Plitvice Lakes National Park is gorgeous beyond compare. One of the oldest national parks in South-East Europe, and the largest in Croatia, this aquatic wonderland attracts visitors from all around the world.
The sixteen lakes, each connected by a series of waterfalls, are set deep in the Croatian wilderness. These lakes stretch out over eight kilometres whilst the national park covers an area of three hundred square kilometres. Over thousands of years, water flowing over the limestone and chalk cliffs have created natural barriers which form damns between the lakes, resulting in spectacular waterfalls of all sizes.
This beautiful part of Croatia sees over one million visitors a year! With that in mind, how can you best maximise your time at Plitvice National Park whilst minimising the number of tourists you’ll encounter?
Get There Early
The best way to beat the crowds is to get to the national park earlier than everyone else. The entrances open each morning at 7am (and close at 7pm) but the tour groups don’t get there anywhere near that early. If you’re wanting to avoid the hoards of visitors on the paths, set the alarm early and get there before them.
Make the Lakes a Stop-Over (& How to Store Your Baggage)
We caught the bus from Zagreb and continued on to Zadar after we finished at the Plitvice Lakes to save time. Doing so meant we had our bags with us but storing them there couldn’t have been easier.
When you arrive at Plitvice get off at the first entrance – there are three of them but it’s Entrance One (the first stop if you’re driving from Zagreb) that houses the ‘left luggage’ room. Head to the Information desk, in a room to the left of the ticketing counters and they’ll point you towards the luggage storage which you’ll find the furthest hut down, on the right.
The luggage room is locked but anyone can collect and use the key from the Info Desk, so though it’s secure, it’s not that secure. With that said, we figured everyone was in the same boat and felt comfortable leaving our gear there.
Take the Path Less Trodden
As you enter the park you’ll spot a number of large signs suggesting potential routes around the park. With the timeframe we had, the suggestion was to walk around the lower lakes first, then catch the boat over before continuing the walk around the upper lakes and catching the shuttle back down. Instead, we walked up the left track until we got to the shuttle bus which we then caught all the way to the top of the park (transferring in the middle) and then walked around the lakes until we got back to Entrance 1 (with a little boat ride in the middle). All transport is included in your ticket (which will set you back 180 kuna) so you can make your day work however you like.
Where Will I Find ‘That’ Special View?
So, you’ve made it to the Plitvice Lakes and have planned your route? Don’t be quite so fast to race off – there’s a spot that they won’t tell you about but is well worth finding for yourself!
Whenever you make it over to the large waterfall on the lower lakes (Veliki Slap), give yourself some extra time to hike up the mountainside where you’ll find one of the very best views down over the lakes. The track up the side of the cliff looks relatively unused and when we were there, didn’t have many people on it – you’ll find it to the left of the large falls (as you stand facing them) and will know you’re in the right spot based on all the people admiring the falls. Hike up the track, turning to the right at the top (you’ll go through a little tunnel). Keep to the right as you skirt around the top of the cliff – you can see on the below picture where your starting point is and once you get to the top, how the track follows the cliff past the falls, around to the other side of them. As you walk, you’ll find yourself on a tarsealed road – stay on that until you walk over the old bridge and then turn to the right to find the first of two viewing spots.
When we were there, we had both locations to ourselves where we enjoyed the most spectacular views looking back over the lakes. The walk is fairly steep at the start but not long and very manageable so be sure to allow time to head up there.
Buses through Croatia are reasonably priced, reliable and easy to figure out. We pre-booked our ticket from Zagreb the night before and upon arriving at Plitvice checked in with the bus booking desk (which is right where the bus drops you off at the first entrance). We were advised that the buses frequently sell out so made the decision then to book on the 4.20pm before we went into the park. This ended up being the right decision as sure enough, we saw others being turned away when we boarded later. There seemed to be plenty of buses leaving later so they wouldn’t have been stranded but it’s worth getting organised ahead of time to avoid waiting around for the next free seats.
The Plitvice National Park was one of the highlights of Croatia for us. Many people visit this beautiful country for the islands and beach-scene but for us, Plitvice Lakes were the clear winner and a must-see.
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