One of the most magnificent areas to visit in Croatia is the Plitvička jezera National Park established in 1949 (Croatian: Plitvička jezera, pronounced [plitˈvitsɛ]), which lies in the mountainous region of Southern Croatia. In recognition of its “outstanding natural beauty and undisturbed production of travertine (tufa)” the park was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979 .
The Plitvice plateau is surrounded by three mountains that are part of the Dinaric Alps: Plješevica Mountain, Mala Kapela Mountain, and Medveđak. Runoff from the mountains form sixteen distinct lakes, which are separated into an upper and lower cluster, and descend from an altitude of 2,087 to 1,650 ft. over a distance of some five miles.
If driving, the park is about halfway between Zagreb (the capital) and Split, which is a coastal city with a very historic city center. From either city, it’s about a three hour drive. The park is open from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm, and costs 110 kuna per person, approximately $20. The price includes tram transport and a river ride.
For hikers to fully enjoy the lakes be sure to get an early start. Picturesque wooden walkways lead you across the water and through the waterfalls which allow for closer viewing. The paths along the edges are smooth and well-kept.
The most spectacular waterfalls are at the southern lake as you enter the park. Although not nearly as high as some of the incredible falls in Yosemite, or as awe-inspiring as Niagra, the hundreds of spillways and waterfalls along the lakes are each beautiful and delightful in their own way.
There are also numerous caves, cavities, abysses and ice pits within the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Some of the more interesting are basically inaccessible, but Supljara cave, which is near Kaluderovo Lake across from the large falls, has an entrance more than 60 ft. high and has stone steps that lead from the lakes up to the western edge of the canyon above. There are several “halls” branching off in the middle of the cave.
Halfway along the park on the western side are two hotels, but they are very expensive and neither is very attractive. There are countless B&Bs and small hotels in the towns and along the roads within six or seven miles of the park, and several are close enough to leave your car and walk to the park—parking in the main lot at entrance one is 70 kuna per day. Perhaps 300 ft north of the parking lot is Marco Spehar #14, where several home owners have formed a B&B combine. The rates are very reasonable, and the breakfast was not bad. There are also several good restaurants in the area that offer adequate accommodations and much better food at a lower price than the hotels, such as the bistro Vila Velebita in Rudanovac, about 10 minutes north of entrance one on highway 1. As most local restaurants, they offer mixed grill that is very inexpensive, but politically-correct eaters should be aware that veal is very big in Croatia.
Unless you are a total nature lover, plan to spend only one day in the park. Pack some rain gear, as it can rain during the summer, although hot days are more common. No matter what, if you plan to vacation in beautiful, affordable Croatia, don’t miss a visit to Plitvicka Jezera National Park!