The pure beauty of Plitvice – the largest and oldest national park in Croatia – has been described by many words like “Garden of Eden”, “The emerald of Europe” or ” The paradise of the human world”. To me, Plitvice appears more rustic and “real”, where I can touch everything, not too far from the heaven. And I want to call it a more casual name – A LUSH GREEN LAND.
It is a lush vegetative space with various green tones. The gentle turquoise lakes clearly reflect the green leaves which are adorned here and there with the orange ones in early autumn. The sky is cloudless blue, while the air is chilled and fresh with the amazing scent of plants. 90 powerful large and small waterfalls swirl around the green mossy rocks, then all connect to 16 terraced crystalline lakes, looking smooth and peaceful as if they have never flowed fiercely before.
I wandered slowly, quietly admiring the color of sunlight, the blue sky, inhaling the pleasant natural aroma, listening to the dancing sound of the water, relaxing all my senses to immerse myself gently in this magnificent lush green land.
A blessing natural wonder
Plitvice national park (pronounced as P-lít-vi-xê) is a fairy masterpiece of the nature as a huge pristine vegetation of approximately 300 km2 has been magically formed over thousand years. Characteristic geological substrate and hydro-logical confluence in this region have been continuously happening and gradually created dams of limestone formations, separating water flows from high mountains into a series of waterfalls and lakes, which are naturally stratified in an amazing way. With such a blessing fairy beauty, Plitvice Park has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1979.
16 named and various smaller unnamed lakes are interconnected, cascading one into the next, and divided into 2 sections: the Upper and Lower lakes. Despite their height, they all have fanciful shades of green, from teal, emerald, turquoise to gray, azure or deep blue. Colors vary depending on the mineral compositions and microorganisms in the water, as well as the angles of sunlight.
These minerals flow through layers of natural formations, calcifying everything it touches. As a result, the water in the lakes is always crystal clear, illuminating the pebbles on the bottom. They become home to countless freshwater creatures, as well as big, lazy fat fishes who don’t bother to swim, but occasionally play with ducks.
Despite its well-known reputation, this spectacular lake and waterfall system cover only a very small part of Plitvice park. The vast vegetation, rich ecosystems, pristine forests, majestic mountains with steep cliffs and unique caves are truly the remaining hidden gems with many surprises. All together, they form a spectacular natural wonder and mysterious pure green space as a whole.
Harmonious human touches
I really admire the way they design the footbridges and pathways stretching throughout the park. With such rugged natural terrain, it is a creative work of human world, not only showing off all the mysterious edges of the park, but also respecting the nature by creating a harmonious touches with environmentally friendly materials.
The wooden boardwalks look rustic and old but very solid, creating a sense of safety for millions tourists. Whether they are flat pathways passing through a quiet lake or the footbridges on a steep cliff across the rumbling waterfalls, they were built based on the inherent shape of nature, snaking harmoniously with the surroundings, as if being a part of it.
The arrangement of two entrances in two different sections – Upper Lake and Lower Lake – is a very smart way of operating, dispersing the traffic of tourists. 4 hiking trails scientifically designed into 7 different routes help to solve the flow of the crowd on narrow roads effectively. Regardless of the gate, visitors can choose the route that suits their interests, age, health, and time.
In addition, free shuttle buses and electric boats connecting 2 sections operate continuously, with the interval of about 20 minutes. It shortens walking time and preserves energy, providing the best experience for visitors.
Despite welcoming millions of visitors each year, Plitvice’s natural landscape is well preserved. What of nature stays as it is. The old, fallen branches seem to remain at their places since the beginning. Absolutely, there is no garbage or plastic bags scattered everywhere. It is a truly respectable effort of those who manage the park.
The gift of early risers
Although the park is nestled in the central mountainous region of Croatia, Plitvice is not far from big cities like Zagreb, Zadar or Split (within a few hours drive). Therefore, majority of visitors take day trip to visit this place, making the golden time to admire the inherent fairy-tale beauty of the “Lush Green Land” is a few hours as soon as the park opens (7am -10am). It is a gift for early risers.
Being one of the first people in at the park, we excitedly entered into a spectacular space of hills and waterfalls. The empty wooden observatory opened a breathtaking view from above. Two terraces of emerald green lake and countless large and small waterfalls are nestled in the middle of a undulating vegetation. The birds’ singing here and there was welcoming the first golden sunlight, spreading slowly from the top of the mountain.
It was delightful to be the only ones to enjoy the peaceful serenity of this lush land in the chilly early morning. The air was fresh and pleasant with the scent of plants and the sound of streams along the footsteps. These trekking pathways were probably the most beautiful trail that I had ever walked as the fairy scenes appeared through every bend.
Waterfalls are sometimes rumbling from the top of a mountain like water cannons, sometimes smoothly curling around green mossy rocks. The surface of the lake is as calm as a large mirror reflecting the green vegetation, mixed with the colors of autumn.
I don’t remember how many kilometers I wandered that day, how many stairs I walked, how many lakes and waterfalls I passed, or how I moved back and forth from one route to another. Just knowing that I was there from early morning till sunset.
Although it was a short time to have this magnificent scenery for my own, then I had to share it with the crowd bustling all the ways; even though the pure fresh air in the morning was replaced by the noisy and snaking queues, the park seemed to have an attractive power holding my feet until the end of the day.
I felt lucky to experience this park in two different states of it, to cherish my golden moments and my wonderful feelings in those moments, and then deeply recognized that no natural beauty will last forever if human does not appreciate and cherish it.
How to get to Plitvice national park
From big cities in Croatia like Zagreb, Zadar or Split, you can easily go to Plitvice and back in the day by taking a bus, day tour or renting a car. However, if you do so, you will spend more time in the car than in the park, and it will be difficult to enjoy the golden time-frame. Travel time will take 2 hours (from Zagreb), or 5 hours (from Split).
Entrance Ticket and Opening hours
The park has different opening hours and fares for each month of the year.
- Jun-Sep (Summer): open from 7am to 8pm, the fare is 250kn (~VND 850k)
- Apr, May & Oce (Spring & Autumn): open from 8am – 6pm, the fare is 100kn (~ VND 340k)
- Nov-Mar (Winter): open from 8am – 3pm, the fare is 60kn (~VND 205k)
Which entrance and which route should you take?
There are two entrances, Entrance 1 in the Lower Lakes, and Entrance 2 in the Upper Lakes. I strongly suggest to start from Entrance 1 as you are going uphill first when your energy is full. More importantly, the waterfall is always in front of you. If you are going in the opposite direction (from Entrance 2), you have to keep turning around to look at them. However, if you miss the golden time (not being at the park when it opens), you might consider starting from Entrance 2, so you are going to walk against the traffic.
4 trekking trails are divided into 7 routes, with A, B, C start at Entrance 1 while E, F, H start at Entrance 2 (which are basically the same as A, B, C, but in the opposite direction).
- Route A/B/E/F is approx. 3.5-5.1 km, only visit either one of the 2 sections.
- Route C/H is 8-9 km, visit both sections, using shuttle bus and electric boat.
- Route K is the longest trail, which can start at any gate, walking through the entire park of 18.3 km.
Depending on the time you have, as well as your health and preferences, choose the appropriate route. However, it is not necessary to follow only one route for a whole day. I started with route C, strayed through E, then followed H at the end.
The “must see” viewpoints
Y shaped bridge is the most popular viewpoint when searching for the information about Plitvice park. To get to this view, you have to climb through a series of slippery steps up through a dark cave (Supljara Cave). Pay attention to the instruction board as I missed it the first time, then I had to go back a long way.
While returning by shuttle bus at St3, I discovered a simpler way to see this view, just a short walk from bus station St2.
Another must-see view which is not easy to find, but appears in many postcards of Plitvice. This is also the spot where professional photographers hunt for the best moments of this park. From here, you can also see how well the steps are designed.
There is a fairly long walk from the park to this scenic spot, but we drove here the next morning. The address for driving is 44°54’9″N15°36’27 ”E. Then we walked through a wooden bridge, went down a small path for about 5 minutes, saw the Vidikovac board, and a breathtaking view appeared in front of us.
Accommodation near the park
There are a plenty of options near the two entrances of Plitvice, but most are lovely private guesthouses, prices range from 60 to 80 Euro/ double room/ night. Please pay attention to the exact location of the hotel, so that you can walk to the entrance and save parking fee. We stayed at the Flora House Apartment, a 10-minute walk to Entrance 1, which is very new and cozy for 260 Euro / 2 nights / 4 people.
Tips to visit Plitvice park
- Get here at the opening time. Experience the Lush Green Land in its golden time, enjoy the quiet, crowd-free natural scenery is magical.
- Stay overnight near the park. That way, you can get there at opening time.
- Bring your lunch as the food in the restaurants at the park is not good and not worth for your money.
- Start at Entrance 1, pick route C to view both sections.
- All the trekking trails are easy, flat or stairs with hand-rails. Hence, you just need to have a comfortable shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and water container to wander there.
- It is not very friendly for wheelchairs travelers as many parts of the park have stairs
- Be patient, specially at peak hours as all the ways may be clogged by the crowd. Let them have sometime for sight seeing and photo taken. .
- Swimming is not allowed in the park despite how many beautiful lakes it has.
Traveled on Sep 2019