Add to your bucket list immediately!
There are so many beautiful places in the world. But how many of them are truly ‘bucket list worthy’? While exploring beautiful Croatia recently, we were struck by one particular place, which I’ve immediately deemed to be more than worthy of addition to any self-respecting bucket list.
Tourist numbers in Croatia have soared in recent years, due in part to the filming of Game of Thrones in Dubrovnik. And indeed, we heard a lot before we visited about places like Hvar and Dubrovnik.
But the place I’m about to share with you is really something special and unique.
What’s most amazing about this stunning place is that before arriving on the shores of Croatia, we virtually heard nothing about it.
Plitvice Lakes is a true natural wonder of the world. Do not travel to Croatia and miss it out.
It’s one of those places you walk through, but can’t really believe you are in. Everywhere you go, you expect little fairies or leprechaun’s to pop out, it’s that much like a fairytale.
For those of us living in Dubai during summer, Plitvice Lakes is probably as close to heaven as you can. Check out my earlier post on the Dubai heat to really understand what we deal with in summer.
So, you have to excuse me a little when i get excited about things that others take for granted such as grass, trees and roads that go somewhere.
And I assure you, there’s not an ounce of embellishment or exaggeration in this post (be quiet over there lovely Hubby!) When you find yourself strolling the paths of Plitvice, you will remember reading this story and think “wow… that chick with that blog no-one reads was so right about this place!”
Why is Plitvice Lakes bucket list worthy?
I assure you, this is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve seen.
Plitvice Lakes is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s made up of 16 lakes interconnected by waterfalls as well as many different species of deer, bear and birds.
What makes Plitvice so special though is the colour. The most magnificent greens and blues you have ever seen.
The hues change all the time. Depending on the light, it can also appear blue, grey or just sparkling gold. Every angle, every hour this place can look different.
And even when surrounded by people, you can feel the tranquil, almost spiritual nature of the place. There’s a special silence that you only get when people are truly awed by something.
The only thing that would make it even more special would be to jump right into that green oasis and splash around. Especially the day we went which was 34deg. But alas, no swimming allowed due to the complexity of the mineral balance and the algae. And I guess in some ways, you’d feel a bit bad bombing into such beautiful, undisturbed water.
To REALLY enjoy it though, there are a few things you need to know. These are things I wish I knew before we visited to really get the most out of the place. Let me share and if you are going, please like and share and tell me how it goes.
1. Get there early… or late but nothing in between
Plitvice Lakes is no different to any other tourist attraction in the world in many ways. One of the key things is that most people arrive mid-morning.
And if you go in summer like we did, the weather can make it somewhat uncomfortable to be trekking around during the middle of the day.
So my best advice is to go early – or go late.
On our first day in the Plitvice-Jezera area, we thought we’d stop by the national park and do a bit of a scoping mission. We arrive about a half-hour before closing time. This allowed us to:
- sneak into the carpark without paying
- sweet talk the guard into letting us in without paying a cent
- enjoy walking the trails without a crowd of people surrounding us
- Enjoy the atmosphere you get when a bunch of people have just enjoyed an amazing, and challenging experience together.
The atmosphere in this place is very special I don’t think the whole time we were in the park we saw any unhappy looking people. It’s quite weird.
Everywhere you go people are bonding over sharing the narrow paths, taking pictures for each other, getting out of other people’s selfies, helping kids along the way. It’s such a nice feeling. It’s as though the algae in the water saps the angry, aggressiveness out of people.
Even our little Chubs was happy for the whole day. He just cruised around, being carried when he was tired, and walking when he wasn’t. Miss Sparky too, initially completely freaked out when we told her we were walking 5 kms, but an absolute trooper the whole way. Not one whinge.
2. Pre-purchase your tickets
All of point 1 said, I come to point 2 which is to pre-purchase your tickets.
Remember how I said there’s a special atmosphere within the park?
Well it doesn’t extend beyond the gates I can assure you.
On our second day, we arrived as early as we could get out the door (around 8am) and there was already a queue of people stretched around the huge forest clearing that contains the ticket office, national park office, cafes and rest areas.
And that line does not move fast.
Many of the park staff don’t seem to hold the wonder of the park within them anymore, and there seems to be a strange delineation of tasks among them that state that no matter how big the queue, no-one is allowed to take payment for a ticket except for the one lone ticket agent. It was quite comical really. Lots of staff in uniforms standing around or standing behind counters but not lifting one finger to help move this unruly crowd.
We witnessed more than one altercation between uptight, passive aggressive staff members and extremely fed-up and angry tourists. Perhaps this is why everyone is so mellow and lovely within the park – they’re grateful to have finally gotten in!
3. Don’t even bother with a pram
Another thing we found hard to get information or advice on prior was whether or not it’s possible to take a pram for the 3-year old.
Let me save you that trouble right now and state very clearly that a pram would be a massive hinderance to your ability to explore and enjoy the park.
Whilst there are trails everywhere, most of them are individual logs nailed together which are hard to walk across. Even a 4wd pram would struggle. Likewise, when the paths are dirt, they’re typical forest trails with tree roots, rocks and sand ditches. Not conducive to pram pushing at all.
The good thing is though, because it’s so tranquil and the atmosphere so nice, you can absolutely take you time to get around. Take lots of breaks. Get the kids searching for different plants and wildlife. Use the buses in the park to get between checkpoints. It’s very do-able with kids on foot. But if you have really little ones, definitely take a baby backpack, or find a sitter and leave them at home.
4. Don’t try and plan routes in advance
As soon as we arrived in Plitvice-Jezera (the town) we tried to find some information on the park. We wanted to work out our logistics around whether to take the pram, what time to get there, what routes to aim for etc.
It doesn’t matter how hard you try. It’s impossible to get decent information on this place without actually being there.
It’s quite weird.
No-one is allowed to tell you anything about the trails in Plitvice other than the people in the park. It’s as though the entire area have signed NDAs that say they will not disclose any useful information to tourists, or they will be sued by the staff within the park.
I went to the tourist authority the day before to try to get an idea of what trails we could do with the kids, and they looked almost frightened to talk to me.
This little lady looked at me like a possum in headlights and said “No madam.. you have to ask them at the park” then quickly shut her window.
The great irony is, when you actually get within the boundary of the park and get to talk to a staff member, they are completely disinterested in giving you any information. They seem to have a script that they recite about the routes to do and how long they take and they will not deviate from it. It doesn’t matter what question you ask. They still recite the same information. At one point, I was talking to this ‘information desk’ assistant and I started looking around for the hidden camera to see if I was really on the Truman show.
Anyway, the park is very structured. There are standard trail combinations that you can’t deviate from. So you just pick one and go for it. Most of them start with a bus or train to get you to the start point and then you follow the marked trail back to the end point. Very organised and basically no need to worry in advance.
5. Take food and drinks
Being a national park, there are not a lot of facilities. This includes places to buy food and drink.
There are some restaurants around the clearing at the 2 main entrances, and every now and then a little ice-cream vendor, but that’s it.
This probably sounds somewhat obvious to most people who spend any time in national parks. But this is one time I need to ask you to be tolerant with me.
Remember that in Dubai, you literally do not have to lift a finger if you don’t want to. Everywhere you go, there is someone who either wants to or is paid to help you out. After a while, you start to lose your ability to plan activities and work out what on earth you need for a full day out on your own. It’s quite tragic.
So of course, initially we assumed that we could get away with just bringing water and we’d be okay to make it to one of food vendors in the park. Thank goodness we did the stealth recon on our first day and realised, it really is just a national park, not tourist mecca. There weren’t even any souvenir shops except one small one at the entrance. It’s quite refreshing.
We took A LOT of water and an assortment of snacks and we needed every last thing.
The lakes are the most fabulous colour, and they look cool and inviting. Nothing more torturous when you don’t have enough water in your backpack to last you to the next pit stop. Plan well my friends!
6. Stay nearby rather than on-site
There are a couple of hotels at the main entrance to the park. They are always pretty full and expensive.
But in the towns surrounding this area, for at least a 15km radius, there are literally hundreds of private accommodation rentals through sites like VRBO and AirBnB.
We chose to stay in a little village just off the main road called Grabovac at the Elysian Apartments.
And whist you do need a car to take up this option as there’s not really any public transport or taxi’s to speak of, I can’t recommend this place highly enough. The owners are super friendly and the apartment immaculate. And being a 5 minute drive from the entrance to the park is extremely convenient.
It’s also nice to get out an explore the surrounding areas.
The Croatian countryside in this area is quite beautiful and small towns are dotted along the windy roads. There are also many street vendors along the way selling fresh homegrown fruit and veg, honeys and cheeses. There’s a haunted look to some of the towns with many abandoned buildings, still full of bullet holes. A legacy of the sad history of the region.
But it’s nice to get out an explore the surrounding areas and not just stick with the tourists.
Add it to your bucket list TODAY – then stop and take it all in when you are there
This park deserves your undivided time and attention.
Turn off the phone and data and really connect with your surroundings.
Waterfall after waterfall flowing into the most amazing coloured lakes you have ever seen.
Everything is green from the trees surrounding the lakes down to the water itself and even on a hot day like it was when we visited, you feel cool and tranquil.
There are tracks all the way through the park and it’s a feast for both seasoned and hopeless photographers alike. It’s pretty hard to take a bad photo when you’re surrounded by such a natural wonder.
There are stretches of huge trees and rolling tracks where you can sit and picnic as well as steep cliffs with dramatic drops overlooking the water. You could easily spend days here and not see it all.
For our poor little burned out and dusty lungs, we soaked up every second of being enveloped in green, lush natural wonder.
Don’t miss it!
Add it to your bucket list today and make a plan. Your soul will thank you!
Have a great week all