Croatian Road Trip Part 3: Getting the Drug Mule Treatment Crossing Borders and Enjoying Relatively Empty Croatian Cities

Note: This post is the third and final installment of a multi-part series about a small road trip through Croatia before boarding my chartered catamaran for a week. In this chapter, we visit Split, cross borders to Bosnia and Montenegro, and enjoy the beautiful town of Dubrovnik almost to ourselves.

In my last post we I told you about my time in a few of Karl May’s movie sets and how the nerd in me was elated from the experience. And we left off just after having spent two nights in my friends Andrea’s catamaran and visiting the Island of Capri.

Last night on the boat, we went to bed relatively early. The next morning we sailed back to Sibenik pretty early. After retrieving our car, we picked up Josh and began to make our way to Split. There, we had another appointment to check out a potential buy at the marina.

We spent about 1.5 hours inspecting the boat, looking at every single detail, and learning a lot about the process of shopping for a boat.

After the marina, we all went to have some lunch and check out a little bit of Split.


Split is a city in Central Dalmatia, a little ways south of Šibenik. The town was initially built around the Diocletian palace (a palace/fort built for the retired Roman emperor Diocletian), where locals sought refuge many centuries back.

Even though it may initially appear as though the city is a small tourist town, that is actually not the case. The city lines extend over a large area well beyond the ancient core.

Split is the economic hub of the eastern Adriatic shoreline and the unofficial “capital” of Dalmatia. Pretty much every sailing trip through Adriatic waters will harbor at some point in Split.

After lunch, we had a quick wander through its historic center, seeing the very Roman squares, temples, and fortification walls. We made a stop at the Diocletian palace, it’s quite imposing, and I definitely recommend the visit while you’re in Split.

Hello Split!

Following our little tour of the center, my brother and I were to continue south to Dubrovnik while Josh was supposed to go back to Šibenik. However, on this particular day, there was a holiday in Croatia, and buses were not running. I gave Josh some cash to take a cab back to Šibenik, and we hit the road towards the border with Bosnia.

Mimice Hrvatska 🇭🇷

We took the coastal road, which was a longer trip, but it was a breathtaking landscape, so well worth it. We marveled over the beautiful views of the high Biokovo mountains and the Makarska Riviera, which is a part of the Adriatic coast, about 40 miles long.

Makarska Riviera – Really stunning coast line

Honestly, one of the best coastal drives, and it goes all the way from Split to the border with Bosnia. We made plenty of stops and took plenty of pictures of the crystalline waters of the Adriatic on one side, the stunning mountains on the other, and the lovely little picturesque town of Makarska in between.

We took about 2.5 hours on this drive before finally making it to the Croatia-Bosnia border.

Basically, you have to cross the border to Bosnia if you want to continue to the southernmost part of Croatia. There is no land at the moment that keeps all of Croatia connected. Croatia is currently building a bridge that connects the mainland to the islands, in order to avoid having to cross the border.

But at the moment, if you’re on the mainland, you have to go through about 6 miles of Bosnia to get to the next part of Croatia. While in Bosnia we drove through the town of Neum.

Hello Bosnia. Quite fun leaving the EU and entering back again after 10 minutes.
Well, we got a thorough 45min search of all our possessions involving dogs for narcotics upon reentry and repeatedly asked if having drugs with us- Probably we were the first foreigners in a while

It is actually a pretty particular situation, and to understand the reason behind these odd border delineations; we should look at the history fo these countries first.

For those who don’t know: Croatia is divided by a 10km coastal strip belonging to Bosnia.
That’s the main reason Croatia is not Schengen yet as this would complicate things even more.

Why does Croatia surround Bosnia

Anyone who has been lucky enough to experience the Adriatic Sea, can attest to it’s the beauty of its stunning coastlines, which are shared between Italy, Slovenia, and the Balkan nations.

Croatia has one of the longest coastlines in the Mediterranean. It spans over 3,600 miles. In contrast, the neighboring nations of Slovenia and Bosnia have almost no coastline whatsoever. Slovenia’s coast, located north of Croatia, covers an area of 29 miles, while Bosnia’s coastline spans for only 12 miles.

For the most part, Bosnia and Slovenia’s respective coastlines can be accredited to an unfortunate history and a lack of fixed borders. It is no news that throughout history, the boundaries of the Balkan nations have changed considerably.

Bosnia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire between 1463 and 1878, which had a significant impact on the nation’s culture and architecture. During the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire made advances into Croatia, until the Battle of Sisak, which is known as the first defeat of the Ottoman.

It is worth noting at this point that western Bosnia was also part of Croatia during this time, but was subsequently lost to the Ottoman Empire during the Great Turkish War (1667-1698). Regardless of this fact, Croatia was able to regain its northernmost region of Slavonia eventually.

Neum, Quite an experience taking this Route in Covid1984 times – but at least no waiting time 😉

Moreover, Bosnia did obtain a small portion of the dominantly Croatian coastline – which is held today by the town of Neum.

This resulted in the Republic of Dubrovnik (which was known as Ragusa), sharing an unfavorable border with Venice. A small section of land was subsequently sold to the Ottomans to protect Dubrovnik, and, to this day, it remains the only section of the Bosnian coastline.

Slovenia’s lack of coastline can be accounted for by the region of Istria, which exchanged hands between the Venetian Empire, Napoleon, and the Austrian Empire before becoming part of Yugoslavia.

In fact, the main reasoning behind all of Croatia’s borders can be accounted for by Yugoslavia, which was split into republics based on historical borders, even before its definite breakup in 1991.

These borders were never guarded before 2013 when Croatia joined the European Union. Because it’s a non-Schengen country, they have border controls for Croatia. If Croatia becomes Schengen (what they plan to do), they would also need Bosnian controls, which would further complicate things. That’s why they build the bridge.

Today border controls are stricter than ever before. We were actually lucky to get into Bosnia pretty easily. We drove through Neum and made some beautiful pictures of the town before arriving at the entry border to Croatia.

Trying to get back into Croatia was a big problem. They were convinced we were smuggling drugs, and they thoroughly searched all of our belongings and the car – they even brought out dogs! They didn’t find anything, obviously, but they kept badgering us, asking the same questions; if we had drugs or if we used drugs… but in the end, we had done nothing wrong, so they had no other choice but to let us go.

You should know that I always get a little nervous in these situations, and my voice can tremble a little. It happens with customs officers in the U.S. and other countries that are known for harsh immigration policies. It really doesn’t help because officers notice that I’m nervous, and it makes them think I am hiding something, which makes the entire situation so much worse.

In the end, this was just another exciting story to tell, and thankfully everything worked out just fine.

So after they let us go, we repacked all our stuff and continued on our way. At this point, it was already getting dark, so we just drove another 45 minutes straight to Dubrovnik.

It was already getting dark, so we drove the next 45 min to Dubrovnik with no stops. In Dubrovnik, we went straight to our hotel and checked in. We had booked our stay at the Hilton Imperial – a newly renovated property by the Hilton Hotels.

At the moment, there is a big parking problem happening in Croatian towns. You see, because most of the tourists that come to these towns are foreigners (namely the U.S., Australians, and Brits), they usually fly into each city.

Now, because of COVID, it is mostly national tourists, or people coming from Germany and Austria to visit these towns. Because many of the airports are still closed, everyone is coming into the country by car. These old cities don’t really have the infrastructure to support this, and it’s creating a big mess.

Luckily the Hilton had a parking lot with plenty of space. They even have an ultra elevator; basically, you drive into the elevator with your car, and the elevator goes down, taking you and your vehicle into the subterranean parking lot. Then you drive off the elevator and continue to search for your spot. I had never been to one of these elevators, so that was awesome.

Our check-in was finished pretty late, and it was around 10 pm by the time we left our room to explore the tow.


At the edge of the Adriatic and cute as can be, Dubrovnik never fails to impress. It is an old city on the Adriatic Sea coast in the extreme south of the country. It is one of the most prominent tourist hotspots of the Mediterranean, a seaport, and it is nicknamed “Pearl of the Adriatic,” having been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

First evening in Ragusa

We were eager to explore, so directly after check-in, we ventured out to try and find some food. Typically, this is not an issue in Dubrovnik, but this time around, most restaurants were closed.

So we went for a walk through the central part of the old town and fortunately, found a beautiful place that was open with outdoor seating.

Dubrovnik – old town – Visiting Dubrovnik without the tourist hordes – an opportunity we did not want to miss. Yet it still is fairly busy, not a problem ordering dinner in the old town at 10.30pm 🙂

We enjoyed a delicious Croatian dinner and sat there until almost midnight, having some drinks and chatting the night away.

Even though a lot of the bars and restaurants were closed, there was still quite a bit of activity going on. A few open bars with not many people, but you could tell that life is definitely starting to pick back up. Either way, I really enjoyed seeing Dubrovnik without so many tourists.

The next day we had a full day in Dubrovnik, and we spent it immersed in the charms of the Old Town. We walked all along the city walls, something that is actually pretty cheap at the moment thanks to COVID. I heard that last year it was around 20 euros to do this, and this time around it was about 6 euros.

Dubrovnik – Old Town – Impressions from our wall walk around Old Dubrovnik

Hilton Imperial DBK – Good morning.

We started our walk of the walls near the harbor and went up to the very top, to where the big tower stands. From there, we savored the dazzling views of the town, the port, and the sea. After taking some pictures, we went down on the other side, along the part of the wall that borders the sea.

It was a really long walk, and we took a lot of photos. Dubrovnik is a gorgeous town, and I really liked it – Definitely not so lovely when it’s jam-packed with tourists, but visiting like this was great.

DBK – old town – Did you know that Dubrovnik had the first massive quarantine in the world? (1377) – Yet now it is muzzle free already.

I mean, there were some other tourists on the wall but not a noticeable amount, we were still able to take plenty of pictures in the most beautiful locations without any humans in the background.

After walking the wall, we explored some more of the old town, making stops at the Rector’s and Sponza Palaces, we poked inside the world’s third oldest pharmacy at the Franciscan Monastery. At some point, we grabbed some snacks and went back to the hotel to grab our car.

DBK old town – Definitely one of my favorite towns around the world

We drove to the southernmost point of Croatia, at the border with Montenegro. After seamlessly driving through the border post of Croatia to Montenegro, we went on for about half a mile and quickly branched off the main highway.

A scenic border. This time to Montenegro

We had a 5-minute drive to this peninsula with beautiful views of the entrance to Montenegro. Stunning sights of Kotor Bay, with high mountains lining the empty beach. There wasn’t really much going on here.

Ostra – Entrance to Montenegro with its town Herceg Novi from the southernmost point of Croatia

Eventually, we arrived at an army post where there is this vast Croatian castle that has been abandoned. It is currently being renovated, and there is no access to it. So, we just took a picture of Kotor Bay and then drove back to Dubrovnik, making a stop in Cavtat town.

This is located just southeast of Dubrovnik, and you can actually see Dubrovnik from the harbor. This charming coastal town is super touristy, and it’s known for its pebble beaches (which we walked, and it wasn’t so nice), and the many ancient Illyrian necropolises dotted around the area.

The sea in this harbor was a bit rough, there was a big swell coming in, and the boats in the harbor were whipping around pretty wildly, it was pretty exciting to see – but I took a mental note that it is not a good place to anchor. We finished our walk by getting some ice cream and then returning to our car to drive back to Dubrovnik.

To top off a very productive sightseeing day, we drove to Srđ mountain, this hill above Dubrovnik, which is usually accessed by a cable cart. Still, again, because of COVID, the carriage wasn’t in operation.

Srdj Hill Dubrovnik – Pearl of the Adriatic ❤️🇭🇷

So we decided to just drive up the hill through a really narrow, one-way street. We were lucky that there wasn’t much activity in the area, which made the drive smooth. Typically, you can’t drive up, you can only access the viewpoint by cable cart, but because it was so empty, we got away with it.

I went to the very top and were swooned by the view of the city and beyond. After a few minutes of sightseeing, we took the car back to the hotel. From there, I took some consulting calls, and around sunset, we went back to the town.

The area has these cafes/bars all along the wall. Some spots are usually tough to find even during broad daylight, so you can imagine that it’s a much harder task at night time. Thankfully, we were pretty much the only tourists around, so we were able to make our way to a fantastic spot pretty quickly.

At this bar, it was my brother and I and two other couples enjoying the sun setting behind the city walls. It was nice being right by the sea and enjoying some delectable wine. After the sun went down, we went for dinner and cocktails at a restaurant that we wanted to try the night before, but it was closed.

Mala Buža Caffe Bar – a quiet sunset

This time we got there just in time and got some excellent beef tartar and other delicious food. After, we took some time to appreciate the night activities in the city. There were lots of kids running around the streets and again, not too many foreign tourists. In fact, the most common language I heard was German.

A cake of raw meat (and some extra Dalmatian ham and cheese) with a greatly mixed Appleton Estate Old Fashioned – and my Friday is (almost) complete 🙂

The people on the streets were mostly our compatriots, Austrians, and lots of Croats: no Americas or non-EU tourists to be seen.

DBK old town – Social distancing works. Dance floor is open.

The next day we drove back to Šibenik – this time, we had no issues at the border. We were planning to drive up the very scenic road up the Mali Kozjak mountains, to see the Alpine summit with sweeping bay views. Sadly, we didn’t have time because we had to give back the car and begin to set sail with the catamaran I had chartered.

The drive back to Šibenik was quick and safe; we went all along the expressway, which is a much more swift drive. This road was still quite scenic, thanks to the mountains that were all around us.

In Šibenik, we returned the car and shortly after boarded our catamaran and began to set sail towards the Krka waterfalls… but that’s a story for another post.

Marina Mandalina – Our home for the next week (and maybe longer). Setting sail to the Krka waterfalls shortly 🙂