Words cannot describe the beauty of this park with 16 beautiful lakes of crystal clear, blue-green water, connected by cascading, dramatic waterfalls.
The tufa lakes (formed out of limestone) fed by many lakes and streams, are surrounded by lush wooded mountains and cliffs, which are a sanctuary for many forms of wildlife and plants.
Due to the continual flow of water from the lakes, the cascades and waterfalls are constantly changing and rebuilding themselves. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, Plitvice Lakes is one of the oldest and largest national parks of Croatia - and considered to be one of the greatest natural wonders of Europe. One can only wonder what it looked like years ago before the influx of tourists - last year they recorded a million plus visitors. I read that it may be taken off the UNESCO Heritage site due to the pollution being found in the water and surrounding areas. There may be even further restrictions for tourist in the future. Currently, the park only allows a certain number of tourists each day and everyone is assigned a start time to enter the park. The website to buy tickets on line is : www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr and the cost is 300 kuna per adult (approx. $50.00). The price includes entry to the park, shuttle bus to upper and lower lakes, all hiking trails and boardwalks and an electric boat cruise that connects the upper and lower lakes. (The boat cruise will save you miles of hiking between the two lakes). When you purchase your ticket you can choose
which entrance you want. Gate 1 is the lower lakes, and Gate 2 is the upper lakes. I suggest starting at the lower lakes and hiking the boardwalks to the lake cruise, then hike the boardwalks through the upper lakes.
Our entry time was 2pm and we completed both the upper and lower lakes by 5:30pm. So realistically you could do the park in 3 1/2 hours and that's with stops for photographs and a coffee before the boat cruise. With your ticket you are allowed entry the next day at either gate, at any time. We felt we had covered most of the park in one day so didn't return the following day.
One item not listed on the ticket that you really need to check is the departure of the last bus from the upper lakes to get you back to both parking lots. We neglected to check this out and were a little freaked out as it got darker and we didn't see any people on the trail for the last hour of our hike. Luckily, the park didn't close, we made the shuttle and didn't have to spend the night in the wild or walk the six miles back to our car! The cost to park our car for the day was approx. $8.00.
While driving the 15 minutes back to our hotel, we stopped for an excellent dinner at Restaurant Degenija which I highly recommend if in the area.
Our hotel, 16 Lakes Hotel (Booking.com) was in the town of Grabovac. Our room was nice and the hotel also featured a pool and a good restaurant. There was a great breakfast buffet for 70 kuna ( approx. $10.00) that we enjoyed everyday. The service in the hotel was excellent and the staff was super friendly and spoke excellent English.
Another point of interest I recommend are the waterfalls of Rastoke. These falls are located in a small canyon next to a cute little village in Slunj about a thirty minute drive from Plitvice. A 15 minute walk will take you past the falls and through the small town. We arrived near sunset, so the light on the falls was stunning.
Plitvice National Park was high on our list of things to see in Croatia before we even left the states for our summer. It was not a disappointment. In fact it was definitely a highlight of our trip. I highly recommend going in September when the leaves begin to change, the weather is cooler and there are fewer tourist. An afternoon entry time is also a good choice because most people like to go early in the morning.
On our three hour drive back to Split Airport, we decided to make a stop to see the "Eye of the Earth" known as Izvor Centine, the Cetina River Spring. It got it's name because it looks like a blue-green dragon eye when seen from above. It is the source of the Cetina River. All photos we have seen on Instagram and social media look amazing showing a crystal clear blue-green crater where you can almost see the bottom.
I was ready for Jamie to jump in even though they say it's like jumping into an ice bath. Unfortunately, it was very disappointing and I would say don't waste your time for a trip there. Not only was it not crystal clear as the photos show but almost looked polluted. There was really nothing pretty about it at all. Maybe the photos were from years ago or maybe we just saw it at a bad time. Again, maybe too many tourist have destroyed the beauty of the site.
Our trip is coming to an end. We will spend three nights in the town of Trogir, (very close to Split) and then Jamie heads back to Nashville. I will travel to Zagreb for five nights before I depart for Los Angeles.