When I booked my long weekend in Zadar, I hadn’t realised that it was a good base for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. But when I arrived and saw companies advertising day trips, I was sorely tempted.
I’d heard of Plitvice Lakes. I’d seen pictures on other people’s blogs, so I knew that they were supposed to be incredibly beautiful. On the other hand, €70 was more than I’d bargained on paying for a day trip.
I decided to ask the receptionist at the hostel: was it worth visiting the lakes, and what was the best way to do it?
His answer to the first question was a resounding ‘yes’. There had been a lot of rain recently, he said, so the waterfalls would be spectacular.
As for the best way to visit the national park, he told me there was a bus from Zadar main bus station, which took a couple of hours.
Of course, then I was faced with a new dilemma: should I choose the group tour where everything was organised for me, or visit the lakes off my own bat?
Normally, I’d absolutely plump for visiting a place independently, but when I looked at the group tour, there seemed to be a couple of perks: lunch, a boat ride on one of the lakes, and (most importantly) transport up to the Upper Lakes. On the other hand, the organised tour would mean constantly being surrounded by people, who’d probably get on my nerves and end up in all my photos. Not that I’m antisocial or anything…
TIP 1: TAKE THE BUS TO PLITVICE LAKES INDEPENDENTLY, AND NOT AS PART OF A GROUP TOUR.
Turns out that all those ‘perks’ offered by the group tour weren’t really perks at all:
- Lunch: The ‘included lunch’ I saw other people eating didn’t look too great, and I bought my own from the site kiosks for a few euros. (Though next time I’d take a picnic, because the kiosk food wasn’t all that interesting or varied.)
- Boat ride: The boat ride on the lake was included in the park entrance fee anyway.
- Transport to the upper lakes: There was a free shuttle bus between the upper and lower lakes, so that didn’t cost me a penny extra.
So here’s what I spent during the day:
- Return coach from Zadar bus station to Plitvice Lakes: 165kn (about £20 or €24)
- National Park entrance fee: 110kn (about £12 or €15)
- Lunch: 40kn (about £4 or €5)
In other words, I spent about 315kn (about £36 or €44) – much less than the €70 charged for the group tours. And being able to wander around at my own pace was priceless.
In fact, I think if I hadn’t been able to get away from all of the tour groups, I might have gone a bit crazy…
TIP 2: DON’T MISS THE UPPER LAKES.
When I first entered the national park, it was mayhem. There were people everywhere, guided groups and individuals. On the information board of recommended routes around the park, every single one of them started the same way, so everyone was taking the same path down to the first (and biggest) waterfall.
So I joined the crowds, shuffling along the boardwalk a few inches at a time. I got in everybody’s photos, and everybody got in mine.
It was like being part of one enormous tour group, which moved at the pace of the slowest member. And given that I saw one woman in stilettos and another on crutches, that was pretty slow. Thank goodness I hadn’t signed up for an entire day of this!
But once I got away from the crowds, things improved.
In other parts of the Lower Lakes, I could walk at a sensible pace. By the time I reached the Upper Lakes, there were stretches where I had the path completely to myself.
TIP 3: TAKE A CAMERA.
People or no people, Plitvice Lakes National Park was beautiful.
The colours were so bright, they looked almost fake: azure sky, emerald trees, white waterfalls and turquoise lakes. The waterfalls gushed over the rocks and sometimes over the paths, sending spray billowing around them. In the lakes, the water was so clear that I could see the first basking in the shallows, or flitting away when I got too close to the water’s edge. In a still and murky pool, a frog croaked, blowing out its cheeks in big grey bubbles. A bright green lizard scuttled away through the undergrowth as I passed.
I walked for miles, soaking up the scenery. I took the free boat ride across the lake and watched the gift shop on the bank getting smaller as we crossed to the other side. I sat on the edge of a boardwalk and watched waterfalls crashing into the pools below.
TIP 4: GO BACK TO THE MAIN WATERFALL NEAR THE PARK ENTRANCE AT THE END OF THE DAY, WHEN IT’S LESS CROWDED.
The down-side was that the sun had moved across the sky, so the big waterfall was now in shadow.
But the positives soon made up for this. Although there were still a few people milling around, compared to the start of the day it was practically empty. I could walk at a human pace. By then, park officials had put extra boards over the flooded part of the path, which meant I could walk to the bottom of the big waterfall without any danger of being washed away.
From here, I could see down into the gorge, where another huge waterfall thundered. The sun bounced off the spray into a magnificent rainbow, which the water plummeted through.
The sensational view and lack of shuffling crowds gave me a renewed energy, and I even climbed the 307 steps to the top of the big waterfall, which felt as though it did my thighs some good after all those ice creams I’d been eating in Zadar!
TIP 5: TAKE A PACKED LUNCH & PLENTY OF WATER
The kiosk food was only so-so, and there wasn’t much of a choice. Sandwiches and pastry, and that was pretty much it. It was quite expensive, as you’d expect in a National Park, and the water wasn’t cheap either.
It would have been much more sensible for me to buy lunch and a big bottle of water in Zadar before I left, rather than relying on the limited food available at the National Park itself.
I’ll know for next time!