Croatia, the jewel of the Adriatic was on our radar for the longest time. However, due to something or the other, it did not happen… until last summer (2017 that is), when we finally succeeded in planning a road trip from Zadar to Plitvice and then down to the south to Dubrovnik. I must say we were extremely happy to have made it to Croatia finally, and it was worth the wait.
In this blog, we cover our day trip to the Plitvice National Park – one of the amazing natural wonders you will ever see!!
Our day began early. After a quick home-made breakfast in our Apartment [Villa Romansa – an amazing apartment with a view of the Adriatic] in Zadar, we started our drive towards the east of the country. The road from Zadar to Plitvice runs through the rugged mountains, with several tunnels cutting into the hillside. You can see this landscape I talk about in the video below. The drive was about an hour and a half. In between, we made a pit-stop about half way through for a couple of cheese and minced meat filled Boreks.
Chubbies’ Tip: Boreks are a typical snack you will find in Croatia (and in the rest of the Balkans). They are basically baked filled pastries with thin, flaky dough with origins in the Anatolian regions, the recipes of which flowed through to the Baltics during the Ottoman regime. A must try!
Anyways, the drive continued. We were excited about the weather too, which was sunny with specks of fluffy white clouds. And the green landscape around, interspersed between the mountains added to the beauty. But then, maybe we had counted our lucky stars too early, as when we were nearly there, it started to rain. With no much choice given the turn of events, we waited patiently in the car for about half an hour with it pouring outside. But then after half an hour, the adventurers in us sprung up and we decided, rain or no rain, we would have to go out to explore this wonder of nature. We needed to cover ourselves properly, but more importantly, we had to cover up our camera gears. After a quick improvisation – camera ponchos made of grocery bags – we walked in through the gates of the park.
At Plitvice, the National Park is centered on a group of sixteen lakes fed small rivers and streams. The specialty of these lakes is that are cascaded back to back, therefore, giving rise to wide but low height waterfalls between the lakes. The water descends about 160 m from the topmost lake to the bottom one, where the water exits to the Korana River. As a result, there is a diversity of flora and fauna in this region, which resulted in declaring this region a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the National Park, there are two main entrances – Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. Entrance 1 is on the north end of the park and is closer to the Lower Lakes, the lower end of the 16-lakes cascade, while Entrance 2 is somewhere in the middle of the cascade. Between the two entrances and further lie the hilly terrain, with the lakes and other smaller water bodies lying around them. Hikers and other nature lovers have the option to hike along several trails: some of which run from Entrance 1 to Entrance 2 and vice versa. The National park proposes a bunch of hiking routes with varying difficulties, length and approximate time of hike. Some of the wider lakes also have boats crossing them, and a few routes also include the option of cutting short the walk by choosing a short boat ride. We would definitely suggest the first-timers to take up one of these routes, as they pass through the interesting and amazing features in the park. And maybe also choose a route that includes a boat ride to experience Plitvice from another point of view.
We initially planned to hike along a route that traversed across the entire park – about a length of 9 km. taking about a time of 8 hours. However, since the weather was not conducive plus given that we were already a couple of hours behind schedule, we opted for a trail of 5 km. length, which included a short boat ride across one of the larger lakes in the park. It took us about 5 hours to complete the route, during which we took enough time to stop and take photographs. Starting from the Lower Lakes, we got the first glimpse of the amazing place that we were about to explore… We could see a lush of green and yellow autumn leaves, with several long white streaks of water incessantly falling into the green pools below.
As we started our walk, we saw a huge waterfall – called Veliki Slap or the Great Waterfall – at a distance, crashing down to the rocks below. The interesting part was that it was cascading down from the top and eventually, the water at the bottom was nearly lost as mist. It was a great sight to behold, especially because one could see multiple colors of the trees on the hills around the waterfall. Within a few minutes of us starting walking, the rain came to a halt – as if respecting our courage to go out and explore. We walked downhill along the narrow and stony winding paths on the eastern side of the lakes, all the while experiencing and enjoying the nature around. At the bottom, the stony trail transitioned into a wide path of wooden planks. The wooden path led us over a still lake of green water, as if they were floating on the water. This lake is the lowest of the 16 lakes and is called the Novakovica Brod (or Novakovic’s Crossing). Named after peasant Novakovic, legend says that he was thrown off his horse into this lake. Following the floating wooden path, we reached the Sasvatic, where the water from all the 16 lakes and the Veliki Slap join with the other cascading streams to form the River Korana.
A short walk then brought us to the base of the Veliki Slap. Reaching the base of the waterfall, we spent quite some time admiring the view. The waterfall is fed by the River Plitica. At the base, we also spent a significant amount of time getting acquainted with a local inhabitant, not a Croatian, but actually a yellow and black spotted salamander which was lying on a moss covered rock, basking in the sun (Google told later that it’s a Fire Salamander, a widely found amphibian in Southern Europe).
Walking onwards, we began climbing up by the western side of the still green lakes, passing by the Novakovica Brod, and then walking by the Lake Kaluderovac (or the Hermit Lake), the Lake Gavanovac (or the Gavan’s Lake), the Lake Milanovac (or the Milan’s Lake) and the Lake Kozjak (or the Goat Lake). It was an amazing walk observing the multitude of fishes such as European Chubs and Trouts in the lake. The highlight of our trip was two wide sets of waterfalls – spread across the entire width of the water bodies between the Gavanovac, the Milanovac, and the Kozjak lakes. The flow of water was slowed down due to the mossy growth on the rocks and the growing aquatic plants there. We could not get a wide shot of these lakes but got a very nice bird’s overview shot from the top of the adjacent canyons on the east when walking back.
Chubbies’ Tip: All the lakes have associated interesting legend behind their names. For example, the Hermit Lake is named after a monk who lived in a cave nearby the lake, the Milan’s Lake is named after farmer Mile, whose wife is said to have drowned in this lake, and the Goat Lake is named after the legend that the farmers used the small island in the middle of the vast Lake Kozjak to protect their goats from the wolves in the surrounding forests.
Along our way were several small waterfalls that were immensely beautiful. We were able to capture some of these unnamed beauties as shown here…
We continued walking by the Lake Kozjak, a vast lake to reach a pier for boats to cross the lake from its western side to the eastern side. We took the boat or ferry that could accommodate about 50 to 60 people. The ride was a serene one, and it was about 15 minutes long across the still dark green lake. On reaching the eastern side, we went to a small cafe to refresh ourselves and also sit in the grass with the warm sun above to soak in the beauty. It was extremely relaxing. After about half an hour, we walked up from the lakeside to what was the Entrance 2 of the National Park. From Entrance 2, we could have either walked back to Entrance 1 along the top of the eastern canyons or take a short public shuttle. We chose the later as it was getting late and we did not want to fend off wild bear or wolves.
The public shuttle dropped us somewhere before the Entrance 1, which allowed us to walk along the top of the eastern canyons and see some of the most amazing views of the National Park as shown above (and again below – we could not get enough of that!).
Eventually, we reached the Entrance 1 to end our 5-hour hike. We were tired but extremely fulfilled with our trip. We drove back to Zadar that evening with the memories of a lifetime.
You can find more details about the National Park, its timings, entry prices and most importantly – the hiking trails in this link here: https://np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en.
Enjoy our short video below of our day to the Plitvice National Park . . .