Picking a favorite travel destination is near impossible.
But out of all the traveling I’ve done so far, Croatia stands out as one of the best. I’ve reached this conclusion based on the admiration I felt for the physical composition of the country combined with the adventurous yet comforting experiences I enjoyed there.
As a huge sucker for natural beauty, Croatia’s environment amazed me every single day. Despite the heaviness of my eyes on my 6AM RyanAir flight to Osijek, I found myself smiling out the window at the endless green of the sloping, mountainous land below me. I hadn’t even set foot on the ground yet, and already I was in love with how rich and seemingly untouched by man the land was.
At that moment, my perception of the country only improved with every train journey, every bus ride, and every walk I took. After spending almost 30 hours on public transport throughout the course of my trip (yes I counted), I have traveled through quite a large portion of Croatia, and I’ve been lucky enough to witness the thriving sense of pure, natural life that manifests itself in the mountains, valleys, rivers, islands, waterfalls, forests, and beaches of the coastline and the countryside. I’ve seen misty sunrises, saturated sunsets, furious thunderstorms, and long, lazy days where the sun blazes mercilessly from the cerulean sky, yet the landscape welcomes these atmospheric forces and embraces them to create a diverse and peaceful environment. The rain enhances the lush greenery, the sun intensifies the glow of the sparkling ocean, the wind cools the heat of the rocky beaches, and the sunsets infuse the sky with color to offset the tired shadows that begin to envelop the world in preparation for night. Croatia exists in a state of intoxicating natural harmony, and I feel blessed to have been able to see it. #blessed
Believe it or not, I didn’t spend my entire trip just staring at nature and silently tearing up over how beautiful it is. I had countless unforgettable experiences in Croatia that only improved my opinion of the country. First of all, I found myself consistently impressed with the hospitality and friendly nature of locals. One of my favorite moments occurred as I was sitting on a bench in Osijek, devouring a box of strawberries while waiting for a train when an old man hobbled over and sat next to me. After covering that I spoke no Croatian, and he spoke no English, we continued to have a broken yet somewhat successful conversation using hand gestures and facial expressions. He even offered me some vodka from the bottle in his shirt pocket, and as I struggled to explain to him that I don’t accept alcohol from strangers in foreign countries at 10 in the morning, I realized that these are the moments that truly make traveling worthwhile. Though our conversation didn’t get very far, and he was quite upset that I didn’t want his vodka, his sweet, friendly nature brought me happiness and I know that I will never forget that hilarious encounter.
My encounters with friendly Croatians continued throughout my trip. In Zagreb, after the pouring rain forced me to find a cafe to hibernate in for 2 hours, I learned so many interesting things about the city from a local who struck up a conversation with me. In Split, I stayed at a hostel where Josko, the owner, made me feel so at home that I didn’t want to leave. His mother even cooked us a delicious breakfast, and his grandfather prepared homemade Rakija, the traditional Croatian alcohol, which was served to everyone in a glass skull. (If you’re ever looking for a place to stay in Split, Split Guesthouse & Hostel is the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in!) In Dubrovnik, I met the cousin of a friend, who invited me to his restaurant and gave me an incredible complimentary lunch. The staff at every hostel I stayed in were incredibly helpful and welcoming, and these heartwarming experiences made my stay in Croatia that much more enjoyable.
Croatia’s diverse landscape and thriving tourism sector also provided me with numerous amazing activities to take advantage of. The cheap public transport allowed me to embark on some lovely day trips, one of my favorite being Lokrum. Only a 15 minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik, I ventured to this small island one afternoon and found myself immersed in a beautiful little oasis filled with interesting wildlife and calming forests. The location was chaotic when I first stepped off the boat, as all the Hawaiian shirt wearing, selfie-stick carrying tourists conglomerated in that area. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that simply hiking 10 minutes into the woods transported me to a state of serenity, where the shouting of tourists faded and the peaceful sounds of nature filled the scene. Rather than spend my time at the designated swimming areas, with flat rocks and ladders providing access to the ocean, I found my own, secluded spot where I could carefully climb over the massive rocks and swim in the turquoise water by myself. A combination of the rough waves, the cold water, and the closeness of the sharp rocks spiked my adrenaline, and I started half hyperventilating, half laughing out loud to myself as I floated through the crystal clear ocean. I did this, not to look like a psychopath, but because I honestly couldn’t stop myself. I was so thrilled to be there, completely alone, in such refreshing water with such stunning weather, that I physically could not contain my happiness. This moment was truly surreal, and was definitely a highlight of my trip.
Though I did participate in many of Croatia’s tourist attractions, and I enjoyed every single one, I found that the less touristy aspects of the country made the biggest impression on me. Every National Park is incredible, every church is magnificent, and every museum is interesting, but Croatia offers so much more than these obvious sources of entertainment. Every time the warm scent of fresh bread swirled around me, every time the soft grass of a public park caressed my skin, and every time a local flashed me a smile, I fell a little more in love with Croatia.
I already wrote another article on this country for the College Tourist, outlining the top 10 best places I visited while I was there. (http://www.thecollegetourist.com/10-best-things-to-see-in-croatia/) But these are the more personal reasons as to why Croatia had such an incredible impact on me.