Why I Won’t Go Back to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

I try to stay positive on this blog. Most of my posts are about travel and travel is my happy place. So let’s face it, it isn’t hard to be positive. But, I feel it is necessary to state my true feelings about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the most beautiful parks I have been to.

There are sixteen beautiful lakes and waterfalls everywhere you look.

There is also a definite downside.

Let me explain…

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Background

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It was founded in 1949 and added to the UNESCO World Heritage register in 1979. The park is located in the karst area of central Croatia, at the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It extends over 73,000 acres and takes between three and four hours to hike through. Each year, more than one million visitors visit the park. It is located in a remote and poor part of Croatia that is still recovering from the war. Due to its remoteness, it is best to stay in the area for one night when visiting.

On Easter Sunday in 1991, the first shots of Croatia’s war with Yugoslavia were fired in the park. The first casualty of the war was a park policeman. Until 1995, the Serbs controlled the park. Virtually no tourists were allowed to visit which allowed the ecosystem to recover from the impact of so many visitors prior to 1991.

Arriving at the Park

We arrived to Plitvice Lakes National Park in the early afternoon after riding in the coach for a couple of hours. By the time we arrived, the lines at the entrance were already long and the park was really crowded.

We had to choose between two options when visiting the park.

  • We could skip the lower part of the park and walk along the rim with our tour director and look down at the views. This was the less strenuous option and would take a couple of hours to complete.
  • We could do a longer 3.5 hours hike with a park guide. This option would take us down by the waterfalls and lakes. It was much more strenuous.

I chose the second option.

The First Half of the Hike

To be honest, the hiking part wasn’t too bad until the end, when it was straight up a hill for a bit to get to our hotel. Were were warned that was the worst part.

The guides were wrong. That was not the worst part.

We got down to the bottom of the valley on our way to the big waterfalls and the path was a wooden platform two people wide. There were no railings and tons of people going both ways, with some visitors trying to push their way in front of other people. This part of the hike was terrifying for me and it lasted for about an hour and a half.

I could not pay attention to or enjoy the views around me because I wouldn’t let my eyes leave the platform. I am a klutz so I was afraid I would trip and fall if I looked up. If that wasn’t enough, I was always braced, ready to protect myself in case I was pushed, determined that I was not going into the water and if I was going in, I wasn’t going in alone. And in case you’re wondering, yes, people get pushed in. It happens a lot and happened to our guide a few weeks before we were there.

I had my DSLR camera and my phone with me. Right away, I wished I had left my good camera with my luggage on the bus (and would recommend you do it if you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park). I’m a good swimmer so I wasn’t worried about drowning if I fell into the lakes themselves because they were calm with no marine animals that would want to eat me. However, parts of the walk were directly over gushing waterfalls. There is no way I could survive a fall down those rushing waterfalls unscathed. My anxiety was off the charts.

We did make it down to the water falls without. We also made it back out. No one from our group fell in, hallelujah! A lot of patience was required along the way but we did it. The waterfalls were beautiful. The color of the lakes along the way was also amazing,. The color reminded me a lot of the color of the water in the Bahamas – a beautiful bright aqua blue.

The Second Half of the Hike

After an hour and a half or so of hiking and waterfall admiring, we reached the end of the wooden platform path. From there on, we were on real ground. Even though the path was still the same width, it made a huge difference to be on real ground. There were no lakes or waterfalls beneath us, only beside us. The path was gravel but smooth so I wasn’t so worried about tripping. The crowd was still thick but since there was only water on one side and rocks and walls on the other, we could all move over a bit.

I could relax and enjoy the experience a bit. It was much appreciated. The beautiful views continued. We saw some fish in the water along the way. There are a few ferries on one of the upper lakes but they are electric so they don’t pollute the water. As a result, the water was very clear, making it pretty easy to see fish.

The Hotel

I wish I could tell you we stayed in a plush hotel that I loved.

But I can’t.

The biggest problem? I was in a room at the end of the top floor with a sloped roof above me. I knew there might be a problem when I went to change my shirt before dinner and hit my hands on the ceiling when I lifted my arms up.

And then it was time to take a shower. The shower head was way too short for me since the tub bottom added several inches to the floor. So, I took a shower on my knees. I could handle that but then on top of it, there was no shower curtain. No matter how hard I tried to keep the water in the tub, it refused to obey and water went everywhere. At one point, I just stopped and started laughing. The whole situation was so ridiculous. It still makes me laugh today.

Luckily, we only stayed one night in this hotel. My mantra is that I can handle almost anything for one night. I did the best I could to get clean, got dressed and then dried up the bathroom as best I could before heading to bed.

I considered it a funny travel story that makes that hotel unforgettable.

My Conclusion about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Looking back, I guess I am glad the park was part of our tour and that I was able to visit it. But I wish I had done tour option 1 – the hike around the top. According to those who did it, it was much less stressful.

I can say with certainty that I will not visit the valley area of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia again unless they add railings and crowd control measures. We were there in September, which is a shoulder season for tourism in Croatia so it wasn’t as crowded as it is in July and August. I cannot imagine being there when it was more crowded and really hot on top of that. Where do all of the people go? There is no way anyone enjoys it.

My advice to you if you are going to visit the park is to go first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon after the crowds have dissipated a bit. And definitely try to go in April/ May or September/October when it “isn’t as crowded.” It is beautiful. I cannot dispute that. However, the crowds make it worth consider skipping.

Are you interested in reading more about my trip to Croatia and Slovenia? Check out two of my previous posts here and here.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
If you look to the middle left of this photo, you can see people walking on the boardwalk along the cliff. It is two people wide with no railings and they’re about to walk over the rushing waterfalls. So scary!
Big Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The big waterfalls from the very bottom of the valley shown in the previous photo
Plitvice Lakes National Park waterfalls
Me…delirious from the walk to the bottom of the valley and a lack of sleep.
Plitvice Lakes
Scary but so beautiful. This is under the boardwalk. If I trip and fall or am pushed, I am going to end up at the bottom in that pool of water.
Beautiful colored water at Plitvice Lakes National Park
The water was so clear and bright blue.
Pretty water flowing in Plitvice Lakes National Park
So pretty
Pretty colored water and water falls. The perfect combination.
Pretty views and lots of people reflected in my sunglasses
I look like a giant in this shower!

Traveling Solo Through Croatia and Slovenia

This is the story of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. You might think that this was my plan all along but it was not. Let me explain…

One of the countries I had wanted to visit for a while was Croatia. Every time I started planning, I would get overwhelmed and end up going somewhere else. When a friend mentioned to me that we should travel together this fall, I immediately said “yes.” After some debate, we settled on visiting Croatia (other options included Portugal and Switzerland).

Instead of trying to plan it on our own, we decided to go with a tour. If you know me, you know that planning a trip is my favorite part of traveling. I love doing the research and the bookings and then executing my plan. Going with a tour was a change for me but I knew it would be best for this trip because we were booking pretty last minute (we booked in mid-July for a trip in September).

I reviewed the itineraries for a bunch of different companies and we ended up settling on Trafalgar and their “Best of Croatia and Slovenia” tour. I have seen Trafalgar tours during my previous visits to Europe and knew they were a reputable company. Trafalgar has been around for over 70 years and is a sister company to Contiki, which is the under 35 tour I traveled with on my first trip to Europe in 2011.

This is where the story should continue with how we successfully booked the trip, packed our bags and had a great time. But things don’t always work out as planned.

We both booked the tour separately and requested to share rooms. It turns out, there was only ONE spot left on the tour. We didn’t find this out until AFTER I paid my deposit for the trip. Ugh!

So where to go from there?! I ended up canceling my registration. The deposit was only $100 so it wasn’t a huge deal to lose it. My friend and I discussed other locations for a few days and then she decided that she really wanted to go to Italy. She found a tour she wanted to go on and asked me to join her.

It was a tough decision because I wanted to travel with her but I have been to Italy twice already and may go back for a third time at some point with family. I didn’t want to go this year when there are so many other places in the world I want to explore. In the end, I politely declined but I told her to go ahead! I knew that’s where she really wanted to go and I was more than fine with her doing that.

After thinking about my options for a couple of days, I decided to email Trafalgar and see if that one spot on the Best of Croatia and Slovenia tour was still available. It was and they were willing to re-book my registration and apply my previously paid deposit to the new booking.

That is how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. Well, sort of solo at least. I was with a tour that included 46 other people but I wasn’t traveling with anyone I knew. So I guess I traveled solo-light. Ha!

The trip was a great success and I had a nice time. I am so glad I decided to go even though my friend wasn’t able to go with me. As I write this post, I’ve been back from the trip a few days. I will publish some detailed posts about the various places we visited in the coming weeks but I have a few initial thoughts/fun tidbits that I thought I would share here.

Skip the cruise

Skip the cruise (or at least the big cruise ship)! Traveling through Croatia via a land tour or small ship that can navigate the rivers is the way to go. Croatia and Slovenia are both beautiful counties. I got to see so much more of both countries than I would have on a cruise. Plus, we could plan our sight seeing and excursions to avoid the deluge of cruise passengers that arrive in cities like Dubrovnik each day.

Traveling Solo

I never felt unsafe when I was on my own in either country. While I was often with my tourmates, I ate meals alone several times. I would also often set out on my own to explore during our free times. People were always very kind and almost everyone spoke great English. The food, particularly the seafood, was fresh and tasty. I never felt on guard and may have felt safer on my own during this trip than I have in any other foreign country I have visited. I highly recommend traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia (and with Trafalgar) if you are looking for a good solo travel destination.

Slovenia, Croatia & the European Union

The members of the European Union recognized Slovenia as an independent state in January 1992. The United Nations accepted it as a member in May of 1992. Slovenia joined the EU on May 1, 2004. It uses the Euro for currency.

Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003. The European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in 2004. Croatia officially joined the European Union as its 28th member on July 1, 2013. While it is part of the EU now, it still does not use the Euro.

Speaking of Croatia and Its Currency

While switching to the Euro is likely inevitable for Croatia, they currently use a currency called the kuna. The kuna is a weasel-like animal common in the region. In midieval times, the pelts from kunas were used by the Croats as payment for goods and services. When Croatia became an independent state in the 1994, they adopted their own currency and named it the kuna after this old payment practice.

Yugoslavia and the war

One of the things I liked best about touring Slovenia and Croatia as part of a land tour is the opportunity it gave me to learn about the history of the region. I knew that Slovenia and Croatia were both formerly a part of Yugoslavia but didn’t really know much about the region’s past and what caused Yugoslavia to split into the countries it currently is today (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo (which is still being disputed)). While most of the areas are safe and peaceful today and travel is encouraged throughout, we were advised to avoid Kosovo.

Some tension do remain among the countries. This became evident on the second day of our tour. It took us three hours to get through the Croatian/Slovenian border. While very inconvenient, particularly for our coach driver and tour director, it gave me lots of time to nap and try to fight off the jet lag.

A Bit Different Than What I’m Used To

I currently live in Chicago, a city full of people with different skin colors, religions, languages, traditions and beliefs. I thrive on this diversity and love learning new things, meeting new people and observing how different people live. One thing that struck me over and over about Slovenia and Croatia was how non-diverse the countries were. About 85% of Croatians are Catholic. Using my observations as a gauge, I’d guess about 99% of them are white. It was so different than what I’m used to.

The Best Time to Visit Croatia

You probably don’t want to hear this but I think the best time to visit Croatia was probably 3-5 years ago. The word is out and the crowds have arrived en mass. Not only are the inland towns being inundated with land tours, cruise ships are now docking and dropping off thousands of additional tourists every day. I found the crowds in Plitvice Lakes National Park and Dubrovnik to be especially overwhelming. My advice is to go during the shoulder seasons (April/May/September/October). If you go during the summer, plan to explore early in the mornings before most of the crowds are up and moving about. You will have a much more relaxing, enjoyable time.

Croatia and Its Outdoor Cafes (with a Catch)

Croatia has one of the most vibrant cafe cultures I’ve ever seen. Everyone sits outside in cafes to enjoy their coffee and people watch. I love outdoor cafes and I could get used to that lifestyle very easily. The unfortunate thing is that most people in Croatia smoke cigarettes, which was a major annoyance for me. Every time I would sit down to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea, someone would sit next to me and instantly light a cigarette. It was the most annoying thing about this trip for me and it happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I sat down! I would quickly finish, pay and then move on.

The Necktie

Croatia has given the world many things but no Croatian invention is as internationally renowned as the necktie. The history of the necktie can be traced back to Paris in 1630. King Louis XIII was inspecting a line-up of Croatian mercenaries in traditional costume when his eye was taken by pieces of fabric that the soldiers were wearing around their necks. The material ranged from tatty cloths for the soldiers to fine silks for the officers, but the stylishness was ubiquitous. King Louis was impressed by this modern fashion. He recommended it be adopted by the people of France and soon, the necktie became the hottest fashion accessory on the streets of Paris.

Those are my initial thoughts along with a summary of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. I will post more soon but in the meantime, check out a few photos from the trip below and a post listing Four Benefits of Traveling Solo here.

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Traveling Solo Through Croatia and Slovenia

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Our home away from home for the duration of our trip – the Trafalgar coach. Yes, it even had Wifi.
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Tour life. We would get off the bus and go to our rooms and then the hotel staff would deliver our bags to our rooms.
Neckties and Croatia
Pretty Croatian neckties
Cats in Dubrovnik
There were a lot of cute, healthy cats in Dubrovnik and Split. Don’t worry, I didn’t touch them so my allergies weren’t impacted. I admired them from afar. 🙂
Postcard in Dubrovnik
Writing postcards to Iowa with a glass of rose at an outdoor cafe in Dubrovnik. I’ve turned my 9 year old nephew into a postcard monster with all of my travels. He he always reminds me to send him postcards whenever he knows I am about to leave for a trip.
Flat Stanley in Croatia
My constant companion throughout this trip was this dude – Flat Stanley. He was cut out and colored by my 9 year old niece. Here he is in Plitvice Lakes National Park. Look at the color of that water! Stanley was kicking his feet up in excitement because he loved it so much! 🙂
Flat Stanley in Croatia
Stanley wanted to drive the coach…but I told him “no.”