Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Wish granted!

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I spent nearly two weeks in Croatia with my sons years ago and the place I’d always regretted missing was Plitvice National Park. As far as I was concerned, Plitvice was #1 on my list for this Croatian vacation with David and now, as our trip neared an end, we were finally going to be there…and it was storming. Not just light rain, but a downpour. Aaargh!

The weather in Zadar had been overcast with occasional drizzle, but cleared to sunny the morning we set out on the drive to Plitvice. It’s an easy 2-hour drive from Zadar to Plitvice and the scenery is beautiful as you head into the mountains and cross over impressive bridges spanning wide inlets of water.

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As we climbed higher into seriously rugged mountains, the weather began to deteriorate.

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When we exited the truly impressive Sveti Rok tunnel (over 3.5 miles long!), wind buffeted our car to the point I was getting a little nervous despite the excellent, wide highway. Thankfully traffic was light. By the time we neared Plitvice Jezera, the skies had opened up and we pulled into the parking lot of our AirBnB apartment in the driving rain. Our lovely hostess awaited us in raincoat and hood and we left our luggage to dash inside, umbrellas held high.

Despite that inauspicious beginning, the next day dawned bright and clear and all we could have hoped for for our day at Plitvice. I was as excited as a child!

We got an early start, planning to park at the Hotel Bellevue near Entrance 2 to the park and avoid the less-convenient, paid parking designated for the park. As we turned in a guard stopped our car, asking where we were going. I just looked bemused and answered we were going to the Hotel Bellevue, of course, and he waved us in. Instead of turning left into the main hotel parking, we drove to the end of the short street and parked, near the pedestrian path into the park. This put us not far from a ticket office and park bus stop #2 (“ST2” on the map below). Perfect!

Our AirBnB hostess, Jelena, was a font of knowledge and she’d given us a park map and laid out an optimum walk for us. We followed all her suggestions and could not have been happier. Day tickets to the park were 110 kuna apiece (about $17 each). We caught the park bus (included in our tickets) heading toward Entrance 1 and got off at the bus stop #1 (“ST1” on the map below) to walk along the water (on our left) to view the largest waterfall Veliki Slap (literally “Big Waterfall”) on the far bank.

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Park map posted near Entrance 2 ticket building/bus stop

The path to the waterfall itself was closed, for which I was just as glad. I was happy with the view from the opposite bank and, once I saw the scattered nature of Veliki Slap and a building at the summit of the waterfall, I was even less interested in going. I’m a waterfall junkie of sorts and have been to the top of lots of waterfalls, but I was fine with missing the top of this one. Maybe it was just me. Anyway, there was so much I wanted to see in the lower lakes and we headed back to continue the route Jelena had recommended.

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An early view of Veliki Slap

We hiked down to the water, making our way along the water (now on our right) and past another four wide waterfalls before crossing over to the far bank where Jelena had told us to catch a boat at P3 (also included in our tickets).

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View of wide waterfall from above

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At water level
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Crossing the water
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Boat approaching the dock
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Off the bow of the boat

We got off the boat at P2 (see map above) and began an amazing wander through seemingly-endless waterfalls.

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We spent several hours hiking the park. We found it to be a moderate hike, with occasional steep stretches and some dirt paths getting narrow and muddy from the previous day’s rain. Plitvice Lakes National Park is so large that we never felt crowded and while we did see other people (and there was a fair-sized Asian tour group at the boat stop) we also had plenty of space to take in the incredible, tranquil beauty of the park.

We ended our hike at bus stop 3 (“ST3” on the map above) where we caught the bus back to ST2 where we began our day. From there, we walked the short distance back to the national restaurant “Poljana” for lunch. It’s located just by the Hotel Bellevue with lovely views of the park. Unfortunately, we found both the food and service to be inferior to its sister national restaurant, Licka Kuca, near Entrance 1.

For more information, see: http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/

You can check out our 2-bedroom/1-bath AirBnB apartment at: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4699728?sug=50 At $75/night and a 10-minute walk to the park (in good weather), it’s a deal worth considering, especially so if you need two bedrooms.

If you’re new to AirBnB and want to give it a try on this or any other apartment, you can use my referral link which should get both of us $30 in AirBnB travel credit: http://www.airbnb.com/c/tcuthrell Let me know if you have any questions.

Krka Park, Croatia–walking on water

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Krka Park pathway

The waterfalls, lakes, rivers and pathways of Krka Park lure visitors from Croatia and beyond. We got up early to start our daytrip to Krka, hoping to avoid the crowds we’d heard could be a problem. The park lies an easy hour’s drive from Split. We drove the vast majority of the way on the excellent A1/E65 highway, then followed signs (and Google Maps) along the equally well-maintained E33 to the park’s main entrance at Lozovac. The enormous parking lot was mostly empty, but cars and tour buses were already beginning to arrive. We bought entrance tickets at the booth in the parking lot then realized we’d just missed the free shuttle bus that takes visitors into the park. [The free shuttle service runs from April to October.] Unwilling to wait for the bus to return, we opted to hike instead downhill through thick forests. The walk is pretty and not overly-difficult for the fit, but views of the lake below are blocked and we actually saw more of that particular vista by riding the bus back to the parking lot at the end of our visit. Our hike deposited us just up the road from the bus drop-off.

A few yards beyond a concession stand we stepped onto the raised wooden path that snakes its way through the myriad waterfalls, streams and lakes of Krka. In mere yards, we’d left the world of parking lots and buses behind to lose ourselves in a fairytale world of green. Water rushed and burbled all around us, even visible between the planks beneath our feet. Small fish darted about or clumped in schools swimming against the currents. Sunlight glinted off moving water and the air smelled deliciously of water, flowers, herbs, grass and trees.

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We caught up to a tour group, but they branched back towards civilization and we soon had the park seemingly to ourselves. We came across other hikers from time to time, but mostly in twos and threes. Paths snake all through the area, sometimes as the raised wooden walkways over water, others as dirt footpaths through the trees. A group of mounted posters along the way describe local flora and fauna. We spent a couple hours exploring this area before we came to a footbridge over a large basin with multiple waterfalls spilling into it. The largest of these is Skradinski buk. Several buildings cluster around this spot, including a restored mill, souvenir shop and a historical display of weaving and traditional costumes. Things got crowded in this part of the park which is evidently easily accessible for tour groups not going as far into the park as we did.

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Stradinski buk waterfall

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Walking across the bridge and past the buildings brought us back to the concession stand and parking circle where the park shuttle bus picked us up. It is a full-sized bus, accommodating far more people than were waiting when we were there. The bus dropped us off at the big parking lot by the Lozovac entrance where we’d left our car.

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View from the shuttle bus that we missed on the hike into Krka

Several small restaurants line one side of the parking lot. We chose one at random, Lapis Alba, and enjoyed a cheap late lunch of hot sandwiches and cold beer before heading back to Split.

There’s lots more to Krka than what we saw, but it would probably take at least two full days to see it all at leisure. Boat rides are available on the river between falls and going out to Vivosac Island, home to a small monastery. You can find out more at: http://www.npkrka.hr/stranice/krka-national-park/2/en.html