Summer of 2017 I embarked on an unforgettable tour of some of Croatia’s most breath-taking parks and swim spots. It was a nature packed whip around Plitvice Lakes, Zadar, Pag Island and Krka National Park, with just the right amount of party atmosphere and city vibe to keep a travel crazy cat in check. Forget your filters on Med Experience’s National Parks Road Trip.
Day 1: Exploring Plitvice Lakes
At 6:30am it was the coolest I had been during a 40 degree August heat wave and I could tell the neighbours would be pleased to be woken by the sound of broken suitcase wheels trawling the cobblestones. I’d met our guide the night before at a bar in Split, since we had mutual friends from the Greek Island Hopping tour I’d taken the year before, so upon arrival at the Church of St Frane there was good banter to be had.
Being painfully early I had a little time to wait before anyone else showed up, but eventually they did – some looking a little tired having come off a sailing tour the day before. A little advice, if you’re planning on doing both these tours – either do the National Parks tour first, or leave a couple days in between. Also, there’s no coffee near the meeting point at 6:30am. Quick introductions, then we hit the road.
Our first destination of the tour was the UNESCO World Heritage listed Plitvice Lakes National Park – about a 2.5hr drive from Split. A big part of the reason I went to Croatia was because I wanted to visit these stunning parks, so I booked the tour to make it easy and fun to get around. The best part about being with a tour group is you don’t really have to wait in the queues at the park and your transport is ready and waiting when you are.
Sunlight shimmers through the lush forest canopy. Turquoise waters tease us in the heat. “Follow me” calls our tour leader, strolling into an oasis of natural beauty.
Our accomodation on the first night was the Lazy Monkey Hostel in Zadar. The hostel was in pretty good condition and had that sort of surfer vibe going on with large low sofas.
A BBQ dinner was also arranged for us. I’m vegetarian and though I had requested vegetarian meals when I booked this tour, I know in some countries / cultures they are still not very familiar with diets like this, so I generally have quite low expectations. Those were swiftly blown through the roof when the most incredible vegetarian burger I think I’ve ever eaten was prepared fresh and plated up just for me! The chef was so adorably proud – as she should be – it was her own home recipe.
In the moonlit hours, there was time for a walking tour around town and a visit to the Sea Organ – Zadar’s own musical instrument played by the sea.
Day 2: Partying On Pag Island
The next morning it was time to leave the beautiful wee town of Zadar for the island of Pag. Save your best outfit for day two, because tonight’s the night we hit the famous outdoor night clubs of Zrce beach. First though, an optional boat trip had been organised.
We clambered onboard with a local sailor who seemed to steer us for an eternity temptingly close to white sand beach coves. Eventually we did make it to our swim stop and washed back a BBQ with home brewed vino. It took a while to get here but was well worth the wait – plunging through turquoise waters from the roof of the boat. The return journey was really something magical, when our boat pulled in between the cliffs music began to bounce between the rocks.
After settling into our new hostel everyone wandered over to La Tortilla – Novalja’s resident Mexican restaurant for dinner. Before hitting the beach clubs, there was just another gorgeous Croatian red sunset to soak up.
Once the sun’s down, the party animals come out and after some drinks in the hostel’s garden, it was time for all to board the beach club bus. We were headed for NOA Beach Club; probably the biggest and most popular on the beach. Passing paddling pools and hammocks, we spiralled the staircase to watch the crowd from above, but it wasn’t long before everyone wanted to get amongst the atmosphere on the dance floor.
The Big Yellow House was our accomodation for nights 2 and 3 of the tour, though it looks like this might have changed for future tours – perhaps due to the lack of air conditioning. It was all together a good place to sleep and wind down in the shade of the garden bar.
Day 3: Relaxing On Pag Island
Day three was all about recovery and relaxation. A lazy morning lead us to sunbathing on the beach and an early dinner at legendary local restaurant Didova Kuća. As per usual I ordered way too much food (both those meals are mine), but I got so excited with all the incredible sounding vegetarian dishes. We had a really nice relaxing experience here, the staff were hilarious, the food delicious, and I think everyone really enjoyed it. I highly recommend dining here!
Day 4: Waterfall Swim At Krka National Park
An amazing tour was coming to an end so fast, but before it was all over there was one final stop at the famous waterfalls of Krka National Park. Unlike Plitvice, we could actually swim at these ones – thank goodness!
It seemed odd arriving back in Split so quickly after we’d left. The trip was amazing and we covered so much in four days. Since some of us weren’t quite ready to say goodbye, we organised to meet up a bit later for dinner in Split and actually it turned out a few of us were heading to Hvar the next day, so we all met up there again too.
I’ve now been on three group tours similar to this, and I think this has been my personal favourite so far. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the itinerary, and any small annoyances were well outweighed by the superb overall vibe. Great tour leader, awesome new friends and a stunning destination – what more could you ask for?