If you look at any Europe ‘Off the Beaten Track’ guide, you’re bound to see the Plitvice Lakes somewhere, if not at number one – and for that there is good reason. This gobsmackingly beautiful set of lakes and waterfalls lie near the Croat-Serbian border and are well worth the drive to see. Turquoise blue water, cliff-face waterfalls and ancient woodland surround the paths that weave through the craggy hillside and alongside this unmissable natural landmark.
What to do
Well its pretty simple, walk! When you arrive it’s a moderate entrance fee (around €10) and you’re in for the day. There’s also a 2-day pass option but you can easily fit everything in to one day, after that it’s much of the same. Alternatively, come in through the near-abandoned road at the south of the national park where it’s a whole lot quieter. When you get in there are a bunch of trails to follow, heading to each specific lake or waterfall, you can also rent a boat but I imagine this is very pricey.
Make sure you find the large waterfalls, small crystal pools and wooden walkway across the lake – the fish hang motionless in the water and you can clearly see the bottom. “Can I swim?” I hear you ask, unfortunately not… however, if you walk a fair bit to one of the more distant lakes on the south side, there are far fewer people and no one official to be seen – just be aware that the reason for no swimming is to keep the lakes clean and ‘untouched’ so bear that in mind.
As for tours, probably avoid them! They will be overpriced, full of other tourists getting in the way of your view and also everything is very clearly marked. Wander at your will.
Food and Drink
Anything within the park is pretty overpriced, but that’s overpriced for Croatia so actually not too bad. I do remember the taste being distinctly average and we were plagued by wasps sitting in the outside picnic area. Your best bet is to get a packed lunch and eat as you go. Take plenty of water as there is not much to purchase on the actual trails, walking and heat = lots of drinking!
Where to Stay
If you’re not in it for the day-trip, then there are a bunch of hotels of varying quality around the park. I’ve heard Hotel Degenije is good with great food, and a short walk to the park itself. Further south you could probably set up a cheeky tent (like we did) but rules on this are a bit of a grey area (certainly a no-no within the park boundaries!).
Otherwise stay in Zadar and do a day trip – the only bonus I can imagine from a 2 day trip is getting there before the tourist groups in the morning.
If you have a car, there is that sneaky back road I talked about with (potentially) no ticket booth. Obviously do this at your own risk, but turn off the main road south after Babin Potok – it’s narrow and bumpy, but park anywhere along that road and you should be fine. If you drive to the normal entrance, parking is about €9 for the whole day, so it’s almost worth just getting the bus ticket after you take petrol into account too.
For the easy option which is the bus day trip, tickets can be found here. You get dropped within easy walking distance to the entrance. I hear there are also trips from Zagreb, but if you make that journey you may as well go to Zadar too!
Simply, you can’t miss the Plitvice Lakes if you go to Croatia, they are without doubt a natural highlight for the whole of Europe. We spent far longer than planned here, and consequently started our cross-country trek to the coast a little late…. more on that to come!