Somewhere around ten kilometers from our hotel is the entrance to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. I’m not sure why I was under the delusion that there wouldn’t be that many people there, but even at 8am, the parking lot at the park and path entrance was filling up with tourists. It’s a world heritage site after all, and Europeans take their hikes pretty seriously.
We hopped on the bus at our parking area and were shuttled to the first entrance of the park, just above a series of caves where it seemed we were at the highest point of the park, with the best view to start our hike and look down to the beautiful lakes below. For those of you who know Györgyi it probably won’t come as a surprise that when I turned around to look for her, she was up at the front of the pack confirming the trip location and drop point and who knows what else with the shuttle driver, and also giving some map advice to some other tourists. But since she did such a good job of keeping us on track during our trek, I’m glad for this character quirk of hers.
As we looped down through the top part of the path, we came to the first view of the lakes, and I must say it was really spectacular. I don’t recall ever seeing water that color, and I apologize because my pictures really don’t even do it justice. But it was azure, like a jewel, and you could see many feet under the surface just by following the clear rays of the sun.
Gazing down at the people below on the boardwalk, I couldn’t help but think that the scene was reminiscent of one of those fantasy movies with elves, or maybe something out of the jurasic. Apart from the tourists, it all seemed so untouched and preserved.
We made it down to the ground level around 9am, and luckily we were able to have the boardwalk and the close view of the smaller falls and shallows mostly to our selves and only a few other visitors. In just a few short hours, the whole place was swarming with tourists, so much so that it was almost hard to walk on the paths there were so many people.
The fish didn’t seem at all bothered by the crowds. Obviously, being that it’s a national park, there was no fishing, so the little trout didn’t seem to care that people were so close, taking pictures, walking above. I couldn’t believe how many of them there were. I wanted to pet one, but didn’t.
Zsolt had a very high tech underwater camera so that he could get a few shots of the fish. I’m looking forward to seeing them, because I imagine they didn’t really mind the subaquatic intrusion as they didn’t really scatter away, only just turned over, seemingly, to their more photogenic sides.
One of the more remarkable things was how the smaller waterfalls and alleys of water just rushed right down on the side of the path. Water was everywhere. Even in the more wooded areas you could smell the water and hear it constantly as it scaled down the various slopes.
The trip wasn’t all directly on the boundary of the lake, either, and in fact the landscape and flora changed a lot throughout the day. We saw reeds, tall trees, rock caves, in addition to series after series of waterfalls.
After a few hours, we made it to the ferry boat that took us twenty minutes across the larger lake to the otherwise where we were going to see more woods and more waterfalls. The boat ride was incredibly peaceful and almost nothing made a sound as we glided through the water. On the otherside of the lake, the woods were darker, and each bit of water reflected looked like the smoothest surface of marble.
We saw some local animals like frogs and ducks. There was a huge group of Japanese tourists who I really don’t think ever saw a duck before because they must have cumulatively taken about 500 pictures of it.
For about two hours we circled the opposite side of the trails until finally coming back through a larger set of waterfalls, splashing their mists onto the boardwalks. Since it was past midday and hot, people crowded to the center to get a coating of the cooling sprays.
We took the boat back to where we left off the first time, and found a nice table in the shade of the trees to eat lunch. It seemed like everyone on the picnic grounds was eating the same things: sandwiches, trail mix, fruit and beer. And a few ice creams.
After lunch we lumbered back toward our starting point, which happened to be the bottm of the caves. We climbed up and up and up the steep stairs until we were back at the highest point again of the trail.
Patiently we waited for the park bus to come and pick us up, and we finished our hike mid afternoon. It was a long day but a very lovely one. I don’t know for sure, but I estimate that we hiked around 15 kilometers, perhaps a bit more. And it wasn’t straight walking either, but rather ascent and descent and rocky terrain. But it really felt good to be out there, in the fresh air.
I have to say that I was so incredibly impressed by how well maintained this park was, especially for the amount of foot traffic that it seems comes through every year. The paths were extremely well marked and clean. The water and woods and other surrounding areas were completely free of any unnatural contaminants. No trash. No gum. It was unspoiled and lovely and I can see why people would go there for an experience away from the city.
By the time we got back, we were so exhausted we ended up taking about a two-hour nap before dinner. Having some time to reflect back on that day, I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area and in search for a good outdoor experience. It’s not extreme sports. It’s not a luxury sea vacation. But it felt so good to just be somewhere calm and peaceful for the day. And I’ve never ever been a nature-hike kind of gal, in fact I’ve usually avoided such things, but I will whole heartedly admit to really enjoying this little Croatian treasure.