Exploring Plitvice: Croatia’s Hinterland Gem
We huddle together in a tiny trackside shelter as the rain starts bucketing down in Plitvice national park. When more people crowd in, I stand on a wooden table with several others to make room. In the end, more than twenty travellers are jammed into a space designed for half a dozen, but nobody cares. In fact, we’re laughing, enjoying the unexpected moment as we try to stay dry.
As quickly as it began, the rain stops and the sun shines once again. The sudden downpour seems to have made Plitvice’s 16 full, shimmering lakes and numerous gushing waterfalls sparkle even more. So we continue our trek on the park’s 18 kilometres of timber boardwalks. Some are even built directly over raging water, which definitely adds to the fun. And the fact that you can get really close to Plitvice’s world heritage natural wonders this way is very appealing.
The lakes owe their stunning range of colours to the area’s travertine sedimentary rock, which is a type of limestone. The porous travertine, and a softer form of the rock called tufa, form natural dam walls which have trapped the water to produce this chain of lakes.
The travertine is in turn created from the local water, which is rich in calcium carbonate. The travertine breaks down and gradually reforms, and it is this unusual ongoing regeneration, considered to be of ‘outstanding universal value’, that led to the park’s world heritage listing. Geologists think this process originated in the last ice age.
Colours in the Water
As I walk from the upper to the lower lakes, I see colours in the water varying from turquoise to grey, depending on the light. Some lakes are green, others teal. Water continually cascades over limestone cliffs. While the highest waterfall, called the Veliki Slap, is the tallest in Croatia at 78 metres, it is the sheer number of smaller cascades that give the area its distinctive character.
The lakes are surrounded by verdant beech and fir forests that contain many rare and endangered species, including 50 types of orchids. Four large carnivores, including brown bears, lynx, wild cats and wolves, live in the park but I don’t come across any during my visit, which is probably just as well. There are also deer, badgers and foxes. I spot a rabbit near the park’s entrance. Ducks are prolific on the lakes and there are also cuckoos, hawks, herons and kingfishers living here.
I walk for six hours through this scenic wonderland of waterfalls and colourful lakes. I could have taken shortcuts by using a free bus from the entrance to the upper lakes and an electric boat across the largest one, but I really enjoy going on boardwalks close to the water.
Like most people, my time in Croatia is largely spent on the beautiful Adriatic coast or nearby islands such as Hvar and Vis. But few realise that Plitvice is Croatia’s second most popular tourist destination behind Dubrovnik, receiving over a million visitors a year. While staying in the vibrant seaside city of Zadar, I was told that Plitvice was only a two-hour bus trip away in the hinterland and decided to go. Great decision. Plitvice is exceptional.
https://getbybus.com › bus-zadar-to-plitvice-lakes
https://getbybus.com › bus-zagreb-to-plitvice-lakes
Where to stay:
There are numerous hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation options near the national park. Prices range from $40 to $200 per night in autumn to $60 to $450 in summer.
See Booking.com or vrbo.com
1 Stunning lakes and waterfalls attract over a million visitors a year.
2 Waterfalls cascade over limestone cliffs.
3 The lakes are surrounded by verdant beech and fir forests.
4 Boardwalks allow you to walk directly over rushing water.
5 Numerous waterfalls create Plitvice’s distinctive character.
6 The colour of the lakes is truly memorable.