Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park plitvička jezera) is Croatia’s largest national park and also it’s biggest natural attraction. Added in 1979 to UNESCO’s World Heritage register, it is situated in mountainous central Croatia, boasting sixteen lakes, cascading down via a sequence of waterfalls and cataracts, swallowed by 8km of densely forested hills.
The dreamy hinterland has was created by nature, painstakingly depositing calcium rich material, over a few millennia, forming barrier-dams (much like the dykes of Netherlands) that collect the water into lakes.
These giant puddles of emerald are home to fish and watersnakes, whilst the woods host a menagerie of birds like the Eurasian eagle-owl, bears, deers, wolves and wild boars.
Admission fees range anywhere from 90HKR (Croatian Kuna) to 280HKR per day depending on season. There are options to buy 3 days package admission at cheaper rates.
Plitvice Park has a circuit of man made trails of varying difficulties. Some trails cover parts of the park, upper or lower and then there are the full blown trials which cover both. Trails range anywhere from 1-2hours to full blown 8-12hours. Trail maps can be obtained at admission stands, but also clearly marked on details sign boards all over the park. More trail information here.
Plitvice in Summer
I was leaving Zagreb on the tail end of summer 2011 headed for the coastal town of Zadar and noticed that the buses plying this route all passed Plitvice. Hearing rave reviews about the national park I slated a day trip in without hesitation.
Obtaining bus tickets was straightforward enough. Zagreb’s main bust terminal was straightforward and efficient. A ticket from Zagreb to Plitvice was 90HKR and would take just a hair over 2hours.
As there’s only small villages and a few hotels in the vicinity of Plitvice I didn’t want to worry about ATMs or money changers, I set aside some extra currency for the bus ride out of Plitvice to the coast and also admission fees.
Upon boarding I told the bus driver whereabouts Plitvice I wanted to alight (there are a few bus stops along the stretch of the national park and I wanted to get off nearest Entrance 1) and settled into my seat with a book. It was a comfortable 2 hour ride and before long I had disembarked with my pack and was at entrance one admissions. The staff at the counter was friendly enough, recommending a locker for my pack. They were expecting backpackers I guessed, as the wooden containers could have easily fit two of my backpacks.
Armed with a map I managed to nick off some patrons that were leaving the premises, I headed into the park. I had time on my hands so I opted for the full trail which covered the upper lakes as well as the lower. The estimated walking time on the map indicated upwards of 6 hours.
The paths were paved flat for a comfortable walk. And in some places the paths broke into boarded walkways that took your right over the lakes, bringing you right up close to the cascading waters.
Looking into the turquoise pools is mesmerizing. In the summer heat it is tempting to dive into the clear waters lest for the signboards reminding you that swimming is strictly prohibited anywhere in the park.
There are free buses and boats that cut travelling time on the trails. Many opting to be ferried across the river rather that walking around to cut their trail times shorter.
Near where the boat docks there is an open field with wooden tables and benches where you can have your meals. Food is also sold there, though limited in options and expectedly pricier, it is still a nice experience having a picnic amongst such eye catching backdrop.
The trails culminate at Croatia’s tallest waterfall. There is a trail that takes you to the top of the waterfall.
Plitvice in Winter
A few months later I happened past Plitvice again. This time it was enroute from Slovenia down through Croatia towards Montenegro with my brother. It was the beginning weeks of Winter and green leaves and turquoise lakes had turned to the white of ice.
Gone were my shorts and flipflops. The weather was just under freezing and decked out coldwear and army boots we explored the winter wonderland.
All about water flowed over frozen ice, crystalizing over vegetation, forming alien shaped oddities. Harsh and beautiful. The human crowds were gone and we bumped into only one other group on the trails. The boats and buses weren’t running too, and where there was a field for diners now the huts were shuttered up.
I must say I appreciated the solace of winter. It put the tranquility back into an already tranquil park. No more hustling past groups of guided tour for that photo opportunity. We had all the time in the world for a selfie in front of the iconic waterfall, half ice, half falling water.
It was nightfall by the time we left (sun setting early in winter). We waited by the bus stop and watched the last bus rushed by without stopping (it was full). With a look of resignation we gathered up our packs.
Flashlight in hand we trekked to the nearby village and went house to house knocking on doors, hoping to find a guesthouse or at least a nice family who would let us stay for the night. Smoking chimneys gave us hope and it wasn’t long before we found a family who let us into their warm homes (and even hotter showers).