Croatia or Cyprus? That’s a tricky one. This is a decision between two of the most enticing destinations in the Mediterranean Sea. Both reign as R&R meccas thanks to their picture-perfect beaches and resort towns, their sparkling seas and charming hotels on the coast. But they also have their differences.
Yep, Croatia is a long, thin nation that strings along the whole western edge of the Balkan Peninsula. As it goes, it runs through enticing island chains in Dalmatia, olive-oil hubs in Istria, and rugged highlands in the Dinaric Alps. Then there’s Cyprus, a diamond-shaped island that’s carved into Turkish and Cypriot halves, offering ancient relics and turtle-crawling sands beneath wild cedar forests.
This guide will help you pick the one that’s right for you and your travel crew by offering insights into everything from the quality of the beaches to the character of the nightlife in both places. We’ll also take a look at some travel practicalities, like how to go about getting to both countries and what you can expect to spend once you’re there.
Table of Contents
Croatia or Cyprus for ease of travel?
You shouldn’t find it too hard to get to either Cyprus or Croatia, especially not during the peak summer months, which is when the vast majority of visitors do their traveling to both.
There are really two main arrival points in Cyprus: Larnaca International Airport and Paphos International Airport. The former is the larger of the two (something like seven million passengers pass through each year). It’s got seasonal connections from loads of European hubs, from London to Frankfurt, along with short-haul links to Greece and others. It’s also possible to get boats from some nearby Greek islands, though they are pricy and rare.
Overall, we’d say Croatia wins out here because it’s got three or four airports, although none are quite as large as Larnaca. If you’re heading to the Croatian coast, then think about jetting into Split. It’s the gateway to the Dalmatian Islands and the riviera and now has plenty of low-cost services coming in from Northern Europe. Zagreb is another option, but it’s a couple of hours’ transfer inland, so better for city breaks or visiting the Croatian mountains. There’s also a good array of cross-Adriatic ferries linking towns like Split and Dubrovnik with Italy if you prefer to travel by sea.
Croatia or Cyprus for beaches?
We’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that beaches are one of the main things on your mind – they’re arguably the top draw in both Cyprus and Croatia, after all. So, where has the best?
Cyprus is a doozy of a beach destination. It’s got a versatile array of sands that suit pretty much all sorts of travelers. Take Makronissos Beach. It’s powdery, wide, spacious, topped by sunbeds, and has well-protected swimming spots for families. Then there’s Blue Flag Coral Bay, a land hemmed in by lux beach hotels. Out east are the Caribbean-esque sandbars of Fig Tree Bay and Ayia Napa. Up north, you get wilder sands and cliff-ringed swimming coves like Manolis Bay and Latsi.
Croatia probably wins here, though. The reason? It’s got 3,800 miles of coastline to Cyprus’s 400 miles! Yep, that’s 3,800 miles of beach-heavy territory to get through. You can visit for 10 weeks and never hit the same stretch of sand twice if you don’t want to. Talking of sand…Croatia is actually more famous for its pebble coves than its long sands. But there are some softer strands, though, like at Sakarun Beach or Zlatni Rat on Brac. The best way to see the lot has to be by boat. Charter yours and you can hit cove after cove and find places with no other soul in sight!
Croatia or Cyprus for food?
Croatia is a curious culinary destination. The location on the side of the Balkan Peninsula means it’s long been influenced by both Italy and the Slavic states to the north, but also Greece to the south. The result is a cuisine that fuses hearty country dishes with fresh seafood. Go north to sample the truffle-topped pastas of Istria. Head south to taste fresh red snapper doused in Dalmatian lemon juice. Or visit Zagreb – the capital – where you get all manner of edgy international menus, from Indian to Argentine.
Cyprus wins out on the food front, though. Heavily influenced by the wonderful national kitchens of both Greece and Turkey, this is a land of sprawling mezze platters and crisp white wines. Settle in a taverna by the shore and you can order up a smorgasbord of souvlakia (meat kebabs), deep-fried artichokes in olive oil, stifado (lamb or rabbit casserole), and a range of chickpea and tahini dips. Oh, and this is the home of haloumi cheese. Fry it, bake it – it’s wonderful whatever you do.
Croatia or Cyprus for nightlife?
You can seek out some downright hedonistic places in both these countries. Split and Zagreb are the two main hubs in Croatia. The first raves all summer with EDM parties like Ultra Europe. The latter is driven by it’s huge, 80,000+ student population, who fill big trance clubs and small beer halls alike in the term time. Then there’s Zrce Festival Beach, a remote bay that’s home to uber-famous electronica clubs. Oh, and there’s Hvar Town, a marina with more cool beach clubs and champagne bars than you could want for in a week’s trip.
Cyprus keeps its partying to one corner of the island. Cue Ayia Napa. Up there with Ibiza as one of Europe’s major summertime dance destinations, it’s a stomping ground for world-famous DJs and deep house acts. They fill out sprawling venues like The Castle Club and XO Club from May to September, offering all-night shindigs that last until sunup. There are also smaller nightlife scenes over in Paphos and Nicosia.
Winner: Draw – both places offer fantastic nightlife destinations.
Croatia or Cyprus for cost of travel?
The good news is that both Cyprus and Croatia are okay for travelers on a budget. They can offer sand, sun, and sea for just a fraction of what it costs on, say, the French Riviera or Mykonos over in Greece. Overall, we’d say that Croatia is a touch cheaper. We’d estimate a daily budget of about $70-80 a day there, about 50% of which would be spent on accommodation with the rest covering food and transport and activities.
Over in Cyprus, we think a budget of about $80-90 is more appropriate. That’s largely because the island is more tailored to tourists – especially the built-up west coast and the party mecca of Ayia Napa. You can pay less for accommodation here by heading to the north coast or the mountains, where hotels tend to be less fancy overall. Oh, and there’s plenty to be saved by traveling in the shoulder season months either side of the summer, but that applies to Croatia, too.
Winner: Croatia is just a touch cheaper than Cyprus overall.
Croatia or Cyprus for things to do?
Draw numero uno in Croatia has to be the coast. From Istria in the north to Dubrovnik in the south, it’s a medley of seriously jaw-dropping beaches and coves. We’d say it hits a zenith at the Dalmatian Islands south of Split and in the Makarska Riviera. Sailing, snorkeling, beach lazing – all the usual coastal activities are on the menu. Away from those and you get the rich history of cities like Dubrovnik and Pula, where you can walk 12th-century castle walls and wonder at Roman-era theatres. There are also mountain ranges to hike, waterfalls to swim in, and glistening lakes to witness.
Cyprus also puts its beaches front and center. Snorkeling and diving between Coral Bay and the Akamas Peninsula means encounters with sea turtles and visions of secret beaches that you can only get to by boat or on hiking paths. Closer to towns like Limassol, the sands are more resort-like and developed; better for families. There’s history, too – check out the UNESCO Tombs of the Kings in Paphos and the rich Roman ruins of Kourion. Finally, the Troodos Mountains are an altogether different sort of playground for hikers and even skiers (more on those below).
Winner: Draw – there’s no shortage of activities in either place.
Croatia or Cyprus for nature?
The wild and rugged Dinaric Alps form the whole backbone of Croatia, running from the border with Slovenia in the north all the way to the border with Albania in the south. As they go, they offer endless hiking paths and natural wonders – check out the trail up the Biokovo Mountain, which takes you onto exposed limestone ridges above the beaches of Makarska, or the amazing hike through the Plitvice Lakes National Park, past turquoise bodies of water surrounded by canyons. You also get oodles of islands to explore, replete with coastal lagoons and grottoes that are just asking to be visited by yacht or sea kayak.
The Troodos Mountains are the great escape of Cyprus. They whisk you away to a land 1,900 meters above sea level at its highest point. That’s Mount Olympus, a bulky peak that gets covered in snow in the winter months and even has its own ski runs! The Troodos are home to many a fantastic hiking path, like the Caledonia Waterfalls Hike and the amazing Teichia tis Madaris Trail. The Akamas Peninsila is an alternative, with walking routes that can take you to Aphrodite’s Baths (natural plunge pools in the woods) and lonely beaches that host sea turtle nests.
Winner: Probably Croatia.
Croatia or Cyprus? Our conclusion
You won’t be disappointed with either of these places. There are oodles of reasons why both Croatia and Cyprus are up there with the most coveted destinations in the eastern half of the Mediterranean. Both have stunning beaches and top-notch climates, along with affordable coast hotels. Overall, we’d say Croatia just about tips it here, mainly because it’s a little cheaper and more varied, coming with islets, pebble coves, yachting towns, and soaring Dinaric mountains for the hikers.