While Croatia’s sparkling coastline bustles with activity over summertime travel, another destination in the country’s interior attracts tourists by the thousands. Plitvice Lakes National Park – or Plitvička Jezera in Croatian – has experienced a shocking rise of visitors in recent years as images of romantic waterfalls and turquoise waters have spilled across the globe.
As I shaped my travel itinerary for an epic trip around Croatia with my husband and our 5-month old puppy, I was extremely wary about including Plitvice Lakes in our journey. Would it be as great as everyone said? Would it really look like the Instagram photos? Would the crowds ruin our experience? Would we be disappointmented? And the fundamental question on repeat in my mind: would a visit to Plitvice Lakes be worth our precious vacation time when all is said and done?
I’m happy to report that my answer is “Yes!” The natural beauty of Plitvice Lakes is astounding and it does live up to its reputation; I’m really glad that we kept it on our travel itinerary. However, my “yes” is conditional. Although I believe the Plitvice Lakes National Park is worth visiting if you are in the region, I can’t guarantee that you’ll have a magical experience. In a word, it’s crowded. If you end up among the throng of tour groups, large families, and selfie-takers, you may wish you’d never come at all. So, keep reading to learn how you can make a visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park worth your while.
My Tips on Visiting Croatia’s Plitvička Jezera
1. ARRIVE EARLY
When I say “early,” I mean it! The park opens at 7am, and I recommend getting to the ticket counter before 8am. The closer to 7am, the better. Your early morning wake up call will be rewarded with moments of serenity as you move through the park in relative peace and quiet.
We pulled in before 7:30am, and although there were already a few people milling about, it took us five minutes to get our tickets. But when we exited that main gate around 11:30am, I was shocked to see well over one hundred people in line for tickets! I had two thoughts: I’m so, so glad we came early! And I hope these folks become friends with their neighbors in line, because they’re about to spend the next 4-6 hours with them!
2. SUBMIT TO THE PATH
Plitvice Lakes seems quite restrictive for those of us with an exploratory nature. Since the park was named a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO, visitors are strictly prohibited from wandering off the well-beaten path.
The Tourist Map labels eight routes through Plitvička Jezera, giving visitors four options from each of the two park entrances. The walking paths are designed like a figure eight, looping guests around the upper and lower lakes. For a hefty portion of any route, you’ll be walking over the gurgling waters on a boardwalk, which is just wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side comfortably.
If you get an early start, you’ll have more opportunities to walk at your own pace, rather than that of the folks ambling in front of you. We highly valued the sweet moments of space and solitude, and so we always passed the slowpokes. Our speed was notable, as we completed Route C (and ate our picnic lunch) in under four hours, even though the map labels it a 5-6 hour walk.
3. SNAP AWAY, BUT DON’T FORGET TO LOOK AROUND
I love taking a lot of pictures while I travel. However, I believe it’s important to set the camera down and simply take in the scenery with all your senses, too. Plitvička Jezera provides visitors with many photos opps; remember to soak in the majesty while you’re there.
4. CARRY SNACKS & WATER, BUT LEAVE THE SWIMSUIT
While there are a few snack shops along the route, I’d advise everyone to carry their own water and have a few snacks on hand. No one wants to deal with a Hangry Monster out there.
Also, even on the hottest summer day, the only ones allowed to swim in Plitvice Lakes are the fish.
5. STAY NEARBY… OR NOT
You can find a plenty of hotels, campsites, and other accommodations in and around Plitvička Jezera. The three hotels stationed at Park Entrance 2 may be a great option in the off-season or for folks who have a hard time mobilizing in the mornings.
We drove over from Zagreb the morning we visited Plitvička Jezera, and we drove to the coast to stay near Zadar that night. We were quite pleased with our decision to NOT stay in the area, as it was too crowded for our taste.
6. TRY VISITING OUTSIDE OF SUMMER
Undeniably, Plitvice Lakes entertains the most people during the summer months. Thus, our experience was completely contingent upon how we could beat the crowds. It’s my understanding that the park attracts significant numbers year round, and I’d still recommend getting an early start in every season. Yet, no matter whether Plitvička Jezera is adorned with the changing leaves of autumn, the white frosts of winter, or the rushing waters of spring, she will surely dress to impress.
7. BE PREPARED AND PRACTICE PATIENCE
I think everyone can enjoy Plitvice Lakes as long as expectations are set properly. The park gets crowded and congested, and you could end up shuffling along for several hours, frustrated and anxious to extricate yourself from the never-ending line of tourists. Even the earliest of early birds can’t completely escape the rest of the flock. So, it’s important to have a good attitude, take a deep breath, and practice the art of patience.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bright blue lakes and ever-changing waterfalls of Plitvička are simply breathtaking. They are a unique manifestation of natural beauty, and they will no doubt leave an impression on your heart. However, if you’re like me, the majesty of this park could easily be stripped away by massive amounts of people coursing through the gorgeous scenery with you. So, if you plan your visit well, I believe you can walk in, through, and out of Plitvice Lakes National Park with a smile on your face, making the journey totally worth it!
If you’d like more information about Plitvice Lakes National Park, visit their website HERE.
Zdravo! What do you think about Plitvice Lakes? Have you heard of Croatia’s most popular national park or at least seen photos of it before? Do you think it’s worth the trip? If you have been, do you have any other advice to share?
Anna Beth Bonney says
I totally agree! Going early is key. We also got there well before 9 and were really happy with the decision. And the snacks also the food in the park is rather meh. But I also really loved being in Zagreb, so that helped make it worth my while. It would be less fun to go if there weren’t day trips from a beautiful city with reasonable bus fare. Also, BASIL. IS. THE. CUTEST.
Jenn Domeck says
Thank you so much, Hailey, for this brief vacation from my work this afternoon! I feel like I was there with you for a moment!