Only two days after welcoming my bro Jarelle to Ireland, which must have been quite a shock to him already, here we were already taking another plane. We landed in Zadar, Croatia, at 10pm, and while I was doing paperwork at the rental car desk, Jarelle -like a police detection dog- had already identified some American college girls to talk to.
Car keys in hand, we drove to our Airbnb, or at least we thought we did… Truth be told, Google Maps didn’t really work (a recurring pattern on this trip), and after half an hour of a drive that should have taken 20 min, we were lost in the countryside with only the moonlight to guide us. We finally made our way to our Airbnb at the entrance of the Zadar fortification walls. We had a whole apartment to ourselves, for a low price of 42€/night.
At midnight, we walked through the small Zadar old town.
Everything was closed on this Sunday night and at this hour, so we sat down at the only open place, the overpriced Bodega bar & restaurant. After a bit of pršut (dry-cured ham), bread, cheese and olives, we checked out the The Greeting to the Sun, a mosaic of solar panels creating some nice light show. We headed home, slept a bit, woke up again to watch the NBA Finals, then slept a bit more.
Paklenica National Park
The next morning, we took a one-hour drive from Zadar to Paklenica National Park. The roads on the way presented beautiful vistas of the Velebit karst mountains overlooking the sea. We drove along the coastline then entered the mountain, driving up to the park’s entrance, at which you must pay a small fee (around 50 kn, or $8) to enter and park your car.
Paklenica is a stunning river canyon and we hiked up the steep gorge for an hour, taking in the beautiful walls of the surrounding mountain cliffs – a climber’s paradise – and the sound of the river running down on our right. The rocky slope let way to beautiful clearing and meadows, followed by wooded paths deeper in the mountains. There would be a lot more hiking to do in Paklenica National Park, which could take you to the top of the mountain plateau, but we had another famed national park to go to, so we didn’t stay more than 2 hours. If you’d like more information about Paklenica, I recommend you read this English article from a Croatian blog.
Back into our car, we drove 1h30 north to the world-famous Plitvice National Park.
Plitvice National Park
Plitvice National Park (pronounced PLEET-veet-seh) was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, and for good reason. It’s the kind of landscape that seems to come straight out of a fairy tale. The park is a vast network of sixteen interconnected lakes (fed by runoff from the surrounding mountains), at different altitudes (making the ‘Upper Lakes’ and the ‘Lower Lakes’) and a dozen spectacular waterfalls. The azure water is crystal clear and wooden walkways let you walk right over it, from one lake to another. If you’re more adventurous and want to avoid the crowd of tourists, you may also take the (admittedly) longer hiking paths in the surrounding forest hills.
Like the rest of Europe, July-August is peak tourist season so we would recommend to avoid the park during this season, as the narrow pathways and footbridges can’t really accommodate large crowds and you would have to queue a long time for the ferry boats that shuttle visitors around. We went in early June, so it was OK. But even then, it is preferable to go before 10am or after 3pm to avoid the tour buses which flock around noon.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by”
You have the choice of 2 entrances to park at Plitvice National Park. Being technologically-obsessed bros, we followed our Google Maps GPS (of course), but -as if disoriented by this enchanted wooded land full of fireflies- it took us to none of them.
We somehow missed a fork in the road and parked in a random parking lot next to a small doctor’s office. We then went down a forest for 10 minutes until we arrived at the actual Entrance 2 of the Park.
I’m writing this 3 months later, so I had no clue where we actually parked. But for you dear readers, I have used my amazing Internet forensic skills to find out (also, because it’s fun).
First step: go to the photos I took with my Google Pixel while we were walking up and down in the forest, and check the coordinates. After cross-referencing a few photos, I found out roughly where was that path and where it ended up. Then, going on Google Street View, I retrace our steps to the end of the path (where the small parking lot was), and found out the culprit: This is where we went wrong: we took the left road instead of continuing on the right road.
Lesson learned: don’t follow all the signs for the Plitvice hotels.
The Entrance 2 actually looks like this:
Expert Tips to do Plitvice National Park properly
- Go there before 10am or after 3pm.
- If you plan to be here around lunchtime (despite the above piece of advice), bring a picnic; there aren’t that many food options in the park, and the available ones are bad quality and overpriced.
- You don’t need a guided tour. The routes are easy to follow (see below), so pick yours in advance.
- Don’t swim, it’s not allowed as it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, you can rent a small row-boat for 50kn/hour ($8/hour).
- There are no bathrooms on the trails, so do what you need at the entrance of the park.
- Pack enough food and water. I’ll repeat it: pack enough food and water.
- Eat enough and sleep enough beforehand.
Prices and Tickets
For adults, the price ranges from 55-180 kuna ($9-$29) depending on the time of year you are visiting Plitvice Lakes. The off season (November-March) is 55 kuna ($9), the high season (July and August) is 110 kuna ($29). We went during the “mild” season (April-June, September-October), so we paid 110 kuna ($18) each. If you are driving yourself, parking is available next to Entrance 1 and 2, and costs 7 kuna ($1.1) per hour. Please be careful of your arrival time, as you can only buy tickets until 5pm. The park itself closes at 7pm.
Money goes toward the protection of the park and its environment. If you want more details on tickets, please visit the official website.
Best Paths to Discover Plitvice National Park
The best paths for a half-day visit are, in my opinion:
- Trail A (2-3 hours – 3.5km – easy) lower lakes only as it starts and ends at Entrance 1. Walk to the Great Waterfall and to Kozjaka Bridge.
- Trail B (3-4 hours -4km – easy) similar to Trail A but includes sailing on lake Kozjaka.
- Trail C (4-6 hours – 8km – moderate) extended Trail B including a visit to the upper lakes.
- Trail E (2-3 hours – 5.2 km – easy) upper lakes to Proscansko Jezero starting with a short boat ride across the Kozjak Lake.
- Trail F (3-4 hours – 4.6km – easy) walk the upper lakes and sail across lake Kozjaka, then visit the lower lakes – take shuttle back
Ultimately, if you’re travelling all the way from your distant backyard to Plitvice, we recommend doing a path that allows you to see both the Lower Lakes and the Upper Lakes. The Lower Lakes are more crowded and apart from the Great Waterfall (which is the most stunning sight of the park), they’re less impressive. The Upper Lakes are more diverse, with a lot more waterfalls (quite impressive in their own right), and there are less people so they allow for a more leisurely stroll.
We took a customized version of Route C, which allows you to see the Lower Lakes and the Great Waterfall, take a ferry boat across a lake, and see the Upper Lakes.
The C route itself is actually extended route B. The first part is the same, but instead to return to the Entrance 1 after boat crossing of the Kozjak Lake, you continue the hike along other three lakes to the southernmost Proscansko Lake. The route C is 8 km long, it takes 4 to 6 hours, and a hike is moderate.
After seeing the Great Waterfall (which is to the right, next to Entrance 1), we actually climbed up a stair into on the northern part of the lake (instead of going back on the southern bank defined by the red line), and walked in a forest, on top of the cliff. We joined that road in dark green in the map above, then went down the P3 ferry dock. The ferry crossed the lake for 15 min and left us near P2. We looped around several lakes and went back down to P2 (instead of doing the bigger look back to P1). Total was around 6km.
However, those 6km weren’t all fun and games. Who knew that on the paths of the Plitvice lakes were were legends are forged? Read Jarelle’s article to know what happened, as well as my humorous philosophical take on it.