When Remy and I started planning this trip we made a long list of countries we wanted to visit. We slowly whittled the list down, but Croatia stayed on there. We have both heard good things about the country, but the real pull was a picture we saw. It was these gorgeous waterfalls and lakes at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
After that it was rather uneventful. In Rijeka we switched to another bus to Karlovac and then a final switch to a bus going to Plitvice. This last bus was completely full so Remy and I had to stand, which ended up not being too bad since we had been sitting the whole day. On that last bus ride I noticed that many of the houses either looked freshly painted or had what looked like bullet holes. When we planned to visit Croatia it didn’t cross my mind that this country was at war not that long ago. I remember watching news coverage on TV when I was in high school. I didn't remember too much about it so I did a little research. Here's a little history so if you’re not interested or already know please skip this next paragraph.
The Croatian War of Independence was fought from 1991 to 1995. This was when Croatia declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and tried to kick out the Serb forces within Croatia. Croatia sought independence, but Serbia wanted to stop it because the Serbs were looking to expand their state and wanted to include lands within the Croatian borders. The Serbs tried to conquer as much land as possible and eventually the whole country. The Serb rebels did extensive shelling in Croatia and Yugoslav forces attacked major cities, including Karlovac, the one we drove through. I was extremely surprised to learn at the beginning of the war Croatia didn’t have much of a military and the police were taking the brunt of the fighting. In addition, there was little access to weapons so Croatian forces were either unarmed or using rifles from WWII. But they were motivated to defend their new country and eventually, both Serbia and Yugoslavia were defeated and Croatia gained its independence. For more information click here. Today there continues to be tensions between Croatia and Serbia, as seen in this article. I found it very interesting to be in a country that had been ravaged by war so recently and except for some of the homes it was hard to see other signs of war.
After dropping off our bags we headed into town to get ourselves oriented. This did not take very long since town consists of about 5 buildings. There are two tiny markets with very limited selection and one of them was closed. We went to the open one and picked up supplies for our meals for the next few days and a local beer to celebrate finally making it to Croatia. We also got the shuttle schedule to get to the park the next day. Back at the hostel we sat on the balcony overlooking the mountains and relaxed for a while. Then we cooked dinner and got ready for our first day at the park.
We woke up early and had a leisurely breakfast on our balcony and then headed into town to catch the shuttle. When we got to the park a long line to buy tickets had already formed. We got a 2-day pass and headed into the park. As soon as you walk into the park there is a grand view of some of the lakes and waterfalls. Two things entered my mind:
1) This is more beautiful than the pictures. The lakes are amazing colors and the water is so clear.
2) There were TONS of people!
What does all this mean? No swimming! If people were allowed to swim it would introduce organic substances, which would inhibit the process. Also, swimming would mix up the deposits on the bottom of the lake disrupting the travertine formation process and make the water cloudy so the lakes wouldn’t be as clear or beautifully colored. I respect this, but on a hot day those clear, cold waters looked so enticing.
Once we were completely enthralled at the first overlook we hiked down the path to the boardwalks in between the lakes and waterfalls. These were very nice raised boardwalks, but it was a little tricky to maneuver around all the people and stop and take pictures. We spent the morning wandering the boardwalks and taking way too many photos. If you look at the gallery of pictures from Plitvice be prepared to see lots of waterfalls and lakes. Eventually, we ended up next to a small waterfall and found a nice log to have our lunch on. After lunch we continued walking around the lakes and before we knew it it was time to head back to the park entrance to catch the shuttle back to town.
When we got back to town we grabbed a beer for a private happy hour on our balcony. We were amazed to find a 2-liter of beer in what looked like a soda bottle. So of course we had to get it.
1) Rent a car. The buses are expensive and they charge to put your luggage below. So with two people it probably would have been cheaper to just rent a car to get there.
2) If you don’t rent a car stay at the accommodations within the park.
3) There is a campground in Grabovac. We didn’t stay there, but there seemed to be a lot of people there and it would have been nice to meet other people.
4) The park opens early and closes late so having a rental car would really help. When I booked the hostel in Grabovac I read that there was a shuttle from town to the park. What it didn’t say was that the shuttle left town at 9am and picked you up from the park at 3pm. That is a short day, at least for us. If you had a car you could go on your own schedule and even leave in the heat of the middle of the day and return in the afternoon.
5) The markets in town are expensive so it would be good to load up on groceries in a bigger town before you come to Plitvice or have a car so that you could find a bigger, probably cheaper super market than those in Grabovac.
6) Stay for two days! Many people just go in for one day and see the main lakes and waterfalls, but there is a lot more to see, especially on the trails around the main attractions. You can use one day to see the main sites and the other to explore the parts off the beaten path.
Click here to see more pictures.