Conduct any Pinterest, Instagram (guidebook for Mum and Dad) search on Croatia and you’re bound to be inundated with images of the breathtaking Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park Plitvička jezera). Pronounced Pleet-veet-cha, the oldest National Park in Southeast Europe is famous for its 16 cascading lakes and draws over 1.1 million nature lovers and explorers to its waterfalls each year.
There weren’t quite as many people the day we visited in May. For our second day in Croatia, their famous cloudless, blue skies rocked a more familiar British grey and rain was forecast on the horizon. The optimist/Brit inside me wouldn’t let our anticipation concede to the weather, but a tiny voice of pessimism kept niggling away at me; Would Plitvice’s sun-soaked fauna and tropical coloured pools be the same as the images, if shrouded in a weather front more reminiscent of November, Oxford St, London?
How to Get To Plitvice Lakes
We’d booked a tour through Daluma Travel, a Croatian tour agency. Not-so-bright but very early, we were picked up by our tour guide and mini-van from the Split pick-up point and began our 3.5 hour journey North. If you are looking to travel to the lakes from Split, I would recommend booking a small guided tour like ours. Not only are the mini-vans much faster than the big, traditional coaches, but we were able to have a fantastic conversation about the history & geography of the area which made the 3.5 hour journey fly by. Our fantastic guide began with the pre-Roman Dalmatae tribes of Dalmatia and, after several conquests, off-topic digressions on bears and Game of Thrones filming locations, by the time we arrived at the lakes, we’d made it up to the present day.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is located to the north of Split, past the Dinaric Alps and is a few degrees cooler in contrast to the warmer climes of the Dalmatian coast, a perfect destination for those looking for some respite from the summer heat (I would imagine…). Shrugging off the sun-bleached, drier, rocky landscape of Dalmatia, the landscape north of the mountains is a lot more reminiscent of Western Europe and the lakes are located nestled within a lush, green forest, the surrounding roads spotted with cautionary brown bear signs…
Walking Around The Lakes
Once you’ve paid the entrance fee, large boards and maps guide those without guides, to the start of a walking trail. The easy-to-follow walking paths are designed so that following the logical progression of paths and bridges will allow you to see all of the lakes and wetlands in their glorious entirety. (Maps can be found on the National Park’s official website here). For those who find walking a little trickier, although a lot of the path will unfortunately be off-limits, a fantastic bus service run by the National Park ferries guests to and from lake-side drop off points.
We began our tour of the lakes with a short boat ride from the shores of one of the park’s entrances. At this point, any weather-based fears of missing out were allayed by the view from the boat. Mist swirled around the dark, foreboding mountains surrounding us while beneath us, schools of fish chased the boat through moody, still green waters.
Once on the other side, it was only a few steps before we were off-land again. The paths in the lake vary from gritted, dirt pathways to water-skimming, wooden boardwalks. Hovering only a few inches above the fast-moving, swollen streams and rivers, the boardwalks allow you to walk among the waters without disturbing the natural surroundings. Unlike Plitvice’s cousin: Krka Waterfalls, swimming in Plitvice is forbidden, any disregard for the rules can be met with a fine. While this must be hideously painful on summer days when it’s not as wet out of the water as it is in (!), the rules mean that the lakes are breathtakingly unspoiled, the eerie lake beds visible through the crystal clear waters as if viewing through glass.
Half of the majesty of Plitvice Lake’s waterfalls are in their irregularity and nonconforming forms. Ask anyone to imagine a waterfall and no doubt you’ll imagine the single stream, white-waters-crashing-in-monstrous-volumes-over-sheer-dark-cliffs stereotype. Or maybe that’s just me and I’ve recounted the waterfall from Disney’s Pocahontas. Regardless, whatever you imagine, Plitvice will undoubtedly turn your expectations on their head with waterfalls seeming to flow out of shrubbery and over hillsides, from all around you. One waterfall is actually made up of hundreds of smaller ones, huge channels rush over cliff tops, guarded by smaller ones either side. The noise is terrific and the moisture in the air, drenching.
We spent a few hours walking around the lakes admiring the dramatic scenery of the National Park. Once off of the boardwalks at floor level, there are many opportunities to get higher to viewpoints which provide spectacular vantage points from which to admire the landscape. Although the largest waterfall was off-limits on the day we visited due to renovation work on the boardwalks leading to it, we spent a good 10 minutes admiring it from above, taking in the full-sensory experience of this noisy and colourful, watery paradise.
After several hours of walking among these terrific, natural wonders, we were ready to begin the long journey back to Split, a huge contender on the bucket list ticked off.
For anyone else looking to abandon the sea to see another side of Croatia, Plitvice will not disappoint. Crystal clear waters teaming with fish are not restricted to the coast of this wonderful, wild country and the 6+ hour round trip and panger (pain anger) of boardwalk stubbed toes are undeniably worth it. If you have any more recommendations of alternative places to visit in Croatia, be sure to get in touch over social media or in the comments below! For more pictures on Croatia, be sure to check out our Instagram page!