“I am now convinced that fairies do, in fact, exist”
– Me after visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Arriving at 8:30 AM before the height of the crowds, we stepped into the National Park and immediately felt a sense of calm. This place is special, we thought. We took a slow boat to the other side of the lake to begin our day, listening to the fluid lapping of water beneath us, peacefully gliding along water so clear, the fish appeared to merely be floating through air.
When we arrived to the other side, the trail began immediately, which consisted of a wooden planked boardwalk that would continue throughout the entire park, leading us directly over waterfalls and making us feel as though we were part of the lake.
There are no handrails on most of the boardwalk, engulfing and ensconcing you in nature and encouraging you to be completely in the moment. This is an excellent place for meditation and reflection if you come early enough.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a 295-square kilometer forest in central Croatia. It is a chain of 16 lakes joined by waterfalls that cascade into a limestone canyon. Added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1979, Plitvice Lakes is one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe, and boasts the top spot for the largest national park in Croatia. This is the land from which fairies come. Besides my normal touch-up edits in Lightroom, these photos are completely raw, 100% natural beauty with no color alterations. The greens and blues were jaw-dropping.
How to Get There
There are several busses that do day trips to the lakes, departing from all the major cities, including from Dubrovnik, Split and Trogir. However, if you have a rental car, you will have the freedom of arriving early or late once the crowds have dissipated, making for a less Disney Land-like experience.
Where to Stay
There are several B&Bs, hostels and small hotels within the national park, or if you are hoping to save some money, you can stay in the towns just outside the park. We found an Airbnb called House Ivona, located in the town of Korenica, only an 18-minute drive to entrance #2 (there are three park entrances with car parks, but you can access the entire park from either of these entrances.) Since we visited in early September, the high season was starting to slow down, so we had the entire place to ourselves! There are around six rooms in House Ivona with a huge outdoor area, so it is kid-friendly. It is located in a rural area with very few restaurants around. The bed was quite uncomfortable and the home was cold and dimly lit, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a longer stay, but one night would be fine.
Facilities in the National Park
If you are a foodie like us, and especially if you have just spent four weeks in Italy like we did, do not expect good food in this area. Plitvice Lakes and surrounding small towns are quite literally in the middle of nowhere, so restaurants are few and far between. You’ll find pizza and truck-stop-like food. The food inside the national park is also of poor quality and very expensive, so I recommend packing your own snacks and sandwiches (just remember to pack your trash out with you!) There is a supermarket in Korenica where you can purchase salami, bread, cheese, etc.
There are toilets (some squatty potties and some normal toilets) in all of the main entrance areas, as well as food, coffee, beverages and packaged ice cream. Once you leave the main entrance areas to hike and walk along the boardwalk, there are no toilets, so make sure you go before you set out to walk!
Entrance Cost and Ticket Options
If you have a rental car, there is a car park where you take a ticket and pay upon exiting. The amount you pay is based on how long you stay. We parked at 8:30 AM and left at 4:30 PM and paid around 56 Kuna ($9 USD / €7.60 euro).
There are two ticket options (keep in mind that all pricing is subject to change, so these rates are based on when we visited in September, 2017):
One-day pass: 120 Kuna ($19 USD /€16 euro)
Two-day pass: 180 Kuna ($29 USD /€25 euro)
Your ticket includes all transportation within the park, including the boat rides. However, the long boat ride from entrance #2 to to the main lake can only be used one time per day (they stamp your ticket), which means that if you are parked in lot #2 and need to get back, you will need to either take the bus (also included in your ticket purchase), or walk the trail which lines the perimeter of the lake and takes approximately 30 minutes to walk. It is very easy, flat and shaded for most of the way. We saw plenty of children walking it without any complaints. Also, you’ll get lovely front-row views of silly mallard ducks like this guy, doing everything in his power to get to his food. It’s okay, dude, it must be rough having such a buoyant booty. No judgement. Must…get…to…insect.
One thing you should note is that during high season (mid-May – mid-September), the queue to go back to entrance #2 on the boat is insanely long. Even though our feet were tired, we ended up walking the half hour on the trail back to our car and arrived before all the people waiting in queue did, which means that waiting for the boat can take twice as long than just walking the trail back. This is why I would recommend using your once-per-day stamp for your long boat ride, in the morning.
How Much Time Should you Spend in Plitvice Lakes?
Most people go just for a few hours on day tours that arrive on a tour bus. We spent a full day (8 hours) and felt that it was enough and that we had seen everything. If you are into hiking, there are a few trails that you can explore if you wanted to stay for two days, but you can certainly see it all without feeling rushed in a full day, especially if you start early. Be prepared for a LOT of walking. We consider ourselves in good athletic shape, and our feet were tired at the end of the day and we felt ready to return home.
Croatia Exchange Rate
At the time of travel (September, 2017), Croatia was still not fully integrated into the EU, so they still used Kuna as their currency and did not accept euros. One U.S. dollar is equal to 6.25 Kuna.
Hiking Trails and How to Get Around the Park
There are a few signs that show trail routes and times such as this one:
But they can still be quite confusing. Most people try to get to Veliki Slap (meaning “big waterfall” in Croatian – yes, “slap” is the word for waterfall. It’s okay, I giggled too) and “the view” that everyone comes here for…the one that we all see when we look up Google images of Plitvice Lakes.
However, keep in mind that depending on the time of year you visit, it may not look the same. For example, the falls always flow, but sometimes the flow is stronger and sometimes weaker. This has been a dry summer for Croatia, so our falls were not as flowing. There are no signs that say “for the most popular photo found on Google, go this way!” So, how exactly do you get here to this view?
- After you pass Veliki Slap, a 78-meter (256-foot) high waterfall (which looks like this):
- Turn to the right and ascend the stairs to the top. This will bring you to a main road where cars drive through. Don’t worry, you’re still in the right place
- Follow the road until you see a trail on the right side
- Take this trail to the lookout (there are a few), and you will get to these views (click on each photo to enlarge it):
Temperature and What to Bring
We have spent the last four months in Europe, starting in Russia, then moving to Greece, Italy and France. After Russia, we sent back our winter wardrobe thinking that we would not experience temperatures under 20 C (70 F) for the rest of our travels. Boy, were we wrong! Plitvice Lakes and the surrounding small towns (including where we stayed in Korenica), dipped down to 8 C (47 F) in the evenings and mornings, which we were not at all prepared for! On the day we visited the national park, we didn’t remove our jackets until around 11:30 AM when the sun finally warmed up the area enough. It was so cold in the morning that I actually wished I had my beanies from back in Seattle to keep my head warm! Check the weather before you go (also keep in mind it rains a LOT here, which is why it’s so green!) and pack accordingly.
Other items to bring:
- Your camera, an extra battery, and an extra large SD card! There’s a good chance you will fill it up!
- A fully charged phone if you’re using your phone to take photos
- Light jacket or vest (or dress in layers that are easy to put on and take off, since the sun sometimes can’t make up its mind)
- Hiking or running shoes with comfortable insoles (do not wear flat shoes or slippers (flip flops/thongs) unless you only plan on an hour of walking)
- Lots of water, snacks and a picnic lunch if you want to save money and spare yourself from bad food at the concessions
- Sunscreen, hat and sunnies
- Cash & coins (credit cards are accepted, but cash is much quicker and preferred at the concessions and souvenir shop)
- *TIP*: In the afternoon, the line for ice cream gets very long. Simply go into the souvenir shop and buy the ice cream there. Same flavors, same price, less of a line. Just don’t unwrap it and begin eating it in the store unless you want to be scolded by the cashier (oops, I didn’t see the sign.)
There is no swimming in any of the lakes, as it is a protected national park. If you want to swim, you can do so at Krka Waterfall, located one hour North of Split.
Now that you’re a pro on everything you need to know about visiting, let’s take a look at the photos (I couldn’t break away from my camera! So. Much. Beauty). So come with me on a photo journey through Plitvice Lakes National Park…(click on each photo to enlarge it.)
So, are you now convinced that fairies do exist? 😉