If you are ever in Croatia, you must not miss one of the most spectacular natural sites – and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Plitviče Lakes National Park. Established as a natural park in 1949, the park covers almost 30,000 hectares, 22,300 of which are forested. Among these lush green forests are sixteen aquamarine blue and turquoise green lakes that are linked together by a chain of waterfalls of all sizes. The water in these lakes is teaming with trout, and is the clearest water I’ve ever seen, anywhere on the globe.
The park opens at 7:00am, and one-day or two-day passes are available [approx. $25 per day]. If you are staying overnight in one of the hotels located within the park, you are able to buy a one-day pass and have your hotel validate it for the second day. Given the many hours of hiking available in the park, I do recommend at least two days. This way you can also rent a row boat and enjoy the view from the middle of Lake Kozjak.
We arrived at the park via a bus from Zadar [approx. two and a half hours] and we were a bit confused at first because we were the only two passengers on the large intercity bus for the duration of the journey. Consequently, the driver dropped us off at our hotel. The hotel had a post-Soviet feel to it – with grand staircases leading to large landings where I imagined people used to secretly talk of looking forward to the days when Tito would not be ruling Yugoslavia any longer.
The park admission includes a tram that will take you from one end to the other based on four designated stops, and also includes ferry service that will do the same on the lakes. If you are an avid hiker, you will probably find this relatively easy, as when we took the trail estimated at three hours, for example, we completed it in just over an hour and a half. While hiking, you will come across waterfall after waterfall nestled amongst the most pristine lakes you will see this side of the Canadian Rockies.
Now for the less than intrepid traveler reality check. There are few restaurants to speak of in the park, so do not arrive expecting a five-star meal. In addition, the wifi and internet access is also post-Soviet, meaning there is full signal but no access. So don’t arrive expecting to Skype with your friends. There is no nightlife to speak of, except for the little flying creatures that buzz around your window, and air conditioning is non-existent, especially when you turn on the switch. So do not arrive expecting to stay dry and boogie the night away.
All in all, Plitviče Lakes National Park is spectacular and relaxing, and from someone who lives in an urban environment, a welcome reminder that thankfully humans have not yet destroyed all of the planet’s natural wonders.