Camping in Croatia: Land of Winnetou
Ask any German who Winnetou was and you’re bound to get a smile.
The fictional character Winnetou was a Native American hero based on the books by Karl May, one of Germany’s bestselling authors. In the 1960s, French actor Pierre Brice portrayed the character in western movies that were wildly popular in Germany. Those movies were primarily shot in Croatia. And it’s no wonder why.
As soon as you hit the southern panhandle of Croatia, the sky stretches out from left to right. The air becomes hot and dry. It’s like driving through Arizona. As an American it’s liberating. Camping these parts is worth the 10-hour drive.
And while not all camp sites in Europe advertise on the internet, they are as plentiful as American convenience stores. Consider a camping trip to Croatia. Drive as far south as Krka National Park. Krka is a 10-hour drive from Grafenwoehr. Stay a couple of nights. Head back north and spend a day or two near Plitvice National Park. Return home and camp in the Austrian Alps or find a cheap hotel in Graz, Austria.
To reach the sweet spot of Croatia from Bavaria, take the B93 south to Passau, Germany. Alternatively, you can head south through Munich, but you’re liable to hit heavy pockets of traffic. Make the decision just prior to departure with traffic updates at www.bavaria.army.mil/transportation.
Take the B93 south toward Regensburg and hop on the A3 toward Passau. From Passau, take the A8 all the way to Graz.
Stay the night in Graz. Put simply, Graz is just a cool, friendly city with English-speaking DJs on the radios, great restaurants, bars and a chic town center. I’m not sure why I’m surprised by the friendly service industry here, but I can say that it’s different than what you might experience in the Oberpfalz.
From Graz, stay on the A9 through Slovenia and follow the signs toward Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Stay on the A1 to the E71 toward Split — another great city to visit in Croatia. Take the exit to the D56 and follow the signs to Krka National Park.
Croatians officially refer to their homeland as the Republic of Hrvatska, abbreviated HR. You’ll see HR on things like bumper stickers, and the country’s tourist website is www.croatia.hr.
Krka National Park
GPS: Krka National Park, Lozovac, Croatia
Krka National Park is a real gem. It’s family friendly, cheap and easy to traverse. You can hike it or ride a bus along the Krka River.
This national park boasts what I think is one of Europe’s best, yet most unorthodox, beaches. In fact, it’s a rocky “beach” situated beneath a breathtaking waterfall. There are life guards on duty, so as American servicemembers and family members, you are allowed to swim there.
But what about camping? You have options.
Camping at Krka
GPS: Solaris 1, Tar-Vabriga 52465, Croatia
Solaris is a camping resort. I arrived here by accident. But for parents, it may be the best thing to offer kids. It boasts beaches, water parks, restaurants and bars. It’s pricey, but the facilities are clean, convenient and state of the art.
TIP: Try any of the restaurants. They open early and stay open late. The restaurant in the middle of the campsite has a wood-burning stove and serves piping-hot greasy and gooey pizza (paired well with cold beer after a long drive).
GPS: Skocici 21, Šibenik 22221, Croatia
Owned and operated by the Skočić family, Camp Krka is perfect for the road-trippin’ camper. Located just one mile from the national park, it offers everything you’d need: peace and quiet, a functioning toilet and shower, and local food cooked by the Skočić family. Plus, it’s super cheap.
TIP: Chat it up with Momma Skočić. She speaks English and is a wealth of info. The family also runs a campsite even closer to the national park, but it’s barren. Stay here if you wish to sleep among sagebrush and buzzards.
Camping at Plitvice
The Plitvice Lakes National Park
GPS: The Plitvice Lakes National Park, Plitvička jezera 53231, Croatia
When I talk with my German buddies, I always get the feeling that they’re more well traveled than most Americans. But the same can be said about Americans living in Europe: You’ve probably seen more of Europe than most Germans. Well, add Plitvice Lakes National Park to your list. The park is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is more touristy than Krka, but it will shake your soul. Unfortunately, unlike its counterpart in Krka, you can’t swim here, legally.
GPS: The Plitvice Lakes National Park, Plitvička jezera 53231, Croatia
The AC Korona campsite — about 2 miles from the national park entrance — is different from most campsites in one regard: it’s spread out and spacious.
TIP: Pick your own site to pitch a tent wisely. Scout out sites along the edge of the cliff. There’s no one there. Afterward, trek down the cliff and take a dip in the shallow pond. It’s clean. It’s cold. It’s refreshing. Watch out for the trout!
- Bring your international driver’s license. If stopped, it’s good to flash to the authorities in Austria, Slovenia or Croatia. If you need an international driver’s license, you can get one at the office in Amberg or Eschenbach. See: www.bavaria.army.mil/transportation.
- When discussing your tales of Croatia with your German buddies, ask them to tell you the story of Winnetou.
- It’s a great idea to have an account with ADAC, which is Germany’s equivalent to AAA. ADAC provides roadside assistance from Germany all the way to Croatia. Having a registered ADAC accounts runs about 120 euros a year.
- Croatia is part of the European Union. The country, however, does not use the euro currency. Instead, it uses the Croatian kuna, abbreviated HRK. Ten euros will buy you about 75 kuna. Ten U.S. dollars will buy you about 70 kuna. Many restaurants and toll booths near the Slovenian border accept euros. TIP: Exchange euros for kunas early or withdraw kunas from an ATM.
- Exchange money near the Croatian border. The euro is used in Germany, Austria and Slovenia. But Croatians use the kuna. About 10 euros will buy you 75 Croatian kunas. There are many tolls along the Croatian highway.
- Try the wine in Croatia. The dusty climate in Croatia yields fabulous red and whites similar to those found in Spain, Greece and Italy. Croatian wine is best drunk in Croatia, which is probably why it’s rarely exported.
- At your campsite, ask if you can order bread for the morning. Many campsites throughout Europe offer this great service. But you’ll need to reserve bread the night before.
- You often have to stand in line for something when at one of Croatia’s national parks. Always be aware of what the line is for. TIP: Station one person in line and send a buddy to determine what the line is for. Often times, to your relief, you don’t need to be in line.
- Avoid driving to Croatia the last week of July and the first week of August. This is when vacation begins for many in Germany, Austria and Italy. What should only take nine to 10 hours to drive can be doubled due to road congestion. If possible, drive to Croatia in June or early July.
- Don’t forget to bring your passport. Customs agents check them at stops along the highway when entering Croatia.
- Croatia is Europe’s melting pot for vacationers. Don’t get irritated by Europeans who may appear to be cutting in line. Queuing is as characteristic to a culture as its language and cuisine. While the English have queuing down to a science, Italians seem to have a secret code to it. Collect yourself. Gather your cool and simply tell the line-jumper, “Excuse me, I was here first, so please go to the end of the line,” and most will acknowledge and abide.
- Don’t build a campfire in Croatia. Croatia’s dry climate is susceptible to forest fires. Camp fires are prohibited. I know, this is one of the drawbacks of European camping.
- Don’t forget shower shoes. Most campsites have showers, but you don’t want to come home with toe jam. By the way, it’s in your interest to ALWAYS travel with an extra role of toilet paper. Screaming for your spouse to fetch TP is disgraceful and embarrassing.
- Don’t drink and drive, and don’t drive with a cellphone. You can be fined with as little as 0.5% of alcohol in your blood. Plus, drivers are not allowed to use mobile phones while driving in Croatia. These are the laws.