Croatia is a stunning country, with a vast coastline and numerous tourist attractions. From breathtaking waterfalls in National Parks to wild nightclubs on party islands—the country has something to offer to everyone. Whatever your idea of a perfect vacation is, it exists in Croatia.
Unfortunately, Croatia is beginning to suffer from over-tourism. The country is struggling with millions of tourists littering the beaches, visiting Games of Thrones sets, and destroying the forests in parks. You can ensure that your time in Croatia is spent sensibly with these 10 responsible travel tips for Croatia.
EXPLORE THE ISLANDS
With nearly 6,000 kilometers of coastline, Croatia is one of the hottest destinations in Europe for summer vacations. Islands are particularly appealing to both families and groups of friends as there’s everything from wild nightlife to a peaceful time in nature. Such vast appeal to tourists also means rules galore, so make sure not to break any.
In Hvar, it’s forbidden to walk around town in your bathing suit or with a drink in your hand, even though that city has a reputation for wild parties. You should also be careful what you do with your garbage—waste disposal is a huge issue in Croatia, and especially on the islands.
Because getting rid of waste is very expensive a lot of landowners have their ways of disposing of garbage. As such, make sure to ask the manager of your accommodation how they handle their garbage and recycling to not cause them any trouble. Some are very specific about what goes where, while others are more relaxed. But it always pays to ask.
To reduce waste while you visit bring a reusable water bottle or a portable water filter so you don’t have to always buy plastic bottles. When shopping, always take your bag. Don’t throw recyclable material in the trash if there’s an appropriate container somewhere nearby. You’ll see them in major cities so keep your eyes open, or just ask your accommodation.
TRY CAMPING OR ECO-FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION
Croatia is a country with gorgeous nature, and camping is very popular. Camping is a great way to experience remote places which aren’t as populated as the larger cities. Camping is also inexpensive when compared to hotels, so you’ll save money too.
There are several smaller auto-kamps (campground) that aren’t developed yet. Visiting them will give you a unique opportunity to stay in truly gorgeous areas that are virtually deserted and enjoy stunning nature. Some examples of places worth staying include Nevio Camp near Orebić on the Pelješac peninsula, the Rizvan City eco-camp near the Northern Velebit National Park and Šimuni Camping Village, a mobile home only camping resort on Pag island.
It’s required to only stay in authorized camps. Fines for staying outside authorized zones are up to 3,000 kuna (US$450). Be careful with campfires, there’s a wildfire almost every year somewhere in southern Croatia, due to scorching heat and virtually no rain. A single spark can set off a chain of events that could devastate the forests, so make sure to thoroughly put out every campfire. If you’re not into camping, there are a few options available such as using the Dalmatia Green website to help you find some eco-friendly options.
Hotel Split in Podstrana at the edge of Split is the first Green Certified hotel in Croatia which has everything from solar heated water, rainwater tanks, heat recovery systems, and biodegradable cleaning products. Sun Gardens from Radisson Blu in Dubrovnik has an innovative heating and ventilation system that is cooled by the ocean, as well as a green roof. Kempinski Adriatic near the border with Slovenia uses rainwater to keep its golf course green. The fantastic farm called Hvarcienda on Hvar Island serves organic farm-to-table food.
GO SEA KAYAKING
Kayaking in the sea is something you should try while vacationing on the Croatian coast. It’s very popular with both tourists and locals, and you can rent a kayak pretty much anywhere. Even if the weather looks perfect, you have to check the forecast. Otherwise, you can easily wind up getting rescued. Don’t go too far from the shore and make sure to wear a life vest.
TRY DALMATIAN CUISINE
Dalmatia is one of the four main regions in Croatia and encompasses almost the whole coastline. The region is home to the majority of places you’re likely to visit from Split and Zadar to the renowned Dubrovnik and the Croatian Islands. When you’re here, you have to sample the cuisine. It’s largely based on Mediterranean cuisine, with some local twists.
Dishes worth trying include fritule which is a pastry similar to fried donuts but made with raisins, cinnamon, and rum. Poljički soparnik is a type of pie, with a thin and crispy crust, filled with chard. Dalmatinska pašticada is a style of beef prepared in sauce and served with gnocchi.
Don’t be surprised by all the smokers. It’s legal to smoke inside cafes and restaurants in Croatia. However, it’s still possible to find non-smoking restaurants. Check TripAdvisor and reviews on Google Maps as other patrons often mention smoking in their reviews. If you’re unsure, it’s worth contacting the restaurant to ask if there’s a nonsmoking section. Smoking is usually permitted in smaller establishments, however, the larger restaurants are required to have a non-smoking section.
If you want to support sustainable restaurants while traveling in Croatia, you can try DeListes in Split. They use organic, locally sourced food in their kitchen. The Fig is also in Split and is vegan. In the quieter city of Zadar, there’s Pet Bunara that focuses on locally sourced organic food. Brac Island serves only organic, local, and seasonal produce everywhere on the island.
VISIT THE NATIONAL PARKS
Croatia has eight National Parks and eleven nature parks which are important for tourism, as they attract quite a lot of visitors every year. Many parks have magical lakes and waterfalls such as Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Park, two of the most popular National Parks in the country that are both huge at 114 square miles and 54 square miles respectively. Others are perfect for hikers and mountaineers with hiking trails and rock climbing such as Paklenica and Risnjak National Parks.
When you’re in the parks always be respectful and follow the rules. If there’s a one-way path don’t be one of those people that walks in the opposite direction and causes a huge commotion. Many of these parks are overcrowded in peak season and there’s no room for walking in the wrong direction. Don’t stray off the beaten path—it impacts the plant and wildlife and is a big issue at the Plitvice Lakes. Littering is also a major issue and something else you should never do in Croatia, or anywhere. Always follow the leave no trace principles in National Parks.
MEET THE LOCALS AND LEARN SOME CROATIAN WORDS
Most Croatians will welcome you with open arms. If you’re renting an Airbnb, you can usually expect to find some local wine or olive oil in your fridge as a welcome gift.
Do your best to learn at least a few words, such as bok (hello), and kako ste (how are you doing). Most hosts are chatty and like to get to know their guests. They’ll also help you in any way you need and go out of their way to make your stay wonderful.
Because of that, you should be mindful of Croatian history and be mindful when discussing subjects that may be triggering such as the Balkan War. The war there only ended in November 2001, and some people don’t like to talk about it.
SHOP LOCAL FOR SOUVENIRS
No matter which Croatian city you’re in, you’ll find loads of locally-owned souvenir shops. You can buy items that are unique to that town, and support the local artists and shop owners at the same time.
There are all kinds of souvenirs to shop in Croatia. Pick up some local wine and olive oil, locally made clothes, jewelry, unique candles, lavender essential oil, paintings and more. You’ll have something to remind you of the time you spent in this stunning country, and a cool new item to show off to your friends.
If you’re shopping for jewelry, stay away from red coral items. Their harvesting is regulated under the Nature Protection Act, but it’s very difficult to police. It’s always better to avoid purchasing anything that came from the sea to be mindful of conservation.
TRAVEL TO SLAVONIA
Slavonia is one of the four historical regions of Croatia, and the one that is most often overlooked. Slavonia is the most agriculturally important region and the largest producer of wheat and corn in Croatia.
It’s important to show support for this beautiful part of the country. The war-affected this region in Vukovar and the area around it. What’s even worse, this region was severely devastated by the May 2014 floods, which caused some 65 million in agricultural damages, and forced thousands of people out of their homes.
The region has several stunning nature parks, such as Papuk and Kopacki Rit. Music is also a big part of their culture, and they celebrate it annually at the Vinkovci Autumn festival. If you attend you can expect to dance to folklore music and get to know the Slavonian culture and tradition more intimately.
SEE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Croatia has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and they’re all worth visiting. The Diocletian’s Palace in Split is an iconic place. St. James Cathedral in Šibenik is a remarkable example of Renaissance architecture, famous for the sculptures of Adam and Eve and the lions that guard them.
Whichever UNESCO World Heritage Site you decide to visit, be respectful and adhere to the rules. Don’t vandalize or litter, and you won’t have any issues. If you want to enter any sacred buildings make sure that you are properly dressed. You can usually check if there are rules about this online, and avoid being denied entry or thrown out.
TRY ALL THE LOCAL WINES
Croatia is a large producer of wine, so it’s a crime to not try the local wines. There are two main wine regions in the country, coastal, which includes the islands, and continental. Both of those are divided into multiple subregions, and then the subregions are divided into vinogorja (wine hills).
As a result of all these wine hills, you can find a local vineyard in pretty much any part of the country. So, wherever you may be, look to book a wine tasting, and enjoy the delicious wines you can only have in Croatia.
Be sure to also try rakia, a fruit brandy that’s popular throughout the Balkans. With a minimum of 40% alcohol content in store-bought rakia, just a couple of shots will have you singing patriotic Croatian songs along with the locals. Homemade rakia has an even higher alcohol content, so definitely don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve had a few shots.
Drunk driving is never okay, and you should always be responsible, and comply with the laws. Otherwise, you will have to pay a big fine if you get caught, and possibly spend the night in jail.
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on Expert World Travel. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.
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