A Guide to Croatia: Kayaking, Waterfalls and Treehouses

So let me start by saying, Croatia wasn’t huge on my list. It looks beautiful and I do watch Game of Thrones, but I had heard it was filled with tourists in the summer and I wasn’t sure I would be up for that kind of trip. But it happened to fall into our summer plans for 2017 quite well so I thought why not? There’s obviously a reason it has become such a popular destination.

Though much of Croatia was indeed packed with tourists, it also had so much to offer that I felt it was often so worth it. Now we rented a car for our trip, due to the fact that there were quite a few spots I wanted to get to (Plitvice, Krka, and a day trip out to Mostar) and I felt like a Croatian road trip was the way to go. We also did a weird route, due to the fact that my parents met us at the Dubrovnik airport to join us and we were all the way up in Pula before that, so I will rearrange the order of our stops to make more sense for a person not having to pick people up at the Dubrovnik airport and go right back up the coast.

Rovinj

We only stayed a night in Rovinj but I wish we stayed longer, to be honest. We didn’t have a car (we had taken a GoOpti transfer from Koper, Slovenia, to get there, and to leave there the next day too) and there were activities I wanted to do in Pula (45 minutes away). So we spent a night there and saw what we could. I am not saying there are a ton of things to do necessarily, but if we had a car right away, I would’ve skipped staying in Pula and did 3 nights in Rovinj and just drove out to Pula for the activities we wanted to do. But alas we did one night, and spent a day just wandering around the old town. Old town spots in Croatia are always the most beautiful.

Where We Stayed

This summer was basically an Airbnb tour, staying in one Airbnb after another. If you know me, you know I love me some Airbnb action. Some I stay in due to the amazing unique property, and some just for the view. Our Airbnb in Rovinj was definitely for the view. We got dropped off by our GoOpti driver at the building, and to be honest we looked at the building at first and we weren’t sure what to expect. Even though sometimes with Airbnb I can get wrapped up in how good the view is, I always do my research; read the full details, read the reviews, check the location in relation to where I want to go, check the photos of the actual apartment, message the owner, etc. So I knew that this was probably  nicer apartment than it seemed.

The host’s mum met us to let us in, and it was definitely nicer than the outside building lead us to believe. It was a modern, updated apartment, with everything we could possibly need; except wifi. Which wasn’t a big deal, as we were only there one night and I had already planned to get a sim card in Croatia like I always do. But personally in a city, apartment, usually I expect wifi. I got outside city, to the mountains or in a cottage and would expect no wifi, but at an apartment like this I was a little shocked.

But the view did not disappoint….

What We Did

We didn’t eat at any restaurants, to be honest. We grabbed a drink at a random spot on the edge of town looking at the water, but we opted to buy groceries at the store next to us and make meals at our Airbnb. We were tired and personally I was interested in watching the sunset from our balcony (to which you can see was totally worth it).

All we did in Rovinj was wander around the old town for the day. There were so many random little streets. Beautiful coloured buildings. Cafes and restaurants all over the place. It’s a charming town to just be in. And to top it off, a good way to start off time in Croatia, as it was probably the least busy place we went to.

Pula

From Rovinj, we took another GoOpti transfer. If you haven’t heard of GoOpti, neither had I until I looked at ways of getting from place to place in Europe. If you book early enough, it can be super cheap to get a driver to take you from place to place. Like we did from Rovinj to Pula, for less than 30 euros… I booked this later than planned and it was cheaper earlier on but still worked for me, as we had luggage to lug around and didn’t want to bus it.

Why did we stay in Pula? Pula is a great point to do lots of active stuff and so we figured we’d stay a few nights to check out the kayaking scene.

Where We Stayed

An Airbnb is where we stayed, yet again. This time opting for a place that looked like a mini castle, going for unique over views this time. I didn’t really see any other places that boasted anything else unique or cool views, this was right up my alley. Robert, the host, was such a great host. He allowed us to drop off our bags early the first day so we could go directly to our kayaking trip all day. And to be honest, I am so glad we booked a place with a pool, which is not something I usually care about but since we had been doing all kids of activities this trip, it was nice to spend some time relaxing in the pool the one afternoon, after exploring Pula. Speaking of which, this Airbnb was only a 30 minute walk to old town. We like walking so anything thats around 30-45 minutes walk to get to is usually fine by me. We had the mini castle pool house to ourselves, but there were other rooms available at Robert’s place as well in the actual house.

What We Did

I honestly didn’t enjoy the place stopped for food so I wouldn’t even recommend it. Even the coffee place we stopped at was pretty lame. But grocery stores did us well (there was one around the corner from the Airbnb) and we cooked meals at our place.

Our first day in Pula was an amazing kayaking tour with Aktivist Sport. We chose to do the Kamenjak All Round full day adventure to see as much as we could. Now Nick and I both are not avid kayakers. I had done it before many years ago, and Nick is strong, so we figured we’d try it out. It was definitely not as daunting as I thought it was going to be. I enjoyed being in a two person kayak, though I didn’t  make him do all the work. We stopped at a few places along the tour, like an underwater cave and a place to cliff jump. It was a lot of fun, that I only wish my GoPro didn’t decide to not work for me for the entire trip. It was unfortunate, but that’s why I always have back-ups; insert iPhone photos here. Anyways, I wrote more about that adventure on my post Adventuring My Way Through the Balkans.

We also just did the usual thing we do in any new city, walked to city centre and explored. Pula is home to a colosseum, which I honestly had no idea about until I started looking up things to do there. I have been to Rome, so I was interested to see how it sized up to it. Needless to say, being able to see into it from the outside, made going inside less appealing. As did the stage and speakers set up in there. It seems it is still used for concerts, which is great that it still has purpose, but takes away from the historical appeal.

Wandering around Pula was enjoyable, but to be honest, I would have enjoyed more time in Rovinj. I am glad we went for the kayak trip, but I wish we just stayed in Rovinj and got our rental car early and drove from there. On our last morning we walked 20 minutes from our Airbnb (opposite direction than old town) and picked up our rental car from Sixt Car Rental. And from there we started our road trip down the coast of Croatia.

Zadar

Even though we didn’t technically go to Zadar next, it would’ve made the most sense to do so. But we had to pick up my parents at the Dubovnik Airport the next day so we drove all the way to Gruda (which I will talk about at the end of this post). So if you are driving down the coast of Croatia, Zadar would be a great stop.

Where We Stayed

Our was another place where from the outside, my parents (okay me too) were a bit skeptical of my choice in accommodations. But once we met our host, Dubravko, and he brought us up to his apartment, I showed them I knew what I was doing. Once again boasting a nice view, it also was a cozy two bedroom apartment. Now if you stay here remember that you don’t want to close the balcony door completely if you are on it… especially not if you are all on it. We managed to do that, all four of us, on the balcony just after sunset. With my phone at about 5% battery, which was enough to text our host and before it died he wrote he was on his way and hopefully we didn’t leave the key in the door (on the inside) or his spare key won’t be able to open the apartment door. My mother did leave it in, and I was panicking a little on the inside. But thankfully he got in and saved us. It was a fluke, as something on the door moved to lock us out. A funny story now, but at the time… oh hell it was pretty funny then too.

What We Ate

I found a delicious looking restaurant, by just walking by it, La Familigia. Sometimes I will try to find the perfect place looking up blogs and reading through TripAdvisor, but this time I saw the restaurant during our wandering so I decided to look it up and see it’s reviews. No joke, I really do that. And it had some good reviews so we stopped in. I mostly was just interested in the burger with the avocado, seemed like a good choice to me! It seems I chose a good one as everyone enjoyed their meal. But really, I enjoyed my burger and beer, so that’s what matters right?

What We Did

One of the reasons I chose Zadar as a stop on our road trip was it’s proximity to Plitvice National Park and Krka National Park. Two places I was dying to see in real life. Just over an hour drive to Plitvice, we got up really early and drove out there to arrive about 8:30am. Parking was easy, we stopped in one of the lots and found an open spot in the weird forest parking lot and wandered down to the waterfalls.

Now I knew it would be busy there, I read all about the best time to go and July definitely was not listed as such, as it is super packed and walking through the park requires you to walk on a boardwalk type deal, which felt like we were in line for an amusement park without the amusement. The waterfalls were breathtaking and I absolutely loved finally seeing them, but also in July they are more dried up and not at full force so it wasn’t as amazing as the photos I always see.

Nick and I walked up to the top of one waterfall to get a better view, one that would’ve been pretty amazing from above, but once again, the waterfalls were a bit dried up. It was beautiful nonetheless and the best part, no people. Can’t go wrong after being surrounded by them all day. As a photographer the part that bothered me the most is trying to capture the waterfalls. Because there are so many people walking on the boardwalk, even having a tripod to do slow shutter didn’t make it sturdy cause can’t really get people to stop walking and moving it.

Krka was another busy and chaotic spot. I had read that you could swim there, but the part you can swim in was so packed with people you probably wouldn’t move around much, plus the water was freezing. This was just another line up amusement park type feeling and to be honest, I feel like I should’ve done more research and found other waterfalls and avoided them both. July is not the time to go to either place.

Omiš

Most people choose to stay in Split but I actually chose a town next to it (almost) instead. Why? Everyone goes to Split, it’s one of THE places to go in Croatia, so I knew it would be busy. And Omiš looked just as good to me.

Where We Stayed

Another reason to stay in Omiš was a place with a view. As I have stated before, that’s my go-to when I can’t find cool unique places. The thing about Croatia is, any coastal towns have lots of opportunity for apartments with views, but you have to be willing to walk down to the town (and back up at the end of the day) in order to get them. Many aren’t willing. I am one of those people who is. We enjoyed staying at our , though my mum wasn’t keen on the tiny towels, Nick and I made do with them. The facilities were everything we needed, though I wasn’t a fan of the tiny streets up to get there, a parking spot made me more relieved.

What We Ate

I let my dad pick out a restaurant to go to here, instead of being the one to choose. He wanted in on the action of researching a good spot to go. He settled on a spot called Restaurant Puljiz, which was fine by me. Top rankings on TripAdvisor means it can’t be too bad. As usual, Nick and I decided on a platter of foods, which was our choice for many restaurants during this summer’s travels. We were happy with our choice.

What We Did

As usual we wandered around the city without a plan. There were different spots you could check out, like the beach (which was nice but we weren’t looking for a beach vacation), and random shops and cafes. If you slip into ‘old town’, which was quite small compared to other spots we’d been on this trip, you will find yourself at Tvrdava Mirabela, which is apparently an old pirate fortress. Costed like 20kn to go in and up, which we can never refuse a walk up to a view. It was cool, and there was only one other person up there at the time.

Island Boat Tour

Now originally my plan was to stay in Split, so I had booked an island tour through Adriatica Transfer to go check out some of the island highlights and Hvar, of course. We still chose to do the tour, as it was not a long drive to Split from Omiš (though we did try to uber, and no uber showed up, so we drove; the drive back took forever cause of an accident and friday night traffic).

The tour was definitely a highlight of our trip through Croatia. If I had more time I would’ve loved to have spent days on each island, but the boat took us to some great highlights. Our first stop was the Blue Cave, which we had to chill on island and catch a specific boat for. The wait was kind of annoying but the blue cave was pretty cool to check out. Afterwards we stopped in a few other spots, like a little cove for snorkelling. My favourite two spots were Hvar and the island across from it. The island across from it, Carpe Diem Beach, was a great spot for lunch and some swimming. After lunch we headed over to Hvar, and we were the only people on our boat to actually make the trek up to the fortress during our time on the island. Everyone else was too tired, even though you could also grab a cab. We did the 25 minute walk up, and we were not disappointed. Always do the things!!

Another highlight of the boat trip was the dolphins! Although I am sure it cut time off from something else on our itinerary, I was personally happy the driver decided to stay around the dolphins and let us watch them when they appeared in the water. I have seen dolphins before but never this close, so I was excited. All in all, when you don’t have a long time to spend on the islands, a boat tour with Adriatica Transfer is a great way to see some highlights.

Starigrad Fortress

When we got to our Airbnb and looked upwards, we saw there was a fortress up at the top of the mountain behind us. Nick and I decided we had to hike it. So I looked it up and found a few different bits of information. Which we didn’t end up really needing since if you walk upwards on the street from our Airbnb there are signs leading you in the right direction, and also along the path red painted arrows or dots to lead the way. Quite easy to follow. We were glad we did it early, to avoid the mid day heat, as on our way down it was quite hot and it was not even 10am yet. But it was worth it for the view up there. Plus barely any people up there, as usual when it comes to places hard to get to.

Dubrovnik

Last but not least Dubrovnik, and the surrounding area. So technically we stayed in three different spots that could all be considered a good spot to see Dubrovnik. We stayed in Dubrovnik, just above old town, as well as Gruda and just outside Cavtat, the latter two being close to the Dubrovnik airport. All three areas are beautiful, and all three make for good points to stay if you want to explore Dubrovnik and the surrounding area. But the latter two are only good if you have a vehicle (which we did). I figured they can all go in the same section because not many people are like us and would stay in all three in one trip.

Where We Stayed

In Dubrovnik, we stayed in am apartment with an incredible view over old town. I kept going back and forth between staying IN old town, or ABOVE old town, cause both seemed cool for different reasons. But since I found this apartment called Sunset Apartment, I knew I couldn’t go wrong. The view was incredible, location was great… if you like walking. Walking down the 400 steps to old town was fine but the walk back up proved to be a struggle (for my parents more so than us). Our host Majda was wonderful and was in the apartment right below if we needed her, which we didn’t but was reassuring.

Just onside of Cavtat, we stayed in Croatia’s first eco-friendly treehouse. It is solar powered and pretty luxury style for a treehouse. We were pleasantly surprised with how well equipped it was. Of course it being eco-friendly, and a treehouse, was my initial draw to it. Situated inside an adventure park, created by the hosts as well, I was a little worried about the peace and quiet being ruined, but those things happen during the day while you are out and about anyways so it wasn’t a big deal to us. Having a car is a must, as it’s only 20-25 minutes to Dubrovnik and a good spot to stay if you are looking to explore the area by car.

One of my favourite Airbnb experiences to date was our one night in a cabin in Gruda, Croatia. Nick and I stayed there the night before we had to pick up my parents from the airport. It was a 10-15 minute drive to the airport and offered some peace and quiet, so I booked it. I only wish I booked more time there. It was a beautiful little cabin, situated on the hosts’ piece of land that stretched all the way up to the mountain. It was also eco-friendly, running on solar power, and it was designed and created by the Kameni Dvori brothers. We arrived in the evening to the host’s tavern and they had us follow them in our car down to the cabin. Since we didn’t want to miss the sunset, Katarina actually served us a meal down at the cottage, as we were tired and did not want to have to head back up to the tavern after sun was set. They also allowed us a late check out, since we didn’t need to be at the airport until later in the afternoon the next day. We were quite happy with everything!

What We Ate

Dubrovnik has some really great restaurants. We throughly enjoyed our meal at our airbnb in Gruda, and we wish we had ordered and tried the food they made at Cadmos Village (the treehouse), but we chose to bring some foods and make ourselves some meals instead.

In Dubrovnik, the first night we ate at a great little spot called Barba, which we all shared a beautifully delicious platter of foods. It had a great mix of calamari, an octopus burger and other such seafood that was absolutely delicious. I wasn’t too much a fan of the beer, and didn’t finish mine. But my dad finished his so it couldn’t have been that bad. IPAs are not my thing. Look around if you are there and see if you can spot our wooden forks we wrote on.

Another great spot I found, and made reservations for, so as not to miss it, was Azur. This place is touted as ‘mediterranean with an asian twist’. It was all the way in the corner of old town, but it was worth finding. The chorizo tacos were unreal, and the meatball curry was spectacular. Pleasantly surprised by the mix of flavours used, and definitely a must visit if you are in town.

In Cavtat, we picked a place at random while walking around the town, and it ended up being a nice spot by the water called Rokotin. When Nick and I weren’t ordering meat platters, we were ordering calamari, so naturally we got some there. Also enjoyed my mojito, as that’s always my go to refreshing alcoholic beverage of choice. This spot isn’t in the core of Cavtat’s centre but it’s a nice spot on it’s own.

What We Did

Dubrovnik was a great place to really just wander around, though quite packed with tourists. The old town isn’t huge and can be explored in about a day, which we easily did. We also did the walk on the walls, which was fun but eventually was just more of the same. I watch Game of Thrones and it was cool to see different spots we recognized but we didn’t actually go out of our way to see spots from the show. I am a wanderer, so my favourite thing to do in cities like this is just wander. Dubrovnik wasn’t top on my list of places in Croatia but I definitely saw it’s appeal.

Cavtat is also a nice place to take a stroll. A ten or so minute drive from our treehouse, and probably the same from Dubrovnik, it’s a nice coastal town, less crowded than Dubrovnik but equally as beautiful. I would highly suggest checking it out for a morning or afternoon stroll.

 

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Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary tour with Aktivist Sport (Kayaking tour) and a discounted tour with Adriatica Transfer (island hopping), however all opinions are my own, as always you can expect complete honesty from me.

12 thoughts on “A Guide to Croatia: Kayaking, Waterfalls and Treehouses

  1. This is a really great, balanced view of the ups and downs of a road trip in Croatia 🙂 I’ve only recently really started to take to the road trip as a form of travel, and I must say (in the right country) it can really get you immersed in a place the way no other form of travel can. Your photography is amazing, by the way – I know you mentioned having some problems setting up at the waterfalls, but I couldn’t tell at all, the photos you’ve posted here are gorgeous! Thank you for sharing 🙂 (and P.S. the mojito is my go-to refreshing beverage too – wise choice!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! We road tripped through the region (Slovenia and Montenegro as well) and it was definitely a great way to see more than just the the typical cities. Driving in a new country can be daunting but you get used to it right away.

      Like

  2. We love road trips as well, I find they are a great way to really see the area you are travelling more than just jumping on tours. I loved your photos they really made me want to visit Croatia

    Liked by 1 person

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