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I’m sure that the Plitvice Lakes can be a pretty rad place. For me it was mainly one thing: pretty misty. It was a beautiful trip, but it didn’t really sweep me off my wet feet. Say what? Somewhere, you have probably heard about this unreal landscape of waterfalls, deep blue pools and thick woods in central Croatia. You have probably read, that the UNESCO site is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes that can be found on Earth. You have written it down on the very top or your bucket list, looked at photos of stunning views and promised to visit one day. And here I am, telling you it didn’t sweep me off my feet?
The national park is far from bad, Plitvice Lakes is even really damn beautiful. I just highly recommend a visit during one of the fairer seasons and a good amount of pre-planning.
Otherwise, there is a good chance that the Plitvice Lakes will just look like this:
I admit, there is beauty even in that image. And for me, a rainy day at a national park is still preferable to a sunny day among the endless concrete of a big European city with not a tree in sight. Lake Bled and the Plitivice Lakes have been such a nice breather for me. After all, spending time in one of the beautiful national parks, was all I really wanted in the past weeks.
With an urge to get out of the cities and head into nature, Brendan and I booked at day trip with our Zagreb accommodation, the day and night hostel, to the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park. Accompanied by the ever present Eastern European fondness of cheesy pop music, our driver and a few other travellers, we headed out early in the morning. Spirits were high and there was a good amount of singing along to the tunes of 90ies classics going on.
But later, while I was trudging through the wetness that was the Plitvice forests, I wasn’t really a happy camper. Here I was, in what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful national parks on the planet and all I could see was, well, absolutely nothing. Nada.
The information given at the park was pretty bad and even misleading at times. The lady at the front desk sent us on a two hour hike through the woods, when we could have just caught a bus to see the most interesting waterfalls. By the time we actually reached the sights, my equipment and I were drenched, and I was grumpy. The few signs that were pointing the way lacked any kind of info regarding distances, there was no bus schedule and the tiny map we were given was almost useless. So we just winged it and – almost starved.
It was cold, it was wet and on top of everything, there was no food to be found in a 10 km radius. Brendan and I had gone into the park with the plan to just grab lunch at one of the restaurants, not expecting everything to be shut down already. Eventually, we realized with a sinking feeling, that we had to power through the whole day with only an apple in our stomachs. For a moment, we even considered fishing. Or hunting. Or chewing on sticks.
I don’t regret the trip out to the lakes though. In between endless mists and hiking through the woods for hours, without seeing much more than an ever winding road, I caught glimpses of the beauty of this park. Some areas are, even during the most miserable times of fall, completely awe inspiring. Wooden walkways wind their way along the water and a myriad of waterfalls tumble down the hills and cliffs. Due to the long and heavy rainfalls during this time of the year, a lot of the paths were flooded or at least partially submerged.
Which, of course, didn’t stop me from trying to fight my way through. Path closed? Doesn’t stop me. Path partially submerged? Eh, it’s just water. Path 2 meters under water? Better take my shoes off. With the visibility as bad as it was, I desperately wanted to get something out of the experience, even if it meant getting my feet wet in exchange for a cool photo of a walkway in front of a waterfall.
So, when looking at those admittedly beautiful images, keep in mind the price that was paid to take them. It involved constantly wiping my lens and my camera, fearing for the life of my electronic equipment, sprinting in a zigzag pattern to avoid the worst of the water and some pretty wet socks. There was also a fair amount of swearing going on.
Even the walks through the woods and along the big lakes, although way too time consuming, were beautiful:
Tips for the Plitvice Lakes:
- Take the bus and ask for bus times at the front desk! There is not much to be seen in between the different stops and you will save yourself hours of hiking and can jump straight to the interesting sights. The walking distances are fairly long and shouldn’t be underestimated. Unless of course, you have plenty of time and are spending a few days at the lakes. If hiking is, what you want to do, Plitvice is perfect for it. But if you’re only there for a day trip and want to see as much as possible, you almost have to hop on a bus to be able to see everything.
- Study a map of the lakes before you go there and make a plan of what you want to see.
- Bring a picknick, otherwise you might starve to death.