Q I'd like to travel to Croatia but heard that Dubrovnik is getting touristy. Are there other Dalmatian coast cities you'd recommend? Also, do passenger boats run between Italy and Croatia?
A As far as European vacations go, Croatia is quickly climbing the ranks. The Croatian National Tourist Office said this year 9 to 10 million people will have visited the former Yugoslavian state, more than twice as many as its population. In addition, the cruise port town of Dubrovnik is the top place to visit among travelers in Croatia. "Ninety percent of people visiting Croatia go to Dubrovnik," said Nena Komarica, general manager of the tourism office's North American branch. "It's very touristy."
But don't be scared off. The walled city is considered the "Pearl of the Adriatic," and its forts, palaces, museums and exquisite settings can all be toured by foot. In addition, the Elafiti islands are an easy hop from Dubrovnik, and crowds are rare on the three inhabited islands (bonus: no cars on Lopud).
No matter where you go along the coast, though, you'll bump into tourists, especially if you travel during high season (mid-June to August). But some cities have fewer visitors than Dubrovnik. Komarica recommends Split, Trogir and Zadar, as well as continental Croatia. The country also has more than 1,000 islands, as well as eight national parks. Kornati even mixes the two -- it's a national park on an archipelago.
For a less-treaded region, travel north and inland, toward Hungary. This area, says Komarica, "is not as widely known as the coastline." Another option is Istria, across the sea from Venice and the largest peninsula in the Adriatic. There, you will find Pula, known for its Roman coliseum, and Rovinj, whose old stone houses are being converted into boutique hotels.
From Italy, a hydrofoil runs from Venice to Pula, Porec, Umag and Rovinj during the summer, and ferries go year-round from Bari to Dubrovnik and Ancona to Zadar and to Split. Info: Croatian National Tourist Office, 800-829-4416, http://us.croatia.hr.
I have a son with the Peace Corps in Niger. I'd like to visit him with a friend, so we will be two women traveling alone. Do you have suggestions about safety, transportation, tours and how much we can cover in two weeks?
Regardless of the destination, women should always follow the same safety guidelines -- avoid underpopulated, dark areas, don't take rides from strangers, etc. -- though some places may require more vigilance than others. In Niger, for example, women should dress more formally in the tribal villages than in the capital, trading their shorts for skirts and covering up bare skin. But overall, the West African country is safe for two women traveling together. "Niger is one of the countries we rarely have issues with," says Barbara Daly, a Peace Corps spokeswoman, adding, "We have 131 volunteers in Niger, and the majority are women."
Before you go traipsing around the capital of Niamey, though, Evelyn Hannon, editor of Journeywoman.com, the online travel resource for women, offers some safety tips.
* Dress appropriately, per their culture and religion. (Niger is 80 percent Muslim.)
* Only take transportation and tours that are accredited or recommended by a respected source. Ditto for your accommodations. Also, reserve your hotel in advance, so you are not foraging for lodging after dark.
* When registering at the hotel, make sure the staff does not call out your room number or name.
* Before heading off on a tour, leave the tour company name and contact info with the front desk, and let it know your estimated return time.
* Do not tell any strangers where you are staying. If you plan to rendezvous with a new acquaintance, meet at a popular gathering spot near your hotel, not in your hotel.
Journeywoman (www.journeywoman.com) also has a sister site at www.hermail.net, where women can e-mail other women who live at specific destinations or have recently visited there and can answer questions.
During your time there, Masaba Baop, of the embassy's visa department, says, "It's impossible to see the whole country in two weeks." Instead, she recommends visiting the capital, then taking side trips to nearby attractions, such as Agadez, where the Touareg tribe lives and makes colorful clothing and jewelry; the desert oasis of Bilma; and the W National Park, home of hippos, elephants and warthogs. Baop also warns visitors to take taxis or rent a car and avoid the crowded public buses. For more information: Embassy of Niger, 202-483-4224, www.nigerembassy usa.org.
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