So I was going to do a post about Plitvice with a bunch of pretty pictures, showing you all how gorgeous it is to explore. I’m still doing that, sort of, but in a way that I hope is far more interesting than just a few nice photos. Before my trip to Croatia, one of the few places I knew anything about in the country was this national park, a true natural wonder. But if you’re like me, even if you’ve heard of it you may not know a lot about it.
1. Series of 16 lakes – So what makes Plitvice so special in the first place? Well, it’s a series of lakes arranged in cascades. The lakes are the result of several small rivers flowing into one another, originally formed from mountain runoff. The lakes flow into one another, separated by natural travertine dams and all following the same general water flow. To stand in the middle of the park is to experience water and its power in a way you may not have before. Throughout Plitvice you are followed by the constant sound of water gurgling, either slowly dripping or in a massive cascading waterfall. You can’t escape the moistness of the park and the verdant green plants surrounding the lakes are a testament to the life-force found here. The lakes are also famous for their constantly changing colors, from green to light grey and even pale blue. Connecting the paths and lakes are miles and miles of walkways, allowing intimate access to this natural wonderland.
2. It’s large – Yes, in general national parks are large so this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. But, many people visit Plitvice as a day trip, or at the most spend two days there, so the size of the park can feel a bit daunting at first, but it is entirely manageable. The protected area covers almost 300 square kilometers, but some of the most beautiful hiking trails only take a few hours to navigate. There are plenty of options to see the best of the lake and river complex, so be sure to check the information office when you arrive. I spent most of the day exploring the park and while I felt like I saw a lot, I also had the feeling that there was much more left to be discovered. So if you have the time to spare and you like the outdoors, make sure you give yourself the opportunity to explore the park fully.
3. Massive diversity of flora and fauna – Plitvice is an all too rare example of a modern day Eden. Thanks to its location and the fact that it has been a national park since the 1940s and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1970s, the animal and plant life in and around the park have been left undisturbed by man in every positive way imaginable. A lack of pollution, few buildings and other common human errors have left in place about 75 plant species that are endemic, meaning that they don’t exist anywhere else. Even the animal life has benefited, the brown bear for example still calls the nearby woods and mountains home. From a personal point of view, it’s intoxicating to walk along the watery paths into vast forests of green as far as the eye can see. The park screams life and abundance and it is an energizing experience.
4. It’s very popular – There is a downside of course to the marvels of Plitvice, it’s popular; very popular. More than 1.2 million tourists visit the park every year, and even though I was there in the off-season it seemed as if they had all arrived at the same time. I can only imagine what the height of the summer season must be like. Massive motor coaches brought visitors of all ages, from school kids to the elderly. It was these groups that seemed to follow us as we explored the park. Around every corner is a new wonder, yet I was prevented many times from taking the photos I wanted because of the crowd gathering around, waiting for me to take my photo so they could walk past. As you can see from these photos though, any annoyance was well worth it. Even with the screaming kids and cranky adults, it was an absolutely magical experience to walk through this untouched paradise. To avoid the crowds, get there early and stay late, realizing that the worst of the crowds will converge midday. Also try to plan your trip in the off-season when fewer people may be traveling.
5. It really is that pretty – As you can probably guess by this point, I thought Plitvice was kind of pretty. It was beautiful in a way that is usually seen only in short bursts, but here it spans hundreds of kilometers. It’s not just the physical beauty that is enticing however, it’s the joy of being there that makes this experience so extraordinary. This is nature at its most pure, its cleanest, its brightest and its best. To spend the day walking through the rivulets and marshes, breathing in the water infused air and enjoying the day is the true wonder of Plitvice and it is that sensation of wonder and contentment that makes this one of the best parks in the world.