So you have planned your visit to Croatia and know you want to stop by some cities and the islands, obviously. What else shouldn’t you miss as you journey along the Dalmatian coastline? Well, Plitvice Lakes National Park for one.
Plitvice Lakes is an almost 300sq km forest park in Croatia. Enjoying its own microclimate and UNESCO heritage site protected status this national park should be top of your must-see list when visiting. The beauty is staggering and no matter where your gaze falls there is yet another body of water to admire. I chose a day trip with Viator from Zadar to explore the falls but if you have the time and the inclination you can stroll about these expansive trails yourself. I had neither so this worked out well for me.
I opted for a tour that I booked online with Viator and the price seems a tad much if you ask me. That didn’t include the extra €34 (250kn) entry fee to the lakes in peak summer season which is steep and while our guide was helpful and informative I think the almost €100 all in (transport, guide, breakfast) price tag was on the high side. I suppose you really do pay for the convenience of door to door service. If you can time your visit outside of the peak July and August season the price of the entry fee reduces considerably to 150kn from April – June and September-October (about €20) and 55kn (€7.50) from January to March and November – December. There are public buses that go from Zagreb, Zadar and Split for a fraction of the cost I paid but for convenience sake be aware that many peak season tours will cost you.
Don’t let cooler or wet weather put you off. In fact, those are possibly the better days to organise a visit. I went on a rainy day and I think the inclement weather put many of the crowds off. There were parts of our walk around the park that had no other visitors on the route at all. I have heard about and seen photos of visits on hot, sunny days and it really looks like you are in line for a theme park ride, shuffling along behind crowds of other tourists in the searing heat. I saw on the Plitvice Lakes official website that they are cutting down the times visitors can go to limit the numbers inside the park at one time. You may want to be aware that you could be shuffling along on a line should you choose to visit during peak season. Check out the photos available on the Plitvice Lakes National Park official website of the falls in Winter. Utterly stunning, rain or shine.
The colours of the lakes sparkle in the sunshine, glisten in the rain and are none the less beautiful in the winter. My rainy photos are above but check out these photos below from the official park website in winter. I mean…..
There are no handrails along the wooden walkways. Beneath your feet run waterfalls, cold, freshwater streams, deep pools of crystal clear water and all the while there are no handrails. At first, I delighted in it. The lack of rails must deter people from hanging out in one spot for ages when there is nothing to lean against and so photos are a snap and go affair, for the most part. I felt that it made you more aware of your surroundings because you could fall into the water if you weren’t paying attention. There is room to pass and plenty of it, of course, but since the complacency and temptation to lean against rails is removed from the equation you are kept on your toes when walking around!
Keep a map of the park with you just in case. Straying from the path is obviously not recommended but the many, wild occupants of the park will be unlikely to bother you as you meander along the wooden paths. There are wolves, bear, wild boar and lynx roaming about just so you know. Not that I saw ANY!
What to Expect
Once you enter the park (there are a couple of entrances) you can get a jolly trolley kind of train to the lake or walk down the path. We went in at Entrance 2 as there were fewer crowds. The small boat across the lake takes a few minutes and leads you to the upper lakes and falls. This cost is included in your entry ticket. The same ferry point will take you further along the lake to another landing point from which you can explore the lower lakes. I was there in the morning and would strongly suggest getting there before 10am if you can. The park opens from 7am to 8pm and there are accommodation options in the National Park itself. There are signposted parking areas if you self-drive, as well as designated coach parking and the entrances are close by the parking areas. There was a gift shop when we emerged from the lower lakes and there are places to eat inside the National Park also. But be aware that there can be queues and it might be wiser to bring your own snacks. I waiting in line for 25 mins for a take way tea. It was a little ridic but I was cold so needs must. Wear comfy walking shoes. It’s not smart to wear flip-flops as the wooden pathways can be wet and slippy as well as crowded in the summer heat so it’s something to be aware of.
You can make the walk around as easy or as hard as you’d like. There is a map of the lake walkways and they are labelled according to the length of time it takes to walk the route. There are about eight different walking/ hiking routes from two and a half to around eight hours duration. The routes are labelled as trails A, B, C, E, F, H K and range in length from 3 km to 18 km. Most of the routes pass by Veliki Slap (Great Waterfall) and Sastavci in Lower Lakes, and some include a boat trip across the lake.
Dogs can be brought into the park but obviously, you are responsible for them and don’t let them bound off into the woods. Remember, there are wild animals in the park including boar, bears and deer.
Give yourself plenty of time in the park. Even if you choose to only do the two/ three-hour walk you will still want to stop and capture the beauty of this park from every angle.
Looking for more Croatia fun? Have a look at my post on Hvar island and arm yourself with the knowledge I wish I had had before I went there.