When we were planning our route through the Balkans there was one place we had dreamt of visiting for a long time. Figuring out where to base ourselves whilst in Croatia to make the day trip over to these awkwardly located but must do lakes was also something we researched time and time again. Even the pouring rain that greeted us the morning we had it all booked couldn’t dampen our spirits in the end, in fact, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise! We expected Plitvice lakes to be impressive, but what we found was something that has to be up there with one of our greatest experiences, it left us completely stunned!
Our unforgettable exploration of Plitvice lakes
Visiting Plitvice lakes isn’t something you just wake up one morning and do, I mean, you probably can if you are in the town but generally speaking there has to be some level of planning that goes into a visit. We had set aside pretty much one day in which to visit and booked our coach tickets to and from the lakes, after days of sunshine after the snow in Slovenia we awoke to a down pour…this was forecast to continue for the entire day!
My initial reaction upon seeing the rain was sheer disappointment, I couldn’t believe it was raining again and the day we had been waiting for for so long would be ruined. I don’t mind being cold (I mean I hate it but I can deal with it), and even the rain to a degree, but when the view is totally ruined I start to pull my face! But it was booked so we grabbed our waterproof jackets and plodded off to the bus station.
From Zadar the lakes were 1.5hrs away, this journey however seemed to take an age, the rain now coming down harder and faster and showing no sign of stopping. You can just tell that somedays are those where the rain is just not going to stop at all…I was correct in that assumption!
Pulling into the parking lot the driver told us the return leaves at 5pm, it was now just a little before 10am! Usually they tell you to take a few hours exploring the vast system of lakes, but with the pouring rain I just wanted to get back on the bus and stay warm! We kind of expected the lakes to be a bit less busy than many have told us about, we heard horror stories of the walkways being like a giant game of frustrating conga! Even today the tour groups were out in force!
Well, what the hell we decided. We are here and we may as well make the most of it. We even considered trying to fit in a return trip back up this way but after checking the weather report and it basically saying it was raining for 2 week straight we figured we would be waiting for a while before the sun came out over here! We bought some umbrellas and set off into the dense forest!
Funnily enough, that night we did some research and it turns out that it pretty much rains everyday here apart from some days in the middle of summer, so we weren’t that unlucky really, and when it is dry the lakes and waterfalls are not as good and it is crazy busy! So in many ways we actually got lucky…you will see why as I continue too!
One major thing that really annoyed me what the fact that the lower lakes were closed off because they were “flooded”. fighting our way through the crowds on the high paths I could only dream of what the cascading waterfalls and hidden paradises looked like close up. From here I was left pretty unimpressed, sure the lakes were nice but it wasn’t anything spectacular and fighting with several bus loads of Chinese tourists didn’t help my waining mood!
Now came the turning point of the whole day. After getting through the upper section quickly (there isn’t much to see in all honesty and only a few decent viewing platforms) we came to the cross roads for the ferry. Tempted by the wooden walk way that lead back down to the lower paths we had been forced to miss we headed down that way as the crowds swarmed the boats. These paths appeared still open and even along here we got to see some amazing close ups of the beautiful and unique waterfalls which gives Plitvice lakes its characteristic look.
We then came to a boarded off section, here we had a choice, stick to the rules and miss out on what was essentially the main reason we came, or live up to our name and be renegades, jump the barrier and explore this magnificent set of waterfalls. Well you guessed it, we were straight over that barrier!
Now I am not advocating putting yourself in danger, had we found the walkways to be flooded or really bad we would have turned back around. But they really weren’t bad at all!
Now comes the real magic, not only had we stepped into another world of the most magical surrounding you could ever imagine, but we had it to ourselves! All this stunning nature and it felt like it should do, quiet, unspoilt and almost forgotten. At times it felt so perfect that it was hard to believe it was real, often it felt like we were in a theme park, a constructed set of lush and powerful lakes made to be perfect. Then other times the wildlife, sheer majesty of the huge waterfalls and the tropical atmosphere of the humidity and unrelenting rain felt like something from Jurassic park.
It really is hard to put into words just how stunning these lakes are, a truly unbelievable experience and in truth the rain only made it even more magical. Having half of the national park to ourselves was something we will never forget, the winding wooden walkways and cascading falls, crystal clear lakes and breathtakingly huge waterfalls punctuated with the most lush and green flora we have ever seen. This was a true adventure!
Even as we floated over one of the large lakes and explored the more crowded second section the wonder of the place continued. Here the walkways were more enclosed and the water terraces we passed over deeper inside the forested area. Swallows filled the air, singing songs and swooping ever closer to us as the roar of the water pouring over the exposed rocks drifted into calmness.
We truly fell in love with these lakes and waterfalls, it is no wonder people flock from all over the world to visit such an impressive UNESCO world heritage site.
Where should I base myself to see Plitvice Lakes?
There aren’t any major cities within the vicinity of the lakes, it is possible to stay in Plitvice but it will be particularly costly and all there really is to do here is the lakes themselves.
We decided on Zadar, a Roman coastal town that has plenty on its own to explore. In the summer months it can be a little touristy but the old town is as charming as you would imagine for this region and the beaches some of the best int the world. The bus station in Zadar is quite central for The Balkans being only 10 mins outside of the old town. Coaches run daily to Plitvice Lakes, leaving at 8am and returning at 5pm and taking 1.5hrs.
Getting to the Lakes
The best and most convenient way is to book a coach, we used Bus Croatia which runs daily from pretty much anywhere in the country. They are also reasonably priced and a much cheaper option that taking an organised tour as advertised in many of the popular destinations in Croatia. We travelled from Zadar which is around 1.5 hrs away and is a good base. Travelling from Zagreb to Plitvice lakes is also very easy to organise by bus but it a little further away.
Our bus set us back: 46 Euros for us both, return.
The tickets are also reasonably but change according to when you visit:
(Price in Kuna, 100 is £10.49/ $15.10)
See more and up to day prices and opening hours here:
General tips for visiting
It rains a lot in Plitvice, Even in the summer months it can rain for days on end and even be a bit chilly. Take some waterproof jackets, umbrellas, drysacks for the stuff in your bag and some walking boots if you have them. If you keep dry then the rain needn’t ruin what should be one of the greatest days of your life! The walkways can also be a little slippy and uneven so good shoes even in good weather is advisable.
The national park is also huge, there are several routes, walkways, a ferry to take and a shuttle bus part way back to the main entrance. Give yourself at least 5hours here to make the most of it. Also take some food and water with you, there are cafes dotted around the park but they are crowded and expensive. Another tip would be to visit in the off season or as early as you can in the day, it can get crazy busy in the high season…also, don’t be afraid of jumping a barrier or two and make the most of your visit!