I recently visited an ultimate Croatian bucket list destination called Plitvice Lakes which is Croatia’s oldest and largest national park. The lakes are famous for their captivating colours varying from aquamarine to more emerald hues with waterfalls scattered all over the national park. The wooden walkways are designed so you can walk over the lakes and get very close to the waterfalls, sometimes even getting a refreshing spray as you wander by.
The park comprises of multiple lakes, 4 hiking trails and 7 different routes through the park to explore. There are also boats and shuttle trains to help you get around the park. There is a small map on your ticket, larger maps around the park and signposts to help you navigate. There are restrooms located nearby to the restaurants/kiosks.
When to visit
Between mid to late spring is actually one of the best times to visit – you may encounter some rainy and stormy days but the lakes themselves will actually be full, whereas at some times of the year they aren’t. Waterfalls tend to be more spectacular during and after heavy rainfall. If you aren’t a fan of crowds like myself avoid visiting in Summer which is peak season. There will still be a decent amount of tourists during spring, in the afternoon the pathways will feel especially congested and you might worry at times about falling into the lakes (a Croatian guy confirmed with me that this often happens – it even happened to him when he was a child).
What time to visit
If you can, I highly recommend visiting as early in the day as possible (the park opens at 07.00am) it is a lot more peaceful early on. I got there at 09.00am and it was still fairly quiet but it slowly got busier after 12.00pm and it eventually became extremely congested and difficult to walk on the wooden walkways.
It costs me 150 Kuna or around $32AUD to get an adult entrance ticket to the park – this ticket includes transport by boat and ‘panoramic trains’. You can also purchase a ticket for two consecutive days which is slightly cheaper than buying two separate tickets. Here is the link to their price list for 2018 which includes discounts for groups, students and children.
I highly recommend packing your own lunch, snacks and water to take to the park. There are a few kiosks you can buy food at that either sell meals, snacks and drinks or just ice cream and drinks. It was kind of amazing because all the menus were almost indistinguishable from each other across the park – more than 3/4 of the menu comprised of alcoholic beverages and the rest was food. The food available was mostly things like hamburgers or some type of meat with fries – it didn’t seem to be of the highest quality – just regular fast food. If you are vegetarian you will be stuck with only fries and ice cream so be prepared.
I ended up walking for more than 18km at the park so if you plan to do as much walking or more be prepared with adequate amounts of water and nutritious snacks.
What to wear
-Wear sturdy footwear suitable for walking like runners/trainers as you will be walking on wooden walkways and also dirt trails. I was very glad to be wearing my Nike running shoes as I made my way through the national park – especially when I was on congested parts of the wooden path, navigating around groups of people, the extra stability of good footwear was helpful. As aforementioned, I did a lot of walking because I wanted to see a lot of the park – if you are the same, make sure you wear appropriate and comfortable shoes!
-Be prepared for the possibility of rain especially if you visit in spring – bring some kind of waterproof jacket like a raincoat that can easily fit in your backpack.
-If you visit in spring or summer and are prone to sunburn wear sunscreen and bring some with you to reapply. I would also recommend bringing a hat along (I wished that I had one at the time). Some parts of the park have little to no shade, so this is really important.
Budget Accommodation: Falling Lakes Hostel
I opted to stay at Falling Lakes Hostel which was honestly one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. One of my favourite features of this hostel is how well organised it was in terms of helping you to visit Plitvice Lakes. The hostel has a shuttle bus which takes you to and from the lakes (the earliest shuttle to the park is at 08.00am and then they return to collect you at 04.00pm). The shuttle bus costs around 30 Kuna or $6 AUD, return.
I especially recommend staying at this hostel if you are a solo traveller as you will be likely to meet others who you can explore the lake with. If you have the time, I recommend staying at this hostel for at least 3-4 days or longer. Korenica is a really relaxing small town and there are a number of hikes you can do in the area. The hostel also organises activities such as kayaking.
It cost me around $24.50AUD per night to stay in a spacious 8-bed dorm. It is clean, the kitchen is well-equipped if you wish to cook and the staff are very helpful. There are supermarkets and cafe’s nearby and if you wish to dine out or get takeaway, I recommend visiting Babić which is a 15-minute walk from the hostel, the food is reasonably priced and there is a wide range of options, including vegetarian options.
Hotels near the park
You can stay in hotels within and nearby the park but they can be quite expensive – ranging from around $89AUD to $250AUD per night.
How to get there
You can get buses from major Croatian cities to the national park (even Flixbus runs here), there are also local buses if you stay nearby. I recommend using the website called Getbybus to find your bus to Plitvice Lakes. Some people opt to rent a car which is very convenient if you wish to visit early and some even hitchhike. I was really satisfied with my hostel’s shuttle service as it took a lot of stress out of the visit.
A note for photographers
Unless you plan to get there early do not bother bringing your tripod. I lugged mine around in hopes of getting some slow-shutter speed shots but found that arriving at 09.00am that there were enough people around to make it difficult to set up a tripod to take my shots. I saw only one guy actively using his tripod and he was blocking the pathway. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to take the kind of shots that I had in mind but I think I still managed to take some decent photos. Despite having quite a lightweight tripod my shoulders/back were aching quite a bit at the end of the day.
My thoughts about visiting the park
I have to admit I was quite anxious about visiting because I had read about the crowds (I occasionally have panic attacks in crowded places) but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I experienced crowds for less than half of day. My biggest annoyance was groups of people like group tours/families and couples who obliviously occupied the entire wooden pathway – they were quite difficult to get around (ignoring my ‘excuse me’s’ – which I attempted in a few languages haha) especially as the width of the pathway is only big enough for two people. Even some photographers getting deep into their shots became hazards as they abruptly moved around the wooden path.
Jaw-dropping natural beauty
The crowds were my only issue with visiting the park and despite this, I had a really wonderful experience. Plitvice Lakes is a very unique place, I had never seen a place anything like it before and it was totally enchanting with its jaw-dropping natural beauty! My favourite sights were the lower lakes and the big waterfall (Veliki Slap). I enjoyed watching the hundreds of fish that lingered on the surface of the lakes and smelling the flowers along the trails. I even came across a flower that smelt like fish!
I made a friend 🙂
Part of what made my experience so wonderful is that I had just made a new friend who I met at my hostel, Jillian, who I really vibed with and we spent the afternoon getting to know each other as we explored the park. So just to reiterate, if you are a solo-traveller, heading to the hostel is a great way to meet people to explore the park with.
It is an unmissable stop for nature lovers
If you are visiting Croatia I highly, highly recommend visiting the national park and if you are a nature lover this is an unmissable stop!! I rarely make big statements like this, so I really mean it.
A similar place to visit in Croatia
- If you would like to visit a place that looks somewhat similar to Plitvice Lakes, where you can also swim visit Krka National Park. I have however heard from other travellers that it can be very cold swimming there in Spring, so this stop is probably best for summer.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it helpful for planning your visit to Plitvice Lakes. Special thanks to my new friend, Jillian for taking the photos of me which I have included in this post :).