Quick Guide to Croatia: Experience old-world charm in a coastal paradise

2018-07-30 11:51 - Kavitha Pillay
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Scenin beach in Koiza waterfront, Croatia.

Scenin beach in Koiza waterfront, Croatia. (Photo: iStock)

While the 2018 FIFA World Cup may have shone a spotlight on Croatia – runner-up in the prestigious worldwide soccer tournament – the coastal country in the Balkan Peninsula proves to have many reasons to be in the global limelight and why it is well-worth exploring.

With more than a thousand islands, Croatia’s medley of beautiful beaches, places of historical interest and unique architecture, makes it one of the top Eastern European countries to add to your travel bucket-list.

SEE: How to do a budget Euro trip – and have a unique experience in the process

Directly across from Italy, this eastern European country is popular for its quaint towns and idyllic beaches - but its old-world charm is what makes it a unique destination in the region.

If you’re planning to go, here's what you need to know:

Visa requirements: South Africans who plan to visit Croatia are required to have a visa - Click here to apply. The visa costs up to R2 172. Click here to find out more about application costs, documents required and more. A passport that is valid for at least three months is required for entry into Croatia.

Croatia is not part of the Schengen Zone and but holders of a valid dual or multiple entry Schengen visa can enter, stay and transit in or through Croatia – click here to find out more about this.

Medical requirements: In addition to routine vaccinations, some vaccines are recommended or required for Croatia. The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccines for Croatia: hepatitis Ahepatitis Brabies, and influenza.

National Carrier: Croatia Airlines.

Airports: With Croatia being a small country, to avoid traffic congestion it’s best to fly to an airport closest to the destination you are visiting. The main airports are Zagreb airport (north-eastern), Split airport (Dalmatian islands), Dubrovnik airport (south Dalmatian islands), Zadar airport (middle Dalmatia), Rijeka airport (southern and eastern parts), and Pula airport. Read more here.

Flight Route: Take a connecting flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Croatia with the following airlines: South African Airways, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates (launched daily flights to Croatia earlier in 2018), Air France, Alitalia or KLM.

SEE: Emirates to launch daily flights to Croatia

Currency: Croatian kuna. 1 Croatian kuna = about R2.12

Travel Adapter: Types C and F.

Time Zone: Same as South Africa - (GMT+2).

Country code: +385.

Emergencies: General emergency number - 112, Police - 192, Fire brigade – 193, Ambulance - 194, Sea rescue - 195.

Public Transport: The bus network is extensive and the most effective mode of transport in Croatia. The train network is not the most viable way to explore and taxis are expensive. You can also get around with Uber in Zagreb, Zadar, Split, Sibenik and Dubrovnik. Click on the links below for more information on various ways to get around.

Climate: Croatia has two climates. The coast has a typically Mediterranean climate - hot, dry, sunny summer, and mild – sometimes wet – winter. In the interior winter is cold and snow is likely, while in summer it can get quite hot with temperatures often reaching the mid to high 30s °C.

Best time to visit: To avoid large crowds but still make the most of Croatia during ideal climate, September and May are the best times to visit. September boasts sunny weather with warm temperatures perfect for swimming, while May sees sunny days, but the sea may not be very warm for swimming.

ALSO SEE: The beauty of the Balkans

Language: The official language is Croatian, but 80% of Croatians are multilingual and, of that group, 81% are English-speakers.

Useful app to download: Duolingo makes learning a new language easy and fun. 

Useful phrases to know: While English is widely spoken, here are some useful phrases in Croatian

  • Hello - Bok (bohk)
  • How are you? - Kako ste? (kah-koh steh?) Formal/ Kako si? ( kah-koh see?) Informal
  • I’m fine, thank you - Ja sam dobro, hvala (doh-broh sahm, hva-lah)
  • Nice to meet you - Drago mi je (dra-goh mee yeh)
  • Goodbye - Dovidenja or Bok (doh-vee-jen-yah / bok)
  • Please - Molim (moh-limb)
  • Thank you / Thank you very much - Hvala /  Hvala lijepa  (hva-lah /  hva-lah lee-pah)
  • You’re welcome - Nema na cemu (neh-mah na che-moo)
  • Yes - Da (da)
  • No - Ne (ne)
  • Excuse me / Sorry - Oprostite (oh-pro-sti-teh)
  • I’m sorry - Žao mi je (zhow mee yeah)
  • What is your name? - Kako se zovete?  (kak-koh seh zoh-ve-teh)
  • My name is … - Zovem se …  (zoh-vhem se ..)
  • I speak a little Croatian - Govorim malo Hrvatski (go-voh-reem ma-low hurv-ahts-kee)
  • I can’t speak Croatian - Ne govorim Hrvatski (neh goh-voh-reem  hurv-ahts-kee)
  • Do you speak English? - Govorite li engleski?  (goh-voh-ree-the lee en-glees-kee)

Food to try: Traditional Croatian food varies by region, so be sure to get a taste of local cuisine from different parts of the country. Here are some local dishes to add to your menu:

  • Crni rizot (black risotto) - a squid risotto.
  • Strukli - pastry filled with cottage cheese and sour cream.
  • Skampi na buzaru - Scampi, shrimps, mussels or clams are shortly cooked with white wine, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs. Tomato paste is sometimes added for colour.
  • Brudet (brujet, brodeto) - a fish stew.
  • Istarski fuzi - quill-shaped homemade pasta usually served with different stews: mushrooms, truffles, chicken or beef stew.
  • Greagada - a fish stew cooked with white wine, parsley, onions, garlic, capers, salted anchovies and potatoes.
  • Arancini - candied orange peel which is traditional sweets from southern Croatia.
  • Rozata - custard pudding.
  • Fritule – deep-fried, ball-shaped dough made with flour, raisins, local schnapps and lemon zest.

Travel tips

What to pack:

  • Your passport, arrival and return tickets, adequate money.
  • A camera, notebook/ tablet or smartphone, power-bank to stay charged on the go.
  • Comfortable, casual clothes. Wear layers of clothing so you can be comfortable in a variety of temperatures.
  • Comfortable sandals, sneakers and strong shoes if you decide to go on hikes. Beaches in Croatia are wet and rocky – so wear the correct shoes.
  • A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.
  • Hand sanitiser, tissues, wet wipes, insect repellent - sprays and lotions, prescription medication. Bring tick repellent to protect against tick-borne encephalitis.
  • Waterproof bag to store personal belongings when on boat cruises/ water activities.

Tips while exploring:

  • Croatia may be small but there are many places to visit, so stay somewhere central so you can explore more during day trips.
  • While islands are not far from one another geographically, they are far when it comes to ease of transport. Choose a port city on the mainland for your base if you would like to visit more than one island.
  • It is highly recommended to go wine tasting or olive oil tasting.
  • Learn the common phrases in the local language and about local culture, and respect cultural norms.

MUST-SEE: Travel the Semi-finals: See the top 4 attractions in the World Cup's top 4 countries

Top Cities

Dubrovnik – This old town became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Dubrovnik preserved its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains despite damage caused by an earthquake in 1667.

Split – A combination of Roman and modern architecture can be explored in Split, the largest city on the Adriatic coast, which has the perfect beach spots, and top places for dining and nightlife.

Zagreb - The capital of Croatia, Zagreb boasts cafés, bars, museums, galleries, theatres and entertainment spots for local and international travellers.

Hvar – The fourth largest of Croatia’s islands, it is considered the sunniest of all the country's islands. Vineyards, lavender, rosemary, sage, marjoram and thyme are grown on the island, which is also considered the chicest of all Croatia’s islands.

Zadar – The main city in North Dalmatia set in a peninsula that is pedestrianised, Zadar is an old town known for its Roman and Venetian ruins, as well as for its rich art, architecture and heritage.