I wish I could say I came up with this poetic description of the Plitvice national park, Croatia, but ‘falling lakes’ seems to be a common term employed by those who visit. And what a fitting term it is: a beautiful chain of aquamarine lakes cascade through a rocky valley, making this the most stunning natural wonder I have ever seen. I’ve been looking forward to visiting these lakes, as everyone who has been here has only great things to say.
True to form, I managed to screw this up royally. I booked a guesthouse on the edge of the park, eschewing the more expensive hotels at the main entrance. That in itself wasn’t a bad decision, except that the bus driver apparently needed to be informed that I wanted to get off at an earlier stop. Since I assumed the bus would stop regardless, I failed to notify the driver and ended up sailing right past my stop, and then had to march for nearly an hour with a pack not really designed for long distance hiking.
That was the least of my worries, however, considering I was stupid enough to not get cash before arriving, so there I was in the middle of nowhere with only about 60 kuna (8 euros) on me. Which of course wouldn’t be enough to pay for my accommodation and bus out of there. On top of that, my guesthouse didn’t offer dinner, and there was no restaurant nearby, so I had to make do with a sandwich and some snacks I’d brought with me. Oh well, I’ve learnt not to be too fussy on this trip and don’t mind forgoing a hot meal once in a while. Needless to say, I pigged out at breakfast the following day!
Because I was based at the north tip of the park, I arrived at a, let’s say ‘unconventional’, entrance point. The park has two entrances, imaginatively named ‘Entrance 1’ and ‘Entrance 2’. I was heading for the former but got distracted by a tempting path leading down through the forest into the valley.
This path led down to a gloriously clear river, following it upstream past trickling waterfalls and an immense cave and rock arch. It was oddly quiet, and parts of the path didn’t look too well kept, so I began to suspect that I wasn’t supposed to be here. Sure enough, I eventually found myself the wrong side of a taped barrier. I had seen no signs and crossed no barricades on the way down, so had no guilt about trespassing. In fact, I’m glad I found this route as I got to see some amazing parts of the park that most didn’t!
As a consequence of my wayward approach, I unintentionally bypassed the ticket offices, and thus avoided the €10 entrance fee. Should I be admitting that on the internet? I don’t care, it’s not like I deliberately avoided paying. All I did was follow an unmarked path into the park.
Regardless, after my subversive route I found myself among the crowds, mostly older tourists in big groups. I’ve never quite got this mindset, I much prefer to go my own way and enjoy the solitude, but each to their own I suppose.
The Plitvice lakes contain so many breathtaking sights it’s hard to know which to focus on. The roofless cave connecting the hilltops to the lake’s edge? The giant networks of gushing waterfalls?
Perhaps the striking rocky outcrops, or the impossibly clear lakes:
Swimming is forbidden it the national park, which is understandable, but it was very tempting at times to just jump in!
One of my favourite features were the boardwalks snaking their way over the ever-undulating waterfalls. It felt quite surreal to be walking up and down with the terrain, and yet remaining just above the water level.
I enjoyed a day-long hike around the banks of the larger lakes, and through the woodlands nearby. The trails were delectably empty once off the main tourist route. Even though I only made it around half the park, I believe I managed to see the best of it, and just maybe find the best view of all (click to enlarge):
There are so many more things I could talk about, and photos I could show you, but to get the most of it you’ll have to go and visit yourself.
Oh, and for those wondering, I managed to find a cash machine and a cooked meal in the end!