I have dreamed of taking a Croatian Vacation since the 90s when I watched the Yugoslav Wars unfold on CNN. The backdrop to the horrors of war was comprised of blue waters and ancient buildings. My heart broke for those caught in the middle of the war and I hoped, one day, peace would come.
Croatia’s mixing of Old World and New World, along with the crystal blue waters, continued to grab my attention. Many travels came and went, but Croatia remained at the top of my destination wish list. While my wife was investigating flights one day, she discovered flights to Rome were relatively cheap. Then upon further investigation, she found that you could fly from Rome to Split for under a $100. After a few clicks, we were planning a trip to Croatia.
After spending 3 full days in Rome, we boarded a morning flight to Split. As our driver navigated through Split’s narrow streets, I became nervous because we were planning to rent a minivan for our large family. Croatia’s streets did not seem minivan friendly. Manoeuvring caused stress during our trip, but it was a manageable tension.
Over the course of 8 days, we sailed, hiked, ate and drank, drove to nearby countries, swam, and stared in awe at Croatia’s beauty. 8 days of memories my family will cherish forever.
We arrived at the Split Airport after an hour flight from Rome. After meeting our driver, we crammed our family of 6 into a minivan. If we had not packed light, one or two suitcases would have been left on the curb. We checked into our accommodations and prepared for a rest day. Preparing means we took some naps and the older kids watched TV. After a few hours getting used to our apartment, my wife and I went out for a stroll with the younger two. The older two still needed more time to relax after the Roman holiday.
Our week would be packed and our only day to tour Diocletian’s Palace was the first day. I had looked forward to visiting Diocletian’s Palace ever since my daughter studied Ancient History during her homeschool studies. A portion of the Palace is a museum, and we walked around as long as our weary legs let us. Restaurants, stores, and some homes have taken over the Palace, and we enjoyed pastries at a few of the shops.
After a good night’s rest, we woke up early to catch a private boat tour of the islands. Going into the day, I was concerned we were spending too much money on a private tour, but the island tour was my favorite day on vacation and worth every Kuna. We bounced from one island beach to another while relaxing in the back of the boat. Our captain was fantastic in explaining the landscape, history, and making sure all the kids were happy and comfortable.
One of our stops was at The Blue Cave or Cave Bisevo. Our captain dropped us off at the dock, where we purchased tickets to board another smaller boat. Boats lined up to go into the cave and we climbed into one after waiting about an hour. After getting into the boat, we drifted into the cave. Nature’s beauty is on full display in the cave as sunlight illuminates the cave walls through the water.
We drove an hour and fifteen minutes early in the morning to Krka National Park. Krka is one of Croatia’s top tourist destinations because of its milling history and gorgeous scenery. After touring the old mill and hiking around pools of water, my family cooled off by swimming in front of a waterfall. Good thing my wife insisted we bring our water shoes, or walking along the stones under the water would have banged our feet up pretty badly.
After our visit, we found a little playground close to the entrance where my kids blew off whatever steam they still held.
We arrived back home worn out from the day and most of the family wanted to sit back and relax in the apartment. My oldest son and I were not yet ready to call it a day, so we ventured into the heart of Split for some fine dining and a nighttime walk around Diocletian’s Palace. As we walked past party goers and entertainers, I appreciated my wing-man and enjoyed the time I had alone with him.
We said “goodbye to Split” and drove our large vehicle past the small streets in Split towards Dubrovnik. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina along the way. After watching the Rick Steves video of his Mostar trip, we had to see it for ourselves.
You can read about our trip to Mostar here: Lost in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We arrived in Dubrovnik late on day four and had a difficult time finding our apartment. My family had all gotten along pretty well until that moment. Our frustrations got the best of us, but after finding our apartment we went to sleep and we awoke in Dubrovnik in a lovely apartment for day five.
When I dreamed of visiting Croatia, Dubrovnik was what I pictured. As I looked out the window on day 5, my soul was not disappointed with what I saw. We grabbed food at a local grocery store for breakfast and then walked into town.
We had a clean slate for Day 5 and enjoyed walking around and trying to take everything in. Being a Game of Thrones fan, I did my best to embarrass my family as I reenacted scenes filmed in the city.
Day Six was another amazing day on our vacation. We took another short trip out of the country and visited Montenegro. Our destination was Kotor, but we made a stop along the way to visit Our Lady of the Rocks.
Our Lady of the Rocks is an island chapel and a museum off the coast of Perast in the Bay of Kotor. We only spent an hour on the little island, but you wouldn’t know it because of the many pictures I took. Looking back at the trip, I wish I would have spent more time at the church and museum and taken a tour, but the weariness of the little ones convinced us we needed to get somewhere that sold gelato.
Kotor is a place I would love to return to for a few more days. You can read about climbing the Castle of Kotor with my oldest son here: Climbing the Castle of San Giovanni with my son and dropping knowledge along the way.
Day Seven and eight were similar and were all about exploring Dubrovnik. We began day seven with a trip to the beach. We were in Croatia during a heat wave and wanted to get a good spot on the beach. After a few hours of baking in the sun, we went back to our apartment for lunch and to prepare for the day by taking a short nap. Once the nap was over, we loaded up with treats at Captain Candy and walked along the City’s walls. While on the wall, we were able to take a break and have more gelato. That’s kind of our thing when in Europe.
Day eight was more Dubrovnik and more Captain Candy. We checked out as many museums (Rector’s Palace, Maritime Museum, and the Franciscan Church and Monastery) as we could squeeze into the day. And like all Dubrovnik tourists, my kids had to pinch the nose on the statue of Marin Drzic. They say you have good luck if you do that.
My wife and I had a romantic meal that evening while the rest of the family had leftovers. No guilt.
Day nine was our last day in Croatia, but we had time to kill before our flight. We used this time to take the cable car up the mountain overlooking Dubrovnik and visited the Homeland War Museum. Throughout our visit to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, we saw scars the war left behind. The war was what first brought my attention to Croatia and caused a desire in my heart to visit. Reading the stories and hearing the voices of those that lived through the recent war put our travels into perspective.
Croatia is one of the most beautiful places I have visited. Within that beauty is an ugly and tragic history. I’m thankful I could walk the ancient streets, swim in the crystal-clear water, eat giant plates of tasty meat, and receive lessons in history, all while voices of children playing echoed through the streets.
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