Croatia effortlessly paints a picture of cobalt waters gently lapping at white pebbly shores. It’s one that’s hard to resist. But nestled away from where those land borders turn to salty liquid a very different picture exists: crystalline lakes tumbling into each other, leafy forest canopies and a maze of paths and boardwalks that wind for seemingly endless, spectacular kilometres.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Plitvice Lakes National Park – or Plitvicka Jezera – is one of Croatia’s best kept secrets. And while it garners increasing attention (the park welcomed its millionth visitor just last year), its off-the-beaten-track location and sprawling size alone mean it will always feel like a pristine oasis, secluded and relaxing, hidden far from it all.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is not only the largest, but also the oldest national park in Croatia – and easily one of the most beautiful natural environments to encounter. While the entire national park encompasses 300 square kilometres, for tourists, it’s all about the turquoise-blue Plitvice Lakes.
Over eight incredible kilometres, 16 larger and smaller pristine, mineral-rich lakes stand connected by waterfalls, nestled in deep, leafy forest that’s also home to bears, wolves, deer and many rare bird species. There are also a handful of impressive caves.
In the Upper Lakes system, Veliki Slap steals the show – the largest waterfall, tumbling for an impressive 70 metres and offering incredible aerial views. The Lower Lakes system is remarkable for its deeply tranquil locale flowing into a vast limestone canyon. A ferry ride across Lake Kozjak links the upper and lower lakes.
It can take upwards of six hours to explore this entire lake system on foot, at a slow and leisurely pace, with plenty of time to stop, take photos and breathe in all that fresh mountain air.
Meander over 18 kilometres of snaking wooden walkways suspended right over the clear lake waters, past the many waterfalls and occasionally, right under and over the top of them.
For those who think eight hours sounds too long, there are also a number of shorter routes varying from two to six hours catering to all ages and abilities. Trails are well-marked and comprehensive maps are available at the Tourist Info centre at the park entrance.
Whether you take the long route or the short route one thing is for sure: Plitivice Lakes National Park wins over every one of its admirers.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is nestled just a stone’s throw from the Bosnian border, about half way between Croatia’s capital city Zagreb and lovely Zadar, on the coast. Accessible right off the main road, it’s just under a two hour drive from both cities.
The only way to get here and around the area is by car; hire cars are readily available in many Croatian cities. The only way to truly appreciate the park is to take your time and spend the night – various accommodation options are available within the park and in the surrounding villages.
Guided tours are available for those who don’t want to tackle the park on their own. Also, two day tickets are available for travellers who’d like to break it up and see the upper lakes one day and the lower lakes the next. An entrance at each section makes this easy to do.
The national park is open all year round, as it is a stunning place to visit throughout the seasons. Spring and summer is lush and green, autumn sees the leaves turn auburn and in winter, it takes on whole new light as snow and ice set in and some of the falls literally freeze over.
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