Before leaving for Croatia I’d seen pictures of azure lakes, waterfalls, and lush greenery; scenes that reminded me of Jurassic Park; images that looked like stills from a Hollywood movie. I knew I had to see for myself if Plitvice Lakes National Park really was as beautiful as it looked.
We arranged the trip to the national park with tour company Splitlicious, who oversaw our Air BnB in Split. It was an early start, but armed with cherry pastries from a nearby bakery we boarded the minibus at 7am ready to embark on the three hour journey. The minibus guide filled us in on the history and legends of Split and the surrounding areas as we sped through changing scenery. Coastal roadways gave way to mountain passes; we passed through villages with locals selling their wares by the side of the road, honey, preserves and olive oil; drove by graveyards, abandoned buildings and large fields.
As we crossed through the mountains the sun of Split was replaced by driving rain. A white T-shirt and sandals weren’t looking like my wisest of outfit choices! Pulling up at the entrance to the park I was relieved to spot a gift shop selling waterproof ponchos, no doubt one of their most sold items. We met our tour guide for the park, Mario, who explained that due to the geographical location of the lakes the area has it’s own changeable micro climate, saying he wouldn’t be surprised if it was sunny again within the hour – he wasn’t wrong. He talked through the day ahead, and mentioned that the park was home to bears and wolves – it’s not dinosaurs, but I’d be equally alarmed if I saw one lurking lakeside.
Mario’s passion for the national park was clear from the start. He took every opportunity to share with us all he knew about the area – the history of the park, the scientific importance of the lakes, even his own adventures illustrated with photos of frozen waterfalls and pathways covered in knee-deep snow. Our route all mapped out, there would be five hours of walking, two boats trips, and a promise that we’d see all the highlights the park had to offer. We started at the upper lakes taking a short boat trip across the clear water where we would start our exploration of the park.
With sixteen lakes in total all fed through a series of impressive waterfalls, you’re never far from a kodak moment. Sun-bleached, wooden pathways skirt the edges of the lakes, and climb up and over the tumbling waterfalls. The paths lead through thick green forest on to wide open lakes. Fast rushing water is visible through gaps in the planks. You skirt close to the rock face, the incredibly clear waters just a couple of feet to the side of you. As you descend to the lower lakes, there is a visible shift. The upper lakes have an alpine feel, think fir trees and pines. The lower lakes somehow feel rougher, damper, water rushes and bubbles over smaller, rockier falls, and the vegetation is greener, more Mediterranean.
We made our way around the lakes enjoying the falls and lakes, saving Veliki Slap, the park’s highest waterfall at 78m high, for last. After taking in the sheer magnitude of the falls, we headed back up the zigzagging path towards where our minibus was waiting. Although tired from walking in the heat, we didn’t want to leave, so happily just before we had to make our way to the minibus and the three hour journey back to Split, we were treated to the most spectacular view across the lower lakes.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is such an incredibly beautiful place so it’s no surprise they’re one of the most popular tourist attractions in Croatia, but don’t let that put you off. Yes it’s busy, but avoid peak season and the beauty of the park far outweighs the bustling, selfie-snapping tourists.