The best part of traveling is to take the road with no clue of where it is leading to and be super excited to see the little surprise it holds in for you. One such memorable trip was to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Europe. It has been quite a few years since I visited the lakes but it was not only my first international trip but also a mesmerizing wonder that I didn’t expect to see on my trip. I was part of a group trip to Europe. The trip was for two weeks and the places were something I had never heard of, Prague, Cesky Kurmlov, Budapest, Croatia, Austria!! You see, Ranbir Kapoor movies were not out back then and these places were alien to me. Say Europe and places like Paris or London or Switzerland were to come to mind first. And that was what people all around me were asking too. And I blurted out Croatia. And the itinerary read “Plitvicka Jezera”. None of these I knew back then but I had to so badly get on a trip. I looked it up and the pictures were out of the world and so I was eagerly looking forward to Plitvice Lakes on my trip.
Plitvice National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Croatia. It is one of the oldest national parks and it is famous for its lakes. The drive to Plitvice itself is very scenic and you can start feeling the chillness of the mountains. There are streams flowing here and there and all along the way which was a treat to the eyes. Along the way, I saw a cafe where I wish we could have all stopped and had some fun. But we were on a tour bus and it wouldn’t stop. There were a couple of restaurants off the road and it was set up just above the stream. So you get to sit at a table close to the stream and sip coffee with water gushing down. Some cafes even had their chairs laid out on the stream of flowing water. Such a pretty sight I say.
We were driving from Zagreb to Plitvice and it was almost evening by the time we reached the park. The plan was to halt for the night and explore the park early next day. Our stay was within walking distance to the park that we could hear the distant sound of waterfalls. I was so excited on hearing the sound of the waterfall and was walking over to the edge of the property, trying to catch a sight of it. A group of us decided to still freshen up and take a walk. By the time we gathered, it was all dark and since it is a national park there were no lights around. As I walked with my buddy through the darkness, with some creaking crocking sounds from insects and the distant waterfall going shuuuussshhhhh, suddenly there was a flash in front of my eyes. I was wondering if I was dreaming due to the tiredness of the journey? But then went another. A fraction of second the flash appears and disappears. And then two turned into three and four and five and so many!! Fireflies!! So many of them. How magical that moment was! I have never seen a firefly before and now I was surrounded with fireflies. Pitch darkness and glittering lights around me as though the stars have come down to twinkle around me. In spite of the darkness, the kid in me made me running behind the flies to catch one. Caught none, they kept disappearing in the dark. The night passed with such memories and we were to wake up the next day early morning to trek the park.
What is so special about Plitvice Lakes?
Plitvice National park is famous for its lakes. And it is not just another lake. There are about sixteen lakes formed by water cascading through the hills surrounded by krast formation. All the lakes are interconnected and are formed as lakes by natural dams. There are then also deposited with algae and moss and bacteria giving it numerous hues of green. The bed of the lake is formed by chalk or limestone that gives it a crystal clear look of water and you can see the fishes swim. These lakes are not small and they spread across acres. One needs to trek for kilometers to cover all the lakes and it is amazing to see them all be connected. This means we will be walking with water all along the way. Geography also says that the lake bed is porous and that means there must be an underwater system of rivers flowing through.
Trek to Plitive Lakes
The morning sun was peering through the window of my room. I got ready and went on to have breakfast. The trek path is around 13 to 15km. Somewhere in my mind, the thought of 13km was ringing again and again. I am not an active trekker. The last time I went on one such trek was to Gangotri in the Himalayas. I troubled my friends pretty much to complete the trek. So the beauty of the lakes and the 13km trek path were both playing around in my mind. Scrambled eggs, toast, fruits, cakes, coffee everything had gone in to give enough energy! The time came and we were off to the trail, it was at a walkable distance from our hotel. There are two entrances to the park. Start at the main entrance, Entrance 1, in that way you will be walking towards looking forward to the waterfalls. Entrance 2, however, is like walking against the crowd and in the opposite direction. You will be walking from big ones to small ones, other direction of water flow, I don’t think that is fun.
You can now buy entrance tickets to the Plitvice lakes national park online here – Click here
The lady in charge of the ticket counter explained to us that there are different trails. One for 5km this covers the big lakes, the second for 9km, one exploratory trail which usually students opt for, one into the forest for which you need a guide. Most of us decided to take the 5km trail and check it out before we venture further. And 5km sounds easy, right? So I was happy to be on that path. The trek path was so meticulously planned, they had trails marked as A, B, C and they tell you which alphabet to follow based on your ticket and you have to follow the board! That simple. The path was also very neat. They had few steps cut out of wooden logs, then come to the mud path, then come wooden steps and then few carved out steps. With the distant sound of waterfall and eagerness rushing in me to catch the first sight of it, I started walking fast. There comes the first clearing! A view point! From the view point, it was just magic. Pure magic! Different shades of green, blue, turquoise, you just cannot name those colors, such is nature’s palette. You can see the waterfalls cascading and forming lakes. The initial walk is a descent so from the viewpoint you can spot the trek path down passing through the lakes.
The trek path was now going down the hill so it was not very tough. It might be slippery during rains, the day I visited was a bright sunny day. As we approached closer to the lakes you realize how clear the water is. You can see the different kind of fishes, the algae, there was a small boat sunk in the river. Everything! Everything under the water you can see with no difficulty! I was so lost in its beauty. Actually you know what, the pictures cannot do justice to the place! However awesome be the technology or the photographer, what you see is totally different from the pictures.
The foliage adds more beauty to the colors of the park. It is not just the lakes but the flora and fauna need to be observed as well. Lots of flowering plants, colorful flowers, and the bees were buzzing around my head, shooing me away from taking pictures of its flowers, thank God they did not sting me. Within a couple of hours, we reached a refreshing point and hey the 5km trek is over!!!! It is also the point where a ferry takes you to the other end of the Plitvicka river. The 5km trek was over even before I could realize!! I was standing by the shore of the river, sipping some hot chocolate and the fishes were eagerly looking at me hoping they would get some share of the hot chocolate.
What a vast water body! Huge, clear one! I wanted more of it. In fact, I was seriously considering the idea of walking back the trek path and savor the lakes again! 5km was not enough! I wanted to discover more! The ferry carried us to the other end of the river and wow, what an eco-friendly boat! Absolutely no sound of the engine, no wobbling, no disturbance to the water, how do they even manage this? The fishes might have thought it as a huge cloud moving above and the shadow is falling beneath. So cool. The ferry reaches the other end of the lake and the trail again shows four different directions. I asked a guy in charge where this trail leads and he mentioned, “This is the longer trek path. You can see around 10 more lakes if you follow this path!” What? The bigger part of the park is on this side of the river? Yippeee, I got more to explore and am off again.
Some of my buddies and I decided to trek the remaining of the park. We had enough time and energy. The wooden logs used as steps are built above the streams. So you are actually walking above the streams, just bend down and the streams are gushing down under you! There is no swimming allowed in the Plitvice lakes, so the water is clean and we can fill our water bottles in these streams. This lengthier trail was more beautiful with small lakes, fishes walking along with you, plants brushing you and the trail takes you close to a couple of waterfalls, close enough for the waterfall to sprinkle cool water on you. With all the sweat and sun that cool sprinkle of water was very much a needed one! Now we were climbing up the hill as this was leading to the other exit of the park. The walk up the hill gets tiring, the paths get rugged but your spirits get refreshed again and again by the surprise that each turn the trail brings you.
Towards the end of the trail, as we walk away from the lakes and waterfalls, we walk through huge trees. Watch out for the different colored leaves, wild mushrooms popping out of their barks, birds making different sounds.. After a point, we can see the buses moving from the park and we push ourselves hoping the exit is close by but! but! but! We keep on pulling and pushing ourselves and it goes never ending! Finally, the end of the trail did come! The end. As I turn back, the path curls and curls down and I had left behind my footsteps going zig-zag all around the place 🙂 Wonder if I was drunk! I was dripping with sweat but the happiness of having walked the full trail and the satisfaction that I managed to cover all the lakes and waterfalls made, my day and life happier.
How to reach Plitvice lake national park
Buses ply from Zagreb to Plitvice. It stops at the gate and you can get the ticket at the entrance gate. From the entrance gate to the start of the trail, buses from the park run. Some people do it as a day trip from Zagreb too as the park is only about 130 or 150 km away from the city. But as I said before stay near the park and hit the trail before the crowd gets in.
Few Tips for your visit to Plitvice Lakes national park,
- Stay close to the park. There are quite a few hotels around the park and so stay there. You can book Plitvice Lakes National park hotels here – link to book hotels.
- Start early so that the sun does not drain out your energy.
- The Plitvice lake national park opens at 7 am in the morning and closes at 8 pm in the night. The ticket counter closes at 5 pm. The color of the lake is played on by the sun so go when the sun is up.
- Good shoes are a must or you might slip and fall down or hurt your feet. Also, carry a hat, sunglasses, and water.
- No swimming or littering is allowed in the Plitvice lakes.
- The trails are very easy to follow, there are signboards guiding you, so no worries even if you venture out by yourself. The ticket also has the map of Plitvice lakes printed on it, so no worries.
- Take a good camera with you cos it is not just the pretty lakes but the flowers, trees, squirrels, mushrooms, small streams, everything beckons you.
- The trek is easy to moderate so if you can, cover the complete stretch.
- At many places the park is deserted, so take your time, enjoy the calmness, peace and tranquility around.
- Plitvice lakes national park is open throughout the year. And visiting the park in winter to witness the frozen lakes and snow-covered peaks are also one of the top things to do. I picked up a postcard of Plitvice lakes winter scenery, it looked splendid.