I’d always dreamed of going to Croatia, though I never really knew why. I’d seen a few pictures and met travelers who recommended it, but they didn’t quite justify my overwhelming desire to see the country. Last June, I chose to put life as I knew it on hold: I left my job, moved out of my apartment, stored my belongings and decided to travel solo for a year. I didn’t know exactly where I would go, but I knew Croatia was on top of my list.
Solo travel in Croatia was great.
I would soon discover that Croatia is filled with awe-inspiring landscapes, delicious food, and warm, inviting, and very stylish people. With Austro-Hungarian and Italian influences, this nation offers the many facets of its rich culture to any traveler lucky enough to visit.
I arrived on the last day of October, so very few tourists were around. As a solo traveler, I was left alone to discover Croatia’s beauty. But not for long. Through a chain of friend and family connections, I was put in contact with Goran, a resident of the cosmopolitan capital of Zagreb located in the north of the country. I don’t like imposing on people’s busy lives, so I wasn’t expecting much from my new contact. Perhaps a coffee and a suggested itinerary. To the contrary, he set all his time aside to show me around and make me discover his culture – he even welcomed me into his family where his mother and grandmother cooked delicious, hearty, traditional meals for me.
After a great start in Zagreb, I headed south and stopped at Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of Croatia’s many Unesco World Heritage sites. I wandered the paths around peaceful and breathtaking lakes, which feed into each other through a number of waterfalls. My next stop was Zadar, the main city of Northern Dalmatia. Here, I walked through the streets of Old Town, which are all paved in marble and lined with Roman ruins and medieval churches. Zadar also boasts the world’s only sea organ, its perforated stone steps descending into the sea, allowing the movement of the water to create an amazingly unique and deep sound. A day trip allowed me to discover the windy, narrow streets of Šibenik and the Cathedral of St-James, another heritage site. The interior of the church is amazingly detailed, just as its frieze on the outside, which portrays 71 ordinary 15th-century citizens with varying expressions.
I was then off to Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Despite getting lost in the rain on my way to the hostel, its owner, Elda, greeted me with such maternal warmth that I was instantly cheered up. I met two more Croatian girls and soon discovered their innate generosity – it’s customary for them to treat their friends (or even travelers like me!) to drinks and coffee without any hesitation. They also met up with me later in my trip to take me out in their hometown of Dubrovnik.
Split also offered a hike up Mount Marijan from where I could gaze into the clear turquoise waters of the Splitski Channel, a palm-lined harbour with various cafes, innumerable street markets, and its own World Heritage sight; Diocletian’s Palace, said to be one of the most impressive Romans ruins in existence. I took another day trip to Trogir, a quaint walled town with a waterfront promenade and a maze of medieval streets.
My last Croatian stop was in Dubrovnik. The bus journey alone was absolutely scenic. The road hugs the coast very closely – so much so that I could, at certain points, look down a 50-metre drop directly into the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea! I visited the city walls, its main claim to fame and said to be the finest in the world, which were built between the 13th and 16th centuries and remain intact today. You can literally walk all around the Old Town on these elevated walls, and look below at an amazing sea of buildings with amber-tiled roofs.
I was inexplicably content while in Croatia until I realized how much happiness lots of sunshine can bring – Split gets close t0 2,700 hours of sunlight each year, and Dubrovnik nearly 2,600. But what made my Croatian experience truly enjoyable were the locals I met – all of them polite, friendly, and overwhelmingly generous. For the first time on my trip, cars stopped to let me cross the street, and strangers went out of their way to offer help with directions or assistance with the language. Unfortunately, I visited in the wrong season to discover any of the 1,185 culturally-unique islands, but I’ve decided that I’ll just have to go back one summer to enjoy everything else Croatia has to offer!