The name of this destination was fairly new to me; in fact I’d never even heard of the Plitvice Lakes until I saw it on the itinerary of my Europe tour. Taking this into consideration I was pleasantly surprised to say that it was one of my favourite places I have had the pleasure of visiting and will most certainly make the effort to go back in the future.
It’s easy to see why this is one of Croatia’s most popular tourist attractions; and of course named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1979. Covering 300 square Kilometres, the park consists of 16 lakes (12 upper and 4 lower) connected by a series of waterfalls and set in a magical, forestry woodland area making it feel like the perfect setting for a fairytale. It was like you could base the next Disney film there especially with all of the wildlife that call it home including more than 50 species of mammals, 160 Bird species and an ocean’s index of fish. Location for the sequel to Bambi maybe…?
The altitude difference around the park makes it an ideal location for hiking especially with all of the different trails, one to suit every ability, some steeper than others, some lasting an hour or so and some going for miles which can take up the whole day. It is so easy to get around the park; there are boardwalks pretty much the entire way around, each being included in one of the ‘programs’ (routes) to guide you through different sections of the park. As everything is pretty much planned out for you, the hardest part will be deciding which route to take to get the most out of your visit! Each program starts from one of the two entrances and consists of walking, taking shuttles and even taking boats across the lakes so you get to experience the park in all different kinds of ways with just one fine swoop. You should take into consideration your physical ability and also your time scale as to which route will work best for you. If you’re stuck for choice, you should read the descriptions that come with each route explaining what you are likely to come across along the way which may aid your decision.
To put it simply, it’s absolutely gorgeous here, a true gem of nature and most certainly one of Europe’s finest natural wonders. Be sure to have your camera at the ready because around every corner there is yet another beautiful view (you can constantly hear the oohs and aahs in your head and it’s hard to keep them to yourself so just go ahead, let it out and allow everyone to hear your amazement)! The waterfalls added to the emerald and turquoise waters truly make it something special, you can see the reflections of the surrounding trees and rocks all around you as you’re walking through this natural wonderland.
It is different to a normal park where you can just let your dogs run wild off lead chasing a ball (although it is pet friendly so don’t hesitate taking your 4 legged companions along with you), it is such a peaceful area that just seems to distract you and make you forget about all of your worries and totally re-focus your mind on the present time. You’ll come away feeling completely refreshed, and come on, who wants to pay for a spa day when you can just take a trip to Croatia ehh?!
So, a few things I picked up on whilst I was here that I believe can make the experience a little better (and more manageable);
- Although it is open all year round, spring and autumn months are the best time to visit as spring sees the water levels rise so the cascades from the waterfalls are just phenomenal and autumn sees the leaves changing colour so the setting is like an exploded bomb of fauna. In summer it gets very hot and humid and also very crowded with it being peak season so the trails can get extremely busy and ruin the atmosphere, whereas the winter months are extremely cold and although the frozen water would make postcard worthy pictures I’m sure the low temperature would make it slightly uncomfortable.
- Peak times are during late morning and through to mid afternoon so your best chance of beating all of the big crowds and groups especially if you’re going hiking is to get there early for opening time.
- Take a picnic! It’s a great opportunity to have an al fresco lunch by the water and even though food is available (hot and cold) around the park, it is overpriced and options are limited.
- We were lucky enough to camp out and make the most of our time here by getting in early plus getting the privilege of sleeping under a starry canvas in the middle of nowhere so I would definitely recommend considering this in your plan.
- Don’t get stuck behind big group tours; they can be a pain and end up getting you all frustrated (unless you’re one of those people that like to learn as they go, kind of like a museum tour getting all of the facts rather than enjoying the trek) so if you see one just ahead of you upon entering you should consider taking the trail in reverse as this can make your day a little easier.
- Consider extending your trip and exploring the surrounding areas where you can try out cycling, horse riding and even white water rafting for the adrenaline junkies.
- Unfortunately you are unable to swim anywhere in the park but you can hire a boat if you are keen to get out onto the water.
The landscape is truly mesmerising and although the photos don’t do it justice, don’t go without taking your camera; you come across the kind of shots that you find on postcards and laptop screensavers so be sure to up your photography skills before heading out there (but don’t forget to take everything in through your own eyes and not just live through the camera lens or you will never get the true sense of having been there)!