I’ve wanted to see the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park since our first trip to Croatia in 2011. It’s location in the northern interior of Croatia doesn’t make it the easiest place to get to (read: no airport), but our slow travel through the Balkans is being carried out via bus – and Plitvice Lakes is conveniently on the route between Split and Zagreb.
According to the park website, our mid-March arrival still fell within the off-season pricing of $13 USD for a two-day park pass, heavily discounted from the peak. Although Kris referred to our adventure as ‘camping,’ we had actually booked a studio apartment at a guesthouse with a rate that fit our budget. The guide books said one night would be sufficient as the sole attraction is the lakes, we booked three.
Arrival to Plitvice Lakes by bus from Split, Croatia
On the day we left Split, we lugged our bags through town to the bus station, weighted down by three days’ worth of food (rice, carrots, apples and, of course, two bottles of wine and Guinness beer for St Patrick’s Day!) that we were taking with us, as there is no walkable market in the Plitvice Lakes area. The bus was comfortable enough and we settled in for the five hour ride hoping for entertaining scenery along the way.
The beginning of the trip took us along the stunning coastline, past Trogir and north to Zadar. But, once we turned inland the sky turned dreary. Three o’clock in the afternoon looked more like six and the cooler air was permeating the windows. We were getting closer to the snow-capped mountains that had for so long been in the distance and city life gave way to rural surroundings. We passed sheep, llamas, cattle and ostrich. Then we passed patches of snow.
On our arrival to Plitvice Lakes, snow covered the hills. My mind was racing, calculating exactly how many layers I could pile on myself for warmth. Admittedly, we’ve been chasing winter throughout our entire journey, but we had yet to encounter snow. And certainly not when our plans had us traipsing around outside at a national park.
Our host was waiting for us at the bus stop and drove us the short 1km to the house. The apartment was everything – and more – than we expected. It was warm and spacious with a fantastic little kitchen and long balcony overlooking a field of sheep. It definitely fit Kris’s idea of ‘camping.’
Arrival to Plitvice Lakes National Park
The following day, we woke to overcast skies, which had us dragging our feet. We were clearly not heeding the advice of an early arrival to Plitvice Lakes to avoid large tour groups. When the clouds didn’t break, we sucked it up and pulled on multiple layers, hoping they would keep us warm. We made the pleasant walk to the park entrance in 15 minutes, where a tour group cluttered the ticket window.
When it was our turn, we requested the two-day pass. The seemingly puzzled attendant replied, “The Upper Lakes are closed.”
My inner Clark Griswold revved up. What do you mean the Upper Lakes are closed?! I was at the beginning stages of an ugly tourist meltdown and the phrase, “Moose says you’re closed; I say you’re open,” was on the tip of my tongue. Kris just shrugged, “OK, we still want the two-day pass to see the Lower Lakes.”
My disappointment was obvious. How did I miss this detail? I had read about the possibility of ferry boats not running within the park, but assumed we could still get anywhere we wanted on foot. Feeling defeated and with my shoulders slumped, we entered the park. We made our way 100 feet to the first lookout point. I kept my eyes on the ground, brooding over the unsatisfactory news.
When we approached the railing, I finally looked up and was left speechless at the sight before us. Across the canyon, five streams of water tumbled over the edge of a cliff into aqua colored pools, which then cascaded in shorter falls into deeper pools. Even with the grey skies, the spectacle was breathtaking and my downtrodden demeanor was doing a flip-flop.
Below us I could see the planked pathways that wind through the Lower Lakes and I was thrilled to see how close we could get to the water. With only a slight tinge of disappointment left, we set off to explore.
We want to know: What were your first impressions on your arrival to Plitvice Lakes? Tell us in the comments !