Croatia is a ruggedly beautiful country no matter where you look. We were fortunate enough to visit two national parks that showcase this country’s natural wonders: Plitvice and Krka. This is a comparison of the two so that you, dear traveler, can choose wisely if your budget is limited.
2-day entry: 180 kuna ($31 USD)
2-day student entry: 110 kuna ($19 USD)
Plitvice covers 297 km² with extensive boardwalks that take visitors past crystal blue lakes and hundreds of cascading waterfalls. The collection of bacterial mats growing on rocks and trapped logs eventually created the network of terraced lakes interconnected by waterfalls. The water color changes from azure blue to turquoise depending on the mineral content and angle of light, so visiting Plitvice is like playing with one of those mood rings that were popular in the 90's. If you want to get away from the crowds, there are 13 km of trails in the mountains surrounding the lakes. This place was great. Read the full write-up here.
Tip: If we were to do it again, I think the best approach would be a car or camper. This allows you mobility in a town where the park shuttles only run twice daily and there isn’t much else to do. There are car camp parks with support facilities and pay parking at Plitvice. The 2-day pass is well worth it.
Sidenote: The best swimming hole in the world is located here (scroll down below for the map). Swimming isn’t allowed in Plitvice park, but just downstream of the park where the D42 and D1 roads intersect, the Korana River flows beneath a bridge. Here you will find the best swimming hole in the world (no exaggeration): a small waterfall spills into a natural rock pool about 50 ft wide. The water temperature is cool enough to shock any sleepiness out of your system but paired with the sun, it is the essence of refreshing. At the far end, wild blackberries grow in the thickets, sun-ripened so that they burst as soon as you pluck them. The pool shallows to wading depth, and at the end it cascades as another waterfall into a deeper pool below with natural ledges to soak in the scenery. One enterprising family built a house next to this pool, and there are carved stone steps that lead into the water. They definitely chose a wonderful place to build a house, even if access by road is a pain and the house is essentially under a bridge. Visibility is at least 80 ft (25m).
1-day entry: 95 kuna ($17 USD)
A long time ago (sorry- my memory's fuzzy on the details and I can't find anything on the Internet to fact check), Emperor Ferdinand visited the Krka River and was so impressed by the area’s natural wonders and the reception he received (all the locals lined the banks and fired their guns in the air while whooping and hollering like Balkan hillbillies), he designated it a special place. The area was formally established as a national park in 1985. Krka hosts much wildlife, including several species of endemic lizards and snakes, and is a biodiversity hotspot for birds. At the base of the biggest waterfall is a huge swimming area, which is Krka’s best feature. However, the favorable points stop there. The park is packed like a music festival.
Tip: You can avoid the line for tickets in Skradin and buy them at the park itself. You don’t need tickets for the boat shuttle from Skradin. In fact, you can bus or bike to the park. Wear a swimsuit.
Overall, we felt Plitvice Park was more attuned with its environment and a better value. Both parks are beautiful and warrant a visit, but Plitvice deserves its reputation. Don’t forget that swimming hole, and please let us know if you found it.
Pictures of the parks.