What’s the fuss all about?
This park is, perhaps, one of the very few things you know about this country before actually visiting it. The second thing you know is that it really can’t be as pretty as the photos make it look. And while the first thing’s an understatement, the second one’s false.
The park really is amazing, it’s extremely large, with a huge impressive diversity of flora and fauna, it’s got all the shades of green you could have ever thought of and some more. A (quite large!) piece of heaven indeed. And while this is quite impressive, it’s not the reason why you should visit it. But what is?
The 16 lakes definitely are. Arranged in cascades, they’re formed by small rivers flowing into one another and follow the same water flow. Natural travertine dams it what separates the amazingly beautiful lakes, and once you’re in the heart of the place you’ll realize the magnificence of water and its very varied forms, colors, shapes and functions in a natural habitat. The rippling never ceases to accompany the birds singing a true symphony of nature – and this isn’t even a metaphor for what you’ll find here.
The cascading waterfall sound grave and low, like an acoustic guide leading you through the entire trip and attracting your attention every now and then so that you won’t miss the splendor around. This mix of senses is by far what gives this natural park its loftiness, and all the vibrant shades of green keep you focused. For a place this big, it’s amazing how the landscape changes with every step and there are no two similar images you’ll see or emotions you’ll be feeling. An abyssal complexity for all the nature lovers who dare take their experiences to another level is what you’ll find here, along with the splendor of the constantly changing colors of the lakes, from fresh green to light grey and pale blue. This wandering is something you’ve never pictured, abundant in scenery and very intimate at the same time, all these miles of walkways through paths towards lakes connects you with the place in a somewhat unique way. The almost 300 km of paths and hiking trails are something to die for and really worth discovering.
So how should you do it?
Where to? The national park is located betweeen the mountains Lička Plješevica, Mala Kapela and Medveđak and the 16 lakes are segregated into lower and upper cluster made by runoff from the mountains.
How to? From either the Croatian capital (€12) or Zadar (€10) to Split the buses are going to drop you at the entrance of the national park if before getting in you specifically ask the driver to. A practical thing to do is be at the bus station an hour earlier than the schedule tells you to and have a book with you, full battery on your smartphone or some enjoyable company. Public transportation is Croatia is popular for not respecting the program so you can never know what you expect from them. The only way you can risk this is if you’re really lucky, because the bus won’t stop for longer than taking the new passengers anyway.
If your starting point is Zadar, you can also opt for a private transport company, but they’re not very careful either so you’ll be the one who’s in charge of not being left behind whenever the bus stops for five minutes. And it’s really recommended that you do, since Plitvice park is quite far from any bigger city where you could go to. The more comfortable alternative (that you’ll only use if you’re too afraid of taking your risks with the public transport or if you’re not traveling on budget) is taking a cab. It would cost you almost over €150 from Zagreb to get there, but it’s by far the safest way to travel in Croatia.
Once you’ve arrived at the destination, all you need to do is get a ticket to this heavenly home of wanderers. You can’t miss the ticket offices at the entrance of the park and what’s pretty awesome is that the price also includes access on the boats so that you can explore the beauty of the lakes from as close as possible. If you’re a student, it’s only going to cost you €10 for a one-day ticket (to benefit from this discount you have to have an ISIC card or any one to prove you’re a student) and if you’re not, a one-day visit is going to cost you a little over €14, but the most convenient option is buying a two-day ticket for €23. And it’s recommended that you take the latter option if you’re not a student, since one day it’s really too little time to cover all the magnificence.
What to (and not to)? Walking and wandering around go without saying as musts. There’s a really small chance to get lost, but if you happen to make this visit alone and see another crowd (or other people) visiting, you can follow them, otherwise you won’t be seeing anyone for hours. During the summer months it’s not quite a good time to visit if you don’t like company and what you’re looking for is some silence time, away from your social self and people. Since this paradise on Earth is so popular, the chances you’ll see people on any trail regardless the time of the day or the summer month are pretty high. If you’ve bought yourself a two-day ticket, maybe it’s time to forget about the marked tracks, especially if you’re a wanderer and it’s not your first experience with (almost) wilderness. For anyone out there whose favorite thing is mountain climbing, off the beaten path is the best decision!
On your way out, when you’re done being amazed with what Croatia can offer, you can stop on the exit (the access is made on both coming and departure at the same place) and buy some souvenirs from the gift shop so that your friends at home are going to remember your trip as well. And if your closest friends shared your passion about nature enough to join your trip, the best way to spend an afternoon after getting exhausted into the wild is to have some rest on the picnic area on your way out.
If you’ve got a two-day ticket, there’s a camping zone only 8 km away from the main access zone of the park. It’s clean, people here are friendly and the view’s magnificent anywhere in the area, so any place would do just great!