Croatia isn’t a very popular choice for Filipino travellers. It’s far and not at all talked about as an option when your family or barkada plans a holiday overseas. You usually have to do extra research when you go to a far-flung country like Croatia. On top of that, you have to apply for a visa. It sounds like a chore doesn’t it?
But speak to anyone who has been to Croatia and they’ll share just how pleasantly surprising the country is in terms of beauty, uniqueness, and atmosphere. Every ounce of energy and buck you spend on this country will be worth it. Read on for a basic travel guide for first-timers!
The most common way to get a tourist visa for Croatia is either obtain a valid Two or Multiple Entry Schengen Visa or a valid Croatian Visa. You can apply for a Schengen Visa either at VFS Global or the embassy/consulate here in the Philippines of the country that constitutes your main destination. You may read how to apply for a Schengen Visa here.
To apply for a valid Croatian Visa, you may follow these steps:
Step 1: Compile all necessary documents
- Visa application form
- Valid passport, with expiry date exceeding expiry date of the requested visa
- One photograph
- Travel health insurance
- Reservation of return travel ticket to the Philippines
- Proof of the purpose of stay (certificate of paid package tour, booking of accommodations, day-to-day itinerary)
- Documents presenting sufficient funds (pay slip and bank statement about your balance and transactions in the last three months)
Note: This is a summarized version of the requirements. For a more detailed version, go to the VFS Global website.
Step 2: Submit documents at the VFS Global at Mezzanine Floor, Ecoplaza Bldg., Don Chino Roces Ave Ext, Makati City.
- You may come without an appointment.
- Requirement submission: 2pm – 6pm, Monday – Friday
- Passport collection: 2pm- 6pm, Monday- Friday
Step 3: Pay for the overall visa fee of ₱6,660 (non-refundable)
Step 4: You may or may not be called for an interview. Make sure to go when they request one.
Step 5: Wait for the results of your application. Standard processing time is 15 calendar days from the day of receipt.
If your visa is approved, bring the following when you retrieve your passport from VFS:
- Original payment receipt
- Valid ID
- For minors: birth certificate
- For accredited travel agency: authorization issued on the letterhead of the travel agency, with passport data of tourists and agent’s passport data.
For more information on applying for a Croatian Visa, click here.
Flights to Croatia
In order for you to witness the Republic of Croatia in all its glory, you first have to brave the long flights and layovers. From Manila to Zagreb (the capital of Croatia), here are standard options that are limited to a maximum of two stopovers:
- Emirates Airline (Manila – Dubai – Zagreb)
- Qatar Airways (Manila – Doha – Zagreb)
- Turkish Airlines (Manila – Istanbul – Zagreb)
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (Manila – Taipei – Amsterdam – Zagreb)
There are still other airlines you can choose coming from Manila but will require you to change airlines at one stopover. An example of this is Etihad Airways which you can board from Manila to Abu Dhabi. From there, you fly to Belgrade where you have to switch airlines to Air Serbia, to finally arrive in Zagreb.
There are various flight itineraries that may be cheaper, quicker, or more practical for your needs. Do your research and pick the best one that suits you or the group you’re travelling with.
Where to stay
Since the idea is for Filipino first-timers in Croatia to maximise their whole trip (who knows when you’ll be back), hopping from city to city and seeing a little bit of everything is the best way to do this. With that being said, I recommend that you book hostels, inns, or Airbnb instead of hotels or resorts since it’ll save you a lot of money. Quaint accommodations are more popular in Europe, so you’ll have enough options for sure. If you’re going to book a package tour that will reserve your accommodation for you, the better.
What to eat
They say that Croatia’s best cheese is the Pag Cheese that comes from the island of Pag near Zadar. The island of Pag is also a salt production centre which allows them to produce cheese more flavourful than any other cheese in Croatia. The winds on the island supposedly spread the island’s salt dust into its vegetation, while the sheep on the island which produce the milk and cheese, eat the salted vegetation. Their sheep makes Pag island the only authentic source for Pag Cheese in Croatia.
Crni Rizot, or in other words black risotto, is cooked with squid ink that colours the rice black. This is a famous seafood dish in Croatia and almost every seafood restaurant has it. Although paella is usually Spain’s speciality, give Croatia’s Crni Rizot a try. After all, many of its cities are located beside the Adriatic Sea. Think of all the fresh seafood you get to savour in that black risotto!
Hobotnica Ispod Peke
If you’ve tried Japan’s Takoyaki, then you might as well try Croatia’s Hobotnica Ispod Peke. It’s also made of seafood, usually octopus, that’s cooked with meat and veggies. They also mix potatoes, a bit of honey, and Mediterranean herbs into the pot just to bring out that unique and exotic flavour.
Declared as Croatia’s intangible cultural heritage by the Croatian Ministry of Culture, Soparnik should be on every traveller’s food bucket list. It’s a simple recipe and yet loved by so many locals. Soparnik is made up of dough that sandwiches chard, onions, and parsley. Think of it as a lighter or healthier version of an Italian pizza. It’s served as a whole pie then served in slices. The best thing about this for Filipinos? You can easily make the slices your baon and put them in a tupperware for when you tour the city.
Speaking of baon, Croatia’s Arancini can also serve as packed snacks or better yet, a souvenir to bring home to your family. Arancini are basically candied orange peel, and considered to be traditional sweets in Croatia. The process of making them is pretty simple. Collect clean orange peels, soak them in water for six days, take them out then put them in boiling water, add sugar, then take them out again and roll them in crystal sugar. Leave them to dry for several days. Voila! You have yourself some tasty Arancini.
Also read: 10 Must-Try Local Dishes In Europe
Places to visit
Once you land in Zagreb, you’re already at the heart of Croatia. As its capital, Zagreb is Croatia’s largest city, with 30 attractive parks, spacious pedestrian zones, and numerous cafes you can relax in to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Zagreb is also considered a safe city that has managed to stay romantic thanks to its mix of modern and historical attractions.
The architecture of the churches and towers in their Upper Town, in particular, will take you back to medieval times as you walk on cobblestone streets. On the other hand, walking in their Lower Town will show you a mix of neo-baroque and art deco buildings. Truly a city meant to be experienced on foot!
If the Philippines was called The Pearl of the Orient by our national hero, Europe considers Dubrovnik as the Pearl of the Adriatic. Not only is Dubrovnik the “King’s Landing” we know from Game of Thrones, but you could say that it has a VIP access and view of the Adriatic Sea, as it’s a port city.
Dubrovnik was established in the 7th Century. It’s amazing how they manage to maintain the gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance architecture of the city to this day. You can see this in the cleanliness of the cobblestone street, defensive walls, and palaces. Walking around Dubrovnik’s Old Town, which is one of the cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and getting a panoramic view of the orange roofs against the blue sky are a must!
Like Dubrovnik, Split is a port city, and the second largest city in Croatia. Split was established by the Romans in the 4th century, and of course, Emperor Diocletian took advantage of this and built a retirement palace in the city. The Diocletian Palace remains to be the main tourist attraction in Split.
But instead of picturing a typical castle, imagine a walled town that has preserved Roman ruins, medieval churches, with a mix of modern shops, bars, and branded boutiques. All of which you’ll find in the Diocletian Palace! Although it’s preserved, it’s still a perfect avenue for the modern day tourist. You can also chill out and people-watch in Riva, their harbourside promenade, or sunbathe and swim at Split’s beaches.
If you want to experience one of Croatia’s biggest and most beautiful towns that can take you back to the days of yore, visit Hvar Town in Hvar. This town features 13th century walls, old fortresses, gothic palaces, and the 17th century Arsenal. While it’s famous for its preserved establishments, the town is also known for its vineyards and lavender fields. Croatia is known to be one of the largest producers of lavender, so if I were you, I would invest in buying lavender oil, soap, and other lavender products in Hvar.
This city also has boats and yachts you can rent to visit neighbouring islands if you want to hit the beach and go for a swim in more secluded areas. Young travellers at heart will enjoy the night scene as Hvar transforms into a party place in the evening.
Zadar is one of quieter cities in Croatia. It may not be as crowded like Dubrovnik or Hvar, but it has its share of natural beauty and rich history. This is the perfect place to have peaceful and undisturbed walks on the street and be one with nature. Zadar has three national parks, Paklenica, Plitvice Lakes, and Krka. These three are found between the Adriatic Sea and the Velebit Mountains where you can hike, rock-climb, and swim in the waterfalls. From Zadar, you can also sail your way to one of Croatia’s best beaches, Saharun. Saharun has white sand and turquoise water. It’ll remind you a little bit of home!
The best way of getting around Croatia is by renting a car. You’ll find the roads are well-built and in great condition. It will only take an average of three hours to get from one city to another, plus you’ll be rewarded with great landscapes and sceneries. One reliable Croatian car rental company you can refer to is Sixt.
On the other hand, a more practical way to get from city to city is by using the bus. It’s affordable enough and not as expensive as rental cars. The bus stations in Croatia are often found at the centre of the town or in walking distance to the centre. Arriva is a user-friendly website to book Croatia bus tickets online.
When to visit and cost
To maximise your trip to Croatia, I would recommend to visit it in the summertime from July to August, their High Season. Although this may be the most expensive time in Croatia, it’s when you can tour around without getting cold, and when you can enjoy Croatia’s beaches to the fullest. If you’re travelling on a tight budget, the best time to visit is June or September, their Shoulder Season, when prices drop down.
For a one-week holiday in their High Season, accommodations in apartment rentals can go as high as €490. Whereas in their Shoulder Season, apartment rentals can only cost up to €350. When it comes to food expenses, you can still limit your budget to €5-8 per meal. This can already include an appetiser, main course and a side meal. Your overall budget will still depend on your preferences and interests. Make sure to plan ahead!
There’s no doubt that Croatia is one of the best European countries to invest in for a vacation. It’s rich in history, culture, and natural wonders that are so different and far from our own. Even after your trip, you’ll be reminiscing about the cultural enrichment and eye-opening experience of the places that you didn’t think were worth exploring in the first place. So how about it? Maybe it’s time to download Croatia’s visa application form.