I’ve arrived at the Garden of Heaven! These will be your words once you have the panorama of turquoise lakes in front of you, scattered with cascades of different sizes and surrounded by green fir and beech forests. This, of course, if you visit the National Park during spring or summer because in autumn and winter the colors are totally different but equally spectacular. One thing is certain: at any time of the year you get here, the landscape will conquer you instantly. Although Croatia is renowned for beautiful National Parks, cities with impressive architecture, and dreamy views of the Adriatic coast, I tend to think that Plitvice Jezera is the most valuable treasure of the country.
I admit I used to see lots of photos with the famous lakes and I was wondering if they were photoshopped or if they had their saturation increased so that the colors get deeper. Once I got here, and I could admire the beauty of the places, I was happy to see that my suspicions had not been confirmed. The images I’ve seen were not processed at all, and they were just like in reality. In fact, they are even more beautiful in reality, perhaps because the panorama is complemented by the sound of waterfalls and the birds chirping, housed in the surrounding forests. Concluding, Plitvice Lakes is not among those destinations that you risk remaining disappointed because you have had too high expectations.
How to get to Plitvice:
In my opinion, the best option is with the car, either own or rented. Since the country is not very large and has plenty of places to visit, I think it would be ideal to have a car so you can stop and spend the time you want and wherever you want. Overall, you must know that the Plitvice National Park is just halfway between the capital Zagreb and Zadar city, about an hour and a half from each of them. The price for one hour of parking in the National Park is 7 kuna (≅ 4.5 RON).
If the car is not an option for you, then you can opt for a bus trip or an organized group. Find here an option.
Fun facts about Plitvice Jezera:
- Of all the 8 national parks in the country, Jezera is the largest and the oldest, with an area of approximately 300 square kilometers. It was declared a National Park in 1949.
- Being one of the most beautiful places in Europe and perhaps even in the world, in 1979 it gained a well-deserved position on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- Gorgeous landscape, lakes, and waterfalls are not the only things you can admire coming here. The entire National Park hosts over 1,200 species of plants, including some orchids, 321 butterflies, 161 bird species, 21 bat species, and even brown bears. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to not encounter any.
- Lakes change color, due to vegetation, calcareous rocks, and weather phenomena, ranging from emerald green and turquoise shades to shades of gray. At least 50: D
- Plitvice Jezera also hosted several cinematic productions. The most famous of them is Winnetou, after the story written by Karl May.
What you can do at Plitvice Lakes National Park:
First of all, if you choose to spend a single day inside the park, you have to choose between 4 available routes, marked with A, B, C, K. The owner of the villa where I stayed, a good connoisseur of the area and with plenty of experience in using the 4 routes, recommended the letter C, so I did. The next step would be to choose an entry. Go for Entrance 1, where Lower Lakes and most waterfalls lie or opt for Entrance 2 and its Upper Lakes.
I recommend starting from entrance 1, where you will make a first impression, a WOW categorically for the splendid landscape that is displayed in front of your eyes. The first observation point reveals some of the lakes, but also the highest waterfall in the Park. It has a 75-meter fall, it’s gorgeous and it’s called Veliki Slap. The sound and the colors will make you no longer want to leave that place. Still, once you have finished your photo session and the intense observation, you should go further because you definitely have a lot to see and you can also get a better view of Veliki Slap.
The park is full of wood trails that integrate very well with the natural setting. Although you have the choice of a guide, it is not very helpful to do this because the alleys and the 4 routes are extremely well made and properly signaled by banners. They will guide you through the 16 turquoise lakes and hundreds of waterfalls and reveal for you the beauty of the karst relief, made up of limestone rocks and covered with shrubs and green mosses.
Moreover, the water is so clear that it is easy to notice the bottom of the lakes and thousands of fish for which this paradise is their home. From time to time, you can spot wild ducks on the lake or multicolored butterflies. Along the route, there are many observation points that compete in revealing the most beautiful panoramas. Plitvice Lakes is definitely one of those places where the word “breathtaking” is not an exaggeration.
We spent almost 5-6 hours crossing the Park from North to South, managing to cover both areas. Among the attractions visited included the climbing of the abrupt steps inside one of the 3 caves in the park, which has a height of 68 meters. It is the only open to visitors and is called Šupljara cave. Great attention to the very steep and damp stair!
Finally, we arrived at Upper Lakes, where we found some restaurants and a picnic area. From that point, we also took the boat and we crossed Lake Kozjak to the exit, where we were taken by a bus and returned near the starting point, at Entrance 1.
Tickets and schedule:
Because I chose to go there during spring, when the waterfall flows are the strongest, I paid 150 kunas (≅ 25 USD) per ticket. I mention this because depending on the period of the year you choose to visit the Park, prices may vary. For students, tickets have a discount, and children up to 7 years of age have free entry. More information here.
Both inside and around the park, there are many hotels and guesthouses. We chose a cottage about 3 kilometers away from Entrance 1 of the park, corresponding to the Lower Lakes area. You can book here.
- eat well before because the entire tour takes a few good hours while you do not want to have a concert in your stomach
- hydrate yourself, add a cold water bottle in your backpack to quench your thirst, at least until you get to the restaurant area
- comply with the rules required for a proper visit to the park. Not only to avoid the fine but also to protect this wonderful place where nature has unfolded in the most beautiful way possible
- the best time to visit the lakes is spring-summer. This is due to several reasons: the highest flow of the waterfalls, the pleasant temperatures, and the greenery. However, I admit, I would love to visit during autumn when vegetation gets a variety of red, yellow and orange shades, a gorgeous contrast with the turquoise water
- come as early as possible to avoid the very high temperatures and the crowds
- being UNESCO heritage, it is forbidden to swim in the lakes of the park. So, if you are a big lust for a swim or just want to cool yourself, I recommend you head south, where you will find Krka National Park, where swimming is allowed
- if you insist, you can hire a guide, but I do not see it as a necessary thing. On the contrary, I advise you to go on your own and admire the landscapes at your own pace. The trails are well marked, so you do not even need a guidance
- a day is enough to go through at least one of the trails available in the park and enjoy what’s more beautiful to offer. However, if you want to experience the grandeur of the landscapes, the beauty of the fauna and the colors, 3 days would be ideal
- if you want your pet to enjoy the park as well, no problem! You can take it with you. Actually, I’ve seen quite a few dogs through the park
- you will have to walk for a few kilometers, so I recommend you wear comfortable shoes
- the sun can cause serious damage on your skin in the 4,5,6 hours spent in the park in the middle of the summer. Therefore, don’t forget to apply an SPF 50 at least!