing to read the grandiose description and the reviews from Hostelz. It was a beautiful morning to wake up and discover to have no bedbugs bites on you and to acknowledge that you will leave this place for good.
Croatia is the heaven for camper caravans as there are hundreds of options to choose from and they vary from backyard homestays to big camper parks. Also Croatia is a heaven for naturist camping, so don’t be surprised for some shiny naked sights around your tent.
In Zadar we decided to check for the park that was located on the far north side of the town. Camping Borik, offered a coast for a swim and large facilities with spacious camping areas. All this for 10€ per night for one person and a tent. If you were interested in internet, then 7€ per day for 2 devices was to be included.
Thank you, but we chose a Zadar Youth Hostel, just down the same road, and paid 13€ for a night with breakfast. Also the Youth Hostel is very nice and clean and is overall the cheapest and nicest option available from hostels in Zadar.
Road side hotels and homestays
As there are hords of people travelling to-and-from Croatia, cheapest option in the whole country is homestay. You can find signs for “Zimmer Frei” almost every house you pass and the prices vary from season to season. Also road-side hotels are good option as they mostly accommodate truck drivers for short stays, so we found one actually a nice place with socialist aura in Knin, for 20€ a night for two- including morning coffee.
Don’t get your hopes up on CouchSurfing- it doesn’t pay the bills, and so its just not rational to have you.
Hitch-hiking during the end of high-season is pretty difficult and takes much longer than expected. Therefore we decided to use public transportation many times over the free ride. On the flip side, Croatia was the only place where we got rides from females and in matter of fact, almost all of our rides were given by some lovely lady’s.
Public transportation works very good and cities are well connected. While choosing this option to travel, ticket prices are not as cheap as hoped for. Also some extras will come to the price such as storing your luggage under the bus will cost about extra 7 KN (~1€) (fee is handed to a helper when storing it); buying tickets from the ticket office includes a fee for their service; and so on. So our 80 km bus ride from Zadar to Krka National Park (through Sibenik) costed 11€/per person, and a small country side bus for 20km to Knin, 4€/per person.
Overall the buses are comfortable and nice and since there was time when government did not allow buses older that 12 years on the road, the price for long distances seem fair for the luxury.
Well a man needs to eat, and therefore at least cheap street food is still around. Popular choice from the food stalls, costing just 1€, is Ćevapčići- a minced meat kebab/sausages between a burger bun with fresh onions.
But- if you ask from us, then food is something we love to comfort ourselves. In the top of our list of the places to get pampered, is a typical Croatian style restaurant (known also as konoba) Rafaelo in Zadar. A place where portions are huge and food is delicious. Their wide menu consists mainly on steaks and seafood and you will have an option to choose side dishes as extras. We were full for 2 days…
But one of the most grateful lunches we had, was on the roadside, when we had been standing for 3 hours hoping to catch a ride, and a local guy came and brought us his leftover dinner, cause he had seen us standing there and figured we could be hungry. Yes we were, and thank you stranger for this beautiful gesture.
Would we go back to Croatia?
Yes – but we would love to do it with our own car or camper caravan, to see all the amazing places and explore also the mainland.
Or even better- come with our own yacht and enjoy the harbor life with other celebrities alike.
If you want to see what didn’t fit in the post, check here