“I don’t like Croatia. It’s too expensive and the people aren’t friendly. I can get a more authentic experience in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia and it won’t cost me a kidney”.
“The average salary in Croatia is the equivalent to about 1000 Euros/mo. So why are tourist prices here equivalent to parts of Western Europe? It’s bullshit”.
These are not recent comments made to us. These were made 6 years ago when we were living in Croatia.
At the time, we would kind of nod, sympathetic to what they were saying. We had spent a lot of time in Croatia and had actually applied for temporary residency (we lived all of 2017 and part of 2018 in Split). We knew what they were talking about but at the same time we almost felt like we had to defend Croatia…
Now, in 2023, we get people writing us, angry that we’ve written about Croatia.
“How can you even recommend travelling to Croatia? The average meal when we were there was higher than in Paris! The whole country is a rip off!”
“The problem with Croatians is that they can’t even cheat tourists with charm. They treat tourists like we’re stupid and lucky to be in their country. I would never go back”.
We’ve seen Croatia change before our eyes over the years.
I remember when we first arrived in Split in April of 2015. It was cold and windy, the mountains lining the coast were coated with snow. There were very few tourists (the ones we did see were mostly Korean). Back then the local men would wear their “Balkan uniforms” (ie. their sweatpants/tracksuits). We would notice over the next few years that the style would fall out of favour which made us sad because it was, for us, synonymous with the Balkans. We fell in love with Croatia on that first visit. The people were friendly and welcoming, the geography was stupendous and we loved Split’s old town. Split is still, for us, one of the most stunning places in the world.
On that first visit, we paid a total of $1,870 Canadian for 2 months (April and May) in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment (found on Airbnb) in the heart of the old town. That was roughly 635 Euros per month.
In 2016 we were back in Croatia, travelling around Istria during the month of May before arriving in Split for June and July. It was high season and we paid significantly more: 1200 Euros for June, 1400 Euros for July in the same apartment that we had stayed in the previous year. But it was summer which meant we could enjoy Split and visit all the islands by catamaran. And while there were tourists, we never found it too overwhelming. Dubrovnik had sold out years ago – but Split was still a place where locals lived in the old town and went about their everyday lives.
In January of 2017 we were back for a 3rd time. We had done a lot of travelling, staying 3 months in South Africa and 5 weeks in Japan. We were burnt out and it crossed our minds that we wanted to take a break from travelling. So one of the first things we did when in Split was go to a lawyer and talking about the options for a longer stay.
Getting a 1 year temporary stay was surprisingly easy (I wrote about that here and here). It required us to have a lease. That wasn’t hard either – we found a pretty apartment steps away from Bačvice beach within 3 weeks of starting our search. Rent? We paid 600 Euros at the time. Utilities including wifi and cable came out to 120 Euros. No safety deposit was required.
Note: I’m mentioning the above because the market has changed significantly in Split since 2017. I’m sure people reading the above today will be shocked.
It was while living in Split that we started to notice changes. There were definitely more tourists in 2017 than in the previous years. But it wasn’t just that there were more, it’s that there were more young tourists who would come just to party and get drunk. For the first time, we saw signs coming up in Split’s old town warning tourists about dressing appropriately and not drinking in public. I wrote a post about all that here. At the time, over tourism wasn’t yet an issue but the signs were there: local businesses moving out of the old town, quality of food/service going down and prices going up, a growing resentment of tourists…
In early 2018 we had to make a decision. We had to renew our temporary stay but the rules for a 2nd year were much more complicated. While we were weighing our options, our landlord told us that his aunt (who owned the apartment) had died and that he would sell the apartment. He told us he could sell it for 300,000 Euros which struck us as delusional. Just the year before we had sold our condominium in Montreal for about the same price – but that was Montreal, not Split, and our condo was a big and modern. Who the heck would pay 300K Euros for an apartment in Split? He gave us a month’s notice. Without a lease we couldn’t renew our temporary stay. We took it all as a sign and decided to leave Croatia.
*We know from our Croatian friends that the apartment sat empty for at least 6 months after we left. Did he eventually sell it at the price he wanted? We’d love to know.
Related to the above: The story of our friend Samir who left Croatia for Turkey because of crazy pricing in Split: Why this couple left Croatia to live in Turkey
Our experience left us with a bad taste in our mouth. But we still loved Split and we came back for a couple of stays: for a month in January of 2019 and another two months in December of the same year. We went back to booking apartments on Airbnb and paid the equivalent of 915 Euros/month in the off season.
But as much as we loved Split on those last visits, we saw that the city had changed. Even in the off-season, there were more foreigners. Most of them were young, some of them most likely digital nomads using Split as a base (this was before the Croatia introduced the Digital Visa in January of 2021). We saw them at the local gym where we had been regular members for years.
Restaurant prices had gone through the roof and the quality had turned to crap. There were a lot more restaurants than there used to be but most were closed because it was low season. Split’s old town was dead. A dead old town in the off season is always a bad sign.
We noticed that locals weren’t as friendly as they had used to be. We were in DM when we saw some kids stealing products and running out the store, the cashier yelling after them in Croatian. It was something we would never have imagined happening in Croatia.
As I say, it felt like Croatia (more specifically Split) had changed before our eyes.
In recent years I’ve heard the stories from Croatia: tourists being charged 150 Euros to be taken from Split to the airport, Uber drivers demanding additional money and screaming at passengers, Digital Nomads being asked for 2,000 Euros/month for a 1 bedroom apartment and foreigners being asked for a 3,000 Euro deposit to rent an apartment.
Those are extreme cases. But every day I hear about high costs, poor quality and rude service.
A few years ago I wrote about Croatians. In the article, I cover what we’ve always appreciated about Croatians. That includes their openness to foreigners, their honesty and the safety you feel when in Croatia. They’re of course not perfect. But Croatia was always the place where we felt we wouldn’t get screwed over or lied to.
So what’s happened?
I’ll tell you what I think based on what we observed during our time in Croatia.
Promotion & Regulations. It starts at the government level with Croatia promoting what I like to call “crap tourism” through things like Ultra festivals. It brings young people who spend little money and come to Croatia just to get drunk and have sex. I found this about the “bad tourists” that visit Croatia. But you know what? Instead of pointing your fingers at the tourists, don’t promote this type of tourism. Spain has clamped down on it, why doesn’t Croatia? Croatian marketing seems to be about bringing in quantity, not quality tourists. Start by getting rid of Ultra. I’ve been saying the same for the last 5 years. It doesn’t just give tourism a bad name, it changes a place and angers locals.
Does Croatia regulate illegal taxis? (my example above about the 150 Euro ride). Was anything done about that Uber driver who demanded cash and locked his passengers in the car? Do the government and police do anything to protect tourists? Or do they turn a blind eye?
Why the Digital Nomad Visa? Does it benefit Croatia in any way? Or has it just contributed to the pressure on home prices?
Greed. 5 years ago it cost 100 Kuna (about 15 USD) to climb the walls of Dubrovnik. Today it costs 35 Euros (38 USD). The last time we were in Dubrovnik in pint of beer cost the equivalent of 6 USD, an appetizer at a restaurant 15 USD, a main course 30 USD. From what I’m hearing, prices aren’t that much different now in Split.
Why these prices? Well, because they can.
I’ve seen it first hand, even from Croatian friends who run Airbnbs: a laissez-faire attitude, gouging a tourist for whatever they can while not giving them quality. Why bother? Lots of other tourists from where those came from…
Again, it didn’t used to be this way. I still remember our first Airbnb in 2015, arriving to a mother and son who greeted us with hugs, beer in the fridge, a hot casserole in the oven and a tray of cake on the table. It was the warmest greeting we had had anywhere.
“Croatia is the best”. I mention the changes we’ve seen in the way tourists/foreigners have been treated over the last 5 years. Croatians have adopted the mentality that their country is “so beautiful, so special” that they no longer have to make an effort. We’ve seen it with our Croatian friends, a sense that no place can possibly be as good as Croatia (they don’t travel by the way, so I’m not sure how that’s seeped into the mentality). Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of great things about Croatia…but there are many other great places as well.
One thing I’ve learned is that tourism is fickle. You might be the flavour of the year, but that can change. And let’s be honest: Croatia would be a basket case if it wasn’t for tourism.
Long term, tourism has to be sustainable. If a place starts getting a reputation as overpriced and unfriendly towards tourists people eventually catch on.
So back to the question at the top: Is Croatia (still) worth visiting?
Croatia is still special and still worth visiting. We’ll always have a special place in our hearts for Croatia.
But I’ll say this: Croatia is not what it used to be.
Related: Tourism…and when the locals hate you