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.
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.