Van Life: Croatia in a Heatwave
After a beautiful stay in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro, we were about to explore van life in Croatia. We suddenly realise we probably need a green card for Bosnia & Herzegovina to cross the border. But thanks to the officials scamming us at the border, we don’t have one. Sure enough at the window, the border control official takes our passports and asks for our green card… Tom just sits in silence, so it’s all up to me.
I leaned forward, batted my eyelashes and cracked a smile. In my blondest voice ever I told him, “oopsie, I just threw it out up the road! I didn’t think we would need it again, so sorry”. He talks to his colleague in Bosnian and then they both start laughing and give us our passports back. They then let us out of the country. Ahhh thank fuck, we made it out without one! And without being pulled over by the police somehow when there were cops literally everywhere in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
We get to the Croatian border and don’t need a green card, as our Downunder Insurance covers Croatia. But as soon as they saw the van, two police offers pulled us over and literally drilled us. They searched everything, asking us 100 times if we smoked or had any drugs or prescription medicine in the van. They really tried hard to scare us so we would admit if we had something, which obviously we didn’t. So they finished searching and let us in. Off we, our third time to Croatia! But this time, we’re not flying or sailing when arriving, we’re rolling in our own little home on wheels.
Van Life Croatia: Makarska & Split
Our first stop was 45 minutes from the border was Makarska. We spent all afternoon in this gorgeous coastal village, at the extremely busy beach, then exploring the markets. If you’re searching for a fake designer bag, this is your place! We also had the most delicious kebab from one of the food stores in the markets, so be sure to grab one of those when you’re there. We couldn’t really find anywhere to sleep around Makarska, except for the car park for the very fun and unique Deep club, which is carved into a cave. Sleeping outside of a nightclub is obviously loud, plus it was paid parking, so we moved on to Split to find somewhere free to park.
That afternoon in Split we watched the sunset over the marina at Roof 68 with ice cold mojitos (€9) and beers (€4.50). After sunset it was cool enough to wander the sandstone paths of the must-see Old Town. Our favourite restaurant on the marina esplanade is Bajamonti, which does the best seafood in town. We finished our night at Luxor (LVXOR), situated in the heart of the old town square and buzzing with tourists. They have live music from 8pm every night, which gives the place a whole lot of vibe. Once we started feeling guilty about drinking too many £6 beers, yeah you read that right, £6, same price as London, we walked back to Betty and slept in the busy streets of split.
The next morning, we headed to the nearest café for an iced coffee and to use their toilet and wash our faces. We’ve become pretty good at this morning routine, although I always get cranky at Tom when I stand there at the coffee counter with mascara smeared down my face from the night before.
A Night in Sveti Filip i Jakov
On the road again, we headed towards Zadar. We stopped for a bathroom break at a little town called Sveti Filip i Jakov and it was so cute, we decided to stay the night. The beaches were crystal clear, with fun, inflatable obstacle courses and unique bars and restaurants. The locals had turned their front yards into mini camp sites for campervans and tents, so there are loads of powered sites. We however, as usual wanted to free camp and we ended up driving onto the boat wharf and we were so close to the water, we were literally jumping out of Betty and straight into the ocean.
It was incredible and, strangely enough, no one seemed to care we were parked there. That night they closed off all the streets and had all their restaurants aligned along the roads with people partying along the beach. It was a really interesting little town, definitely worth the stop.
The morning after, we woke up, went swimming and got on the road to Zadar, one of Croatia’s biggest cities. Most sail companies don’t operate here so we hadn’t heard much about it, but it was such a vibrant place. There were high end shops, incredible architecture and a lot of history. When we researched, the main thing to see there was the town art. This included sea organs, which consists of a couple of holes in the ground over a pier so when the ocean waves hit them, they make a musical organ sound. Honestly, it probably would have been more exciting staring at the wall in the campervan instead. Save your time and skip that one.
After that, we walked out of the main square and across to The Garden Lounge, a modern restaurant and bar overlooking the marina. We had the best food there, two chicken burgers, with pink buns and crispy onion rings on the side. If you visit Zadar, this is absolutely the place to eat and drink. Our meals and 2 beers cost 200 Croatian kuna (€27).
Later that night we ended up at a beach just outside Zadar. Here we met a lovely Slovenian family who kindly fed us dinner and we spent the night watching shooting stars and downing beers with the beach all to ourselves. It was an incredibly perfect night, one that makes us realise how lucky we are to be able to travel the world like this.
The Broken Fan
Although around 4am, we woke up both stifling hot, as the batteries in our 12v fan ran out. So, here we are pulling the van apart in our undies trying to remember where the spare batteries were so we could try and get back to sleep. All of this while worrying about the local pack of wolves who roamed around the area we were sleeping in.
When we first started vanlivinn, I was a little nervous sleeping just anywhere and in the car. I made sure the doors were all locked and the windows were just slightly down and I slept furthest away from the door, so big bad Tom could protect me. However, now (and especially as it’s been so hot), we sleep with all the doors wide open, the car unlocked and feel totally safe, wolves and all.
Van Life Croatia: Zcre Beach
The next morning, we woke early. With the sun beating down on the metal, we were up and straight in the ocean for our morning swim. Then, it was off to the party central of Croatia, Zrce Beach, on the island of Pag.
We researched and found that the police in the area were extremely strict on free camping. Multiple people reported €100+ fines for parking their vans and RVs anywhere but a camp spot. Now, our van is easy to stealth camp in, as it just looks like a normal work van. But with the heatwave hitting Croatia, one second in the car with the doors shut would fry you alive. A camp site in town quoted us €120/night for an unpowered patch of grass next to a road. We politely told them where to shove that. We found Sveti Duh Camp just out of town for a still expensive but much more reasonable €25 per night. This camp site is fairly close to Zrce Beach, where all the super clubs are.
We drove back into town, which was full of tourists on bucks parties and hens parties. A place where everyone was either hungover or drunk again. There were the usual shops and restaurants around but it was too hot to walk around outside, so Tom and I spent a fair while jumping from supermarket to supermarket to supermarket just to escape into their air conditioning. That evening at our campsite, we made friends with an Italian couple and we spent the night on the beach with a few bottles of wine and a serious battle of Uno. Which is an absolute must have in your vanlife essentials.
The next day, we had a lazy morning then prepared to go to Zrce with our new Italian friends. We ordered a taxi, which collected us from our camp and dropped us to the entrance of the beach clubs. The taxi cost us €20. Zrce beach is pumping. There are 10 different clubs, all with huge sound systems, girls dancing around in the skimpiest outfits and drink specials to entice you in, starting at 2pm.
Tourist scams: Beware
I had read that Zrce Beach can be corrupt so to keep your eyes out, especially if you’re drinking. The staff try and scam you or security will beat the shit out of you for no reason. This became apparent as soon as we arrived the bar staff shortchanged our Italian friends. They assumed we wouldn’t notice but since we had read it we were thankfully aware of their little scams. Then later, another staff member was dancing with our friend, being all friendly whilst her colleague was telling her to check her shorts pockets for cash and steal it. She didn’t have any on her and we knew what they were doing, so we quickly left that club.Zrce Beach in Croatia can be corrupt so to keep your eyes out, especially if you’ve had a few too many. The staff try and scam you or security will get violent for no reason. Click To Tweet
Apart from all of the scamming, Zrce beach was incredibly fun and probably just became my favourite place in Croatia. I would 100% recommend visiting this part of Croatia, especially if you like to party. The Noa Beach Club has a glamping resort right next door to all the clubs. It’s pricey but would be absolutely perfect location-wise and they looked incredible with their own private pools. If you’re looking for something cheaper, basically anything close to Zrce Beach or in town is fine as there are buses and taxis to get you to and from.
3 Days in Zagreb
The next morning, it was time for a swim to cure the hungover and then into town for a kebab. We spent a rest of the day feeling sorry for ourselves then drove to a free camp just near the entrance to Plitvice lakes so we could beat the crowds in the morning. The next day we started driving to Plitvice lakes, stopping to pick up a hitchhiker. We arrived at 8:30am but the lakes were already full, so the next entry wasn’t until 3pm.
The thought of waiting around and the tickets being a whopping €36 per person swayed our decision to get back on the road and unfortunately miss out on seeing the lakes. We thought we had arrived early enough but being peak season (August) and the lakes opening at 7:30am it obviously wasn’t early enough. So make sure you arrive before opening time to secure a ticket!
Later that day, we arrived in the capital city Zagreb and paid 175 kuna (€23) to stay at their Olympic Park. However, we accidentally drove out of the park and then the guy wouldn’t let us back in without paying again. Furious, we left to find somewhere else closer to the city and ended up in another car park. We had a shit day so we treated ourselves to dinner at Capuciner in the upper town of Zagreb. We ate a meat platter with chicken, beef and of course the local Balkan sausage, cevapi, which is a must try while you’re visiting Croatia or the Balkans.
The next morning still parked at the car park in town and another 60 kuna for the day, we left Betty and thought with our stomachs, so went straight to Otto and Frank, a café that does a traditional spin on a local Croatian breakfast dish. It’s made up of crispy/fried poached eggs with ham, horseradish, cream cheese, spinach on toasted sourdough. It was to die for and only €5!! Just a couple of doors up was Esco scooter hire which have electric scooters for the day, at a very reasonable €18 pp for 24 hours. We zipped through the city, quickly and quietly reaching the must-see sights of Zagreb much easier and quicker than everyone else who was just walking.
Our first stop was the tallest building in Croatia, the Cathedral of Zagreb, which was built in the 11th century. We then glided graciously up to the dead centre of town, Mirogoj Cemetery, yes, a cemetery. Weird place to visit but it was worth the stop, some of the prettiest architecture in Zagreb. Our last stop was at St Mark’s Church, a gothic styled church, easily recognised by its black and red tiled roof.
A Most Unusual Garden
We spent the rest of the afternoon bar crawling the cities vibrant and bustling bars. I would definitely recommend visiting the Art park for £2.50 mojitos. After a few too many beers and our scooter riding becoming less steady, we finished our night at my favourite bar in Zagreb, A Most Unusual Garden. An outdoor gin bar, with a fairytale vibe, complete with its own tree house.
On our third morning in Zagreb, we started the day with breakfast in town at Melt Café. We had boiled eggs on gluten free homemade bread with chilli flakes. It almost hit the spot as an Aussie brunch for 120 kuna (€16). We returned our electric scooters and jumped back into our girl Betty.
Leaving Croatia for Slovenia
On our way out of Zagreb we stopped off at the very large arena shopping centre and then headed for the Slovenian border. We drove with our Navman set to avoiding tolls and that took us to one of the two border crossings. 30 minutes in line later we get to the front only to be told that they only took EU passports. We had to use the other entry, on the toll road. So, we turned around and drove back to the toll road, where it was 3 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting to cross the border. We sat there dripping in sweat for 50 agonisingly long minutes, wishing we had air conditioning in the van, but finally made it to Slovenia.
Our van life trip through Croatia was different to the last two times we’ve been there. We explored so much more of the stunning country. We skipped Dubrovnik as we’ve both been already been, but it’s a must visit destination in Croatia. Croatian people are super friendly, the crystal clear waters of the coastline are undeniably beautiful, their party islands are so much fun and their ice cream is to die for.
The only bad thing was the heat. Some nights it was unbearable and all we wanted was to sleep in an air conditioned room. Our fridge didn’t work properly either because it was so hot outside and so the worst part of all was that our beers were as hot as your seatbelt in an Aussie summer. If we did the trip all over again, I think we would try and do Croatia when it was cooler but hey, at least we maximised our tanning time.
Until the next adventure…
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