THE BEST OF CROATIA: PLITVICE LAKES

Veliki Slap or the Great Waterfall - the highest waterfall in the Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatian: Nacionalni park Plitvička jezera or shorter Plitvice) is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia.

It’s perhaps the most beautiful place you will see in Croatia. I left a piece of my heart in Plitvice. Somehow, it always seems different there and much more gorgeous than the previous time.

But why is that?

In this article, I will explain you why and how Plitvice Lakes are changing and how come they are so delightful to many people as well as some practical information about location, working hours and all the useful tips that can make your visit much better and easier. Hopefully, I will inspire you to visit Plitvice as soon as possible or to remind you of their uniqueness to visit them again.

 

Visitors walking along the boardwalk next to waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice are collection of turquoise-coloured lakes

 

 

WHY SHOULD ONE VISIT PLITVICE LAKES?

I assume we all love places that look like fairy tales. Well, Plitvice Lakes are exactly one of those spots where you have to pinch yourself to make sure everything around you is actually true and not a dream.

 

Vibrant blue and green contrast in the lakes of Plitvice

This national park is a blend of the unspoiled nature and harmony of wildlife where you can rest all of your senses. Both flora and fauna are very rich and diverse yet still not fully discovered so you might even end up declared as one of the discoverers of something new. Besides, all the lakes are clear as glass and unreal turquoise color.

 

Plitvice are known for being composed of karst – limestone rocks called Dinarides

The best of all: incredible vibrant array of colors are constantly changing due to the slant of the sunlight alters and amount of minerals or organisms. Then, the nature goes from green to blue-grey again.

 

Exceptional biological diversity and turquoise colour in one of the lakes with ducks and fish


Do you believe me now that Plitvice are without a doubt one of the nicest places you will see in Croatia?

If you still don’t believe me, check out what some of the world famous magazines and sites wrote about this natural beauty:

 

The Plitvice Lakes National Park lies at the south end of the slopes of Mala Kapela chain at the height between 369 and 1279 a.s.l.


WHERE EXACTLY?

Plitvice are located halfway between capital city Zagreb (140km – around 2h and 15 min ) and Zadar on the coast (135km – around 1h and 45min). Of course you can reach them from other bigger Croatian cities, but you will need much more time.

For example, from Split, you will need to drive 260 km for cca 3h. They are situated in the mountainous region of Croatia, between the Mala Kapela mountain range and the Lička Plješivica mountain range. The air is extremely clean to breathe.

 

Plitvice are located halfway between capital city Zagreb and Adriatic city Zadar which is shown in a Google Maps photo screenshot of Croatia

 

The Great waterfall or Croatian: Veliki slap and Dinarides karst landscape

 

HOW TO GET THERE?

The best and the easiest option is to rent a car. Beware that in the summer time, rental prices can go very high plus you have to book your car in advance.

 

One of the Plitvice lakes shown from a Upper lakes hiking trails

You can easily reach Plitvice from Zagreb, Split and Zadar as well as from other surrounding places. If you travel from Zagreb to the Adriatic coast, you can do a nice stopover in this best beauty of Croatia.

There are organised day tours and you can book one of those if you don’t like to explore them by yourself or you can take a bus. There are no trains or flights to get you to Plitvice.  The only public transport from any of the cities from Croatia to Plitvice is – a bus.

 

Bordwalk in Plitvice with small waterfalls and tufa formations together with moss and other organisms


WHEN TO VISIT?

The national park is open all year-round, literally 365 days. Nonetheless, be cautious that the working hours of the park vary depending on the season. 

You can check out the national park’s hours of operation by season on the following LINK.

This time we visited Plitvice in July, in the middle of the summer season. And even though in high season Plitvice are much more crowded than spring or autumn for example, we really enjoyed our time there.

 

Beautiful waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes

Equally important is to mention that water level during the summer tend to be lower so the waterfalls might not be as huge as they are during the rest of the year. However, we are talking in slight differences here: don’t worry, they are majestic always. And if there’s some rain few days before your visit, waterfalls will be even more majestic!

 

One of the many caves in Plitvice Lakes



On the other hand, winters are offering you icy wonderland and maybe even layers of snow! Please be aware of possibly icy and slippery trail conditions and do keep in mind that there are much less amenities during the winter.

 

Plitvice Lakes National Park when they change their colour into green

With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to check the website before you go, to get updates on the latest weather conditions and all the other necessary informations.

A boardwalk and small waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes Croatia

 

THE INCREDIBLE SCIENCE BEHIND PLITVICE LAKES

1. KARST LANDSCAPE

Plitvice Lakes are a series of 16 lakes, little rivers and waterfalls that run over a few levels. The first recording lake dates back even to 1777 but it is believed it exists already from ice age!

 

Few amazing waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes from the Lower Lakes

The natural phenomena that created all those lakes and pools involves a lot of slow shifting and dissolving of rock, resulting in what is known as ”karst topography”. This region is called Dinarides and it is one of the most impressive karst landscapes in the world, marked by specific geological, geomorphological and hydrological properties.

 

Amazing colours of incredible Plitvice Lakes National park
Me walking towards one of the caves of Plitvice Lakes in Croatia

This kind of relief is primarily tied to carbonate rock (limestone and dolomite rock) due to its strong sensitivity to chemical and mechanical wear, and the influence of tectonics. The whole area is dominated by limestone rock of Mesozoic age, with inserts of dolomite rock, and areas of pure dolomite rock which means they are heaven for every geologist in this world.

 

One of the caves in Plitvice Lakes together with the rest of the visitors and tourists

Today, 114 speleological structures have been recorded in the park. In terms of structure, pits are more common than caves.

One of the caves from Plitvice Lakes National Park as best of Croatia
The view from a cave in Plitvice Lakes
An amazing organisms inside of the cave of Plitvice Lakes
Inside of one cave in Plitvice Lakes National Park

2. TUFA

Tufa is a hollow, porous rock created from the deposition of dissolved calcium carbonate in the water by plants, algae and mosses.”

 

The process of tufa formation, which in turn forms tufa barriers and creates the lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park

Already on 8 April 1949, Plitvice were proclaimed Croatia’s first national park. Thanks to the process of tufa formation, which resulted in the creation of the lakes, Plitvice are part of the outstanding universal value for which they were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

An impressive tufa formation as outstanding universal value of Plitvice Lakes

The 16 larger named lakes, and many other smaller unnamed lakes are separated by these tufa barriers, but are connected in this unique water system via a series of waterfalls between the lakes. They are cascading lakes and they vary in size. As the tufa barriers grow, the water levels rise, increasing the volume of water in the lakes.

Very important to this specific and complex process of forming tufa are the blue-green algae, the diatomaceous algae, various bacteria, multicellular microscopic organisms etc. and of course they are not visible.

 

Beautiful waterfall and amazing long roots of flora in Plitvice Lakes area

Even today, the tufa barriers are actively growing, and this bio dynamic structure is constantly changing the appearance of the whole national park, its lakes and the waterfalls.

 

Amazing waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park together with moss and other organisms and plants
Impressive waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes

 

FAUNA

The biological diversity of fauna has not been fully researched in Plitvice. There are many species of animals who share Plitvice Lakes National Park as their home and I will number out only few:

  • 321 species of butterflies
  • Two out of three Croatian venomous snake species
  • 50 species of mammals
  • 22 species of bats
  • 14 species of reptiles
  • More than 800 species of fungi
  • 168 species of birds with 37 endangered species of nesting birds

 

Damselfly with impressive colours in Plitvice Lakes National Park
The grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) the species of fish with the largest reported production in aquaculture globally

If you are lucky, you can see even The Eurasian lynx, brown bear Ursus arctos or grey wolf Canis lupus.

 

Underwater life of diverse fish in turquoise lakes of Plitvice
Fish inside of one of the lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park

 

Beautiful fish in Plitvice Lakes
Beautiful ducks in Plitvice Lakes National Park
The common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) is a common and widespread small passerine bird found in Plitvice Lakes
Metallic blue-green damselfly found in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Many fish swimming in the clear waters of Plitvice
Polyporus fomentarius a kind of mushroom that grows on a tree and it's not edible but medicinal - cures even cancer!
Ducks and fish in beautiful turquoise lake of Plitvice
Mother duck and little duck in the shallow waters of Plitvice Lakes

FLORA

So far, studies have confirmed more than 1,400 plants (species and subspecies) in the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Believe it or not, that’s even 30% of the entire Croatian flora!

 

Chimney bellflower growing in Plitvice Lakes and National Park Krka too

Plitvice have a relatively low number of endemic species (approx. 1.7%), but a large number of endangered subspecies (4.64%)

 

Named after the Macedonian King of Thrace, Lysimacha punctata (Yellow Loosestrife) is a perennial plant with great ornamental value

For al the flower lovers, the park’s flora is characterized by more than 60 species of orchids.

 

Some of 1,400 plant species and subspecies in Plitvice Lakes
Flora of Plitvice Lakes and its vibrant green color as the best of Croatia
Large roots in Plitvice Lakes forest in the Republic of Croatia

So far, several forest communities have been described within the Park boundaries.

 

The view from frogs perspective in Plitvice Lakes forest in the Republic of Croatia


GENERAL INFORMATION

Today, national parks covers an area just under 300 km2, primarily covered in forest vegetation and grasslands. Lakes are covering just under 1% of the total park area.

 

Stunning view on Sastavci waterfalls and the Great Waterfall (Veliki slap) in Croatia

The lake system, as already mentioned, is comprised of 16 named and several smaller unnamed lakes, cascading one into the next. The lake system has been divided into the 12 Upper and 4 Lower lakes. The upper lakes were formed on impermeable dolomite rock, and are larger, with more indented and gentler shores than the Lower Lakes.

The two largest lakes in the Plitvice system are Prošćansko and Kozjak. The highest waterfall in Croatia can be found in the Lower Lakes area: The Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap).

 

The view from different angle on Great Waterfall (Veliki slap) in Plitvice Lakes National Park

The Lower Lakes were formed in permeable limestone substrate, cut into a deep canyon with steep cliffs. The lakes end in the impressive waterfalls Sastavci, with the Korana River springing under the base of the falls.

 

The view on amazing waterfalls from one of the boardwalk in Plitvice Lakes


HIKING TRAILS

The Plitvice Lakes National Park offers visitors seven different routes to tour the lake system, and four hiking trails. There are so many because they all depend on your energy level, starting point and the amount of the time you have. That’s why it is recommended to come as early as possible to see as much as possible and both Upper and Lower lakes.

For more information about hiking trails, their duration etc. check here.

 

Thew view along boardwalk in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Amazing greenish colour in one of the lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park
Wonderful and vibrant view on the waterfall and a turquoise lake in Plitvice

FACILITIES

With the presented purchased & valid ticket, you can ride on the electric boats (Kozjak Lake) and the visitor trains too. Make sure to not miss it!

 

The view on shallow lake waters in Plitvice and boat facility transport


You can buy and check ticket prices HERE.

 

Electric boat ride in Kozjak Lake in Plitvice

TIP:
If you decide to spend a longer stay in one of hotels in Plitvice (Bellevue, Jezero, Plitvice, Grabovac), one-day tickets may be extended at the hotel reception desk for even more days!

 

Kozjak Lake and electric boats in Plitvice Lakes National Park

WORKING HOURS

WINTER: (from last Sunday in October)
8.00 – 16.00 h (entering park / ticket purchase / exchanging vouchers for tickets – until 14.00 h)

SPRING: summer time calculation (from last Sunday in March) – 31.05.
8.00 – 19.00 h (entering park / ticket purchase / exchanging vouchers for tickets – until 17.00 h)

SUMMER: 01.06. – 20.08. (until last Saturday in March)
7.00 – 20.00 h (entering park / ticket purchase / exchanging vouchers for tickets – until 18.00 h)

AUTUMN: 21.08. – 30.09.: 7.00 – 19.00 h (until last Saturday in October)(entering park / ticket purchase / exchanging vouchers for tickets – until 17.00 h)

01.10. – winter time calculation: 8.00 – 18.00 h (entering park / ticket purchase / exchanging vouchers for tickets – until 16.00 h)

Make sure to always double check out the national park’s hours of operation by season on the following LINK.

 

Small waterfalls and green flora in Plitvice Lakes

 

Amazing green colour of the lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park
Moss and waterfalls in Plitvice

IMPORTANT TO KNOW

You are required to follow the instructions listed on the information panels, to keep on the marked trails, and to leave no traces of their visit, such as litter, or marking or devastating nature in any form.

 

Lively green and blue colour of lake in Plitvice Lakes National Park


The following is strictly prohibited in the National Park:

  • Collection of plant materials, or taking any “souvenirs” of natural origin
  • Feeding the animals
  • Swimming in the lakes
  • Disposal of litter along the trails or elsewhere, except in the garbage bins installed throughout the park
  • Straying off the marked trails
Captivating green nature in Plitvice Lakes
One of the boardwalks and reflection in the lake of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

MY 10 RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Bring adequate rain and sun protection (umbrella, raincoat; sunglasses, hat, sunscreen – depending on the season)

2. Wear the appropriate clothing and footwear

3. Check the weather forecast before coming to the park as well as the official website

4. Bring some food with you and plenty of water

5. Get to Plitvice at the opening time so you can enjoy the whole day there

6. Start at the beginning (at the Entrance 1)

7. You can stay in one of the nearest accommodations so you can explore Plitvice in peace for two or more days (check on Booking.com)

8. Take it easy. Be patient along boardwalks especially if it’s crowded. Take some photos and let others take photos.

9. Safety first. Don’t try to do some crazy and dangerous stuff just to make the best selfie. There were people who died because of those kind of situations.

10. Check THIS awesome blog for great recommendations about hiking trails and much more details

 

One of the boardwalks in greenery of Plitvice Lakes
One of the waterfalls which is being poured in one of the lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park
Flora and fauna in one photo of Plitvice Lakes
Smaller waterfalls and turquoise lake in Plitvice Lakes National Park

 

If you have already visited Plitvice Lakes National Park, let me know how did your experience went. 🙂

If you are yet planning to visit Plitvice and you still have some questions, you can feel free to comment below!

And if you want to offer any suggestion, advice, you are more than welcome to let me know in the comments below too! 🙂

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia, from a local point of view by @kookylovestotravel

Kooky and the Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap) in Plitvice Lakes National Park of Croatia

 

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