Why Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes has to be on your travel list….
If you’re thinking of skipping Zagreb from your Croatian itinerary, you’re making a mistake. Not a big mistake. A colossal mistake. Not only is the country’s capital a surprise package in itself, it’s the gateway to Plitvice National Parks, one of the world’s most gorgeous natural wonders.
Book a tour with a coach or just hire a car. As you drive out from the city into the Croatian countryside over a narrow gently winding highway, your vision will be bordered by the majesty of the Dinaric Alps in the distance on both sides. Drink in the sight of the unending golden corn fields and bunches of small houses with slanting red tiled roofs and chimneys. The landscape is modest, not stunning or dramatic, nevertheless, enjoyable. The drive of about 150 kilometres runs over a rough, unstructured mix of trees, shrubs and vegetation. Every time you zip past a town limit, observe the yellow sign board with a red cross striking out the town name you have just left behind. Interesting!
A stop is Rastoke village (also called Mini-Plitvice) comes highly recommended. This tiny settlement of about 30 houses sits at the mouth of the Slunjčice river, which flows into the river Korana, creating a series of small waterfalls, rapids and basins. The rippling sounds of the multiple waterbodies set amidst a simple, rustic locale offers a tiny trailer of what lies ahead. I guarantee you that anticipation will peak at this stage. And when the 2-hour drive to Plitvice Jezera ends, you will be riddled with impatience to enter the UNESCO world heritage site spread over 30,000 acres, which draws a million visitors annually. I was.
You will think you know what’s in store. But, believe me, Google can never prepare you enough for this exquisite, natural wonderland.
It’s impossible to explore the entire region in a few hours, so set off towards the Lower Lakes…this is where the real magic lies waiting. Brace yourself for jaw-drops, eyebrow-raises, frozen-feet and other adrenaline-rushy psycho-physiological sensory reactions. Wow-factor? Sky-high.
Within seconds of entering the Lower Lakes area, you will find yourself on a narrow meandering path downhill, the thick of the forest on one side and the rocky mountains of the Dinaric Alps on the other side. Partial first glimpses of the blue-greens from in-between bushes will increase your curiosity, but it is only when you reach a clear spot that you will witness the full scale spectacle of dozens of tall and short waterfalls cascading from the rocky outcrops. The roaring acoustics of the pure white foaming streams will be resonating everywhere…a perfectly synchronised chorus, like a well-rehearsed troupe. Within minutes, you will be at the aquamarine lake level, following other tourists onto a seemingly endless, curving, rustic, wooden boardwalk, just wide enough for two people to walk. The wooden walkways will continue along the edge and even over the surface of the glassy surface of the lakes for about 400 feet. You will be walking in paradise…and it will aqua-green in color!!
For the next three hours, you will realise how insignificant your address, your profession, and even your ATM code is. You will transcend to another level of consciousness, where life is encapsulated in one stunning experience…Plitvice, its several levels of terraced lakes falling into each other from different directions and levels, creating small and large gurgling waterfalls…hundreds of them gushed on, pushing through cracks and crevices with unstoppable force…the sounds never softening, the flow never changing pace…the constancy of nature moving you into silence zone. The deafening noise of the Veliki Slap falling from a sheer 230 feet will sharply contrast with the sound of silence of a peaceful lake at another spot close by.
You will be bound by the irresistible desire to capture each sliver of the silver ripples, each drop of gleaming sunlight, and each dark shadow the mountains cast over the transparent surface of lakes. You will stare like a zombie at the changing moods of the shimmering lakes…indigo, turquoise, aqua, mint green, dark green. The crystal-clear transparent water will invite you to count the countless stones and pebbles lying at the bottom of the lake, trace the path of the swimming fish, and follow the route of graceful skimming ducks. The word ‘surreal’ will free-float in your mind.
The freshest of fresh cold air will fill your lungs and you will take deep breaths, getting rejuvenated from within. Feeling alive! All around you will be tall beech, spruce, and fir trees. A moss-covered, magical, magical forest. Like uncovering utopia. Finding a fairytale. Your fingers will be frozen from the zero degree temperature, your camera strap firmly in place in your hand, and each time you take a picture with your phone, you will feel it slip because your fingers will be numb with cold. But it won’t matter. You will want to be there forever…living in a tree house, enveloped by the perfection of Plitvice!
You will walk in and out of huge caves, and hike up and down curving paths all around the forest surrounding the lakes, taking in the spectacular sights. Often, the path will be too narrow for two people to walk, sometimes along steep cliff sides. You will peer over lookout points high above for fascinating sights of multiple levels of the lakes and the waterfalls flowing into each other. You will stare silently at the changing colors of the waters. You will watch groups of elderly tourists, trudging along the long paths, climbing up exhausting flight of steps, holding on to their walking sticks and moving on. Over the eight kilometres of walking trails, you will take pictures of the wild berries, the droopy branches, the mossy trees, the transparent pools, the misty trails and the dark caves…it will be simply exhilarating. The park, is not only home to deer, wolves, wildcats, wild boar, otters and over 160 species of birds, but also the endangered European brown bears…luckily for tourists, they stay away in deepest woods, away from the hiking trails.
Finally, at the end of the trail, at the souvenir shop and a cafeteria, you will board a silent, pollution-free electric boat to cross the Upper Lakes. The peaceful lake will now glimmer silver under the open skies, the border of the green mountains too far to create a mirror effect. The wild, reckless waterfalls racing down the mountainous terrain like unleashed, untamed horses will be hidden from view now, the air will be filled not by the buzz of the water but the ring of laughter and pleasant chatter of people in the boat. On alighting at the shore, after a brief walk, a two-compartment train will take you along a short ride through the national park back to the entry point.
The Plitvice Lakes will be left behind, but the memories will endure, and the ethereal experience will stay with you forever! For the next few days, whenever you shut your eyelids, all you will see is sparkling aqua-green. The unreal beauty of your travel photos will adorn your desktop and add drama to your home walls for a long long time, leaving friends gasping with awe and making you relive that walk through paradise.
So…Plitvice on your mind yet? 🙂