6 Questions… will be a series dedicated to answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of locations I have visited, serving to answer questions fellow travelers may have when planning their trip.
Who would enjoy Plitvice Lakes: Plitvice Lakes are the perfect Croatian getaway for any lover of nature. This massive park offers views of bubbling streams, aquamarine lakes, and thundering waterfalls. The trails here are well manicured, well laid out, and easy little hikes that weave you in and out of the landscape, each trail offering breathtaking views. Plitvice Lakes, or as Croatians know it, Plitvicka jezera (pronounced plit-vitch-kuh yez-air-uh), are also great for families. I saw people of all ages and fitness levels at this park, and can attest that this place is more rolling landscapes and pathways than cardiac treks.
What should I wear to hike the lakes: While hiking poles, hiking boots, and other rugged mountain gear is not necessary, I would suggest wearing clothing you would be comfortable to go on a long walk in. I would suggest closed toed shoes with a bit of grip (any sneaker will do), long pants, and a breathable top. The day I visited the lakes, there was a slight drizzle of rain. The hikes were absolutely doable in rain, and the rain even cleared out hordes of people. The trails did get slightly muddy, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Another thing to consider when deciding on footwear for the day is that there are small footbridges that will carry you across the tops of lakes and streams. While very sturdy, they are not flat, most often made with rounded and smoothed tree trunks. This makes for a bumpy walk if not in a comfortable walking shoe, and could be a tripping hazard. Not to mention, the foot bridges get wet from rain and the lakes and could pose a slipping hazard. What am I saying? Wear the darn grippy shoes.
When is the best time to go: I travelled through Croatia in September, and found this to be a wonderful time of year to visit. While I did battle a few rain storms, they often cleared up by midday, and kept crowds at bay, and not just in Plitvice Lakes. This is also shoulder season for Croatia, the busiest months being June-August, which also happen to be the hottest. I have spoken with people who went in the middle of high season who said they would step out of their hotel and immediately sweat because Croatia gets so hot. As for time of day, I arrived at the park as soon as it opened. Tour buses begin to line the parking lot as early as 9 am, so getting into the park before anybody else is incredibly important if you want to be able to take your time and get amazing pictures.
Where should I stay: I stayed with an Airbnb host named Novela who was incredible. Her home sat high above a valley in the country, and offered panoramic views of the lovely countryside. She gave us incredible dining options, such as Plum (guys, I SERIOUSLY recommend eating here…it’s phenomenal), and places where we could stop to get gas and snacks nearby. Upon our departure, she gave us a box of her children’s’ favorite cookies. Small butter cookies covered in chocolate, I can see why they would be a kiddie favorite. They are still in my freezer a year later, and I pull them out every now and then, crumble them up, and enjoy them on some ice cream!
Why should I make the drive all the way up there: Something to note is that this is a long drive from anywhere you will likely be staying in Croatia. From Zagreb, it is a 2.5-hour drive, from Split 3 hours, and from Dubrovnik 5 hours. This will be a large time investment for many people to see a few lakes. However, I truly believe this to be an incredibly important trip. Most people traveling to Croatia see one if not all cities I listed above, but not as many make the trip up to see this national park. You will be surrounded by bucolic communities, driving past some of the fluffiest sheep you will ever see. You will see old Croatia, the Croatia that existed under the Yugoslavia name, and will be transported to a part of the country that has endured great hardship, and has come out as lovely and quiet as ever. The Plitvice Lakes are also known as being a starting point of the Yugoslav wars, the first shots of the war fired on park rangers visiting a convenience store in the area. Even if you aren’t a nature person, making the drive here for the history lesson on the area alone is well worth the drive. For a great read about the history of this area, check out this book by Rick Steves, who breaks down the war, its many players, what led up to the war, and the effects on today, and he does so beautifully and concisely.
How should I get to the Plitvice Lakes: Drive. There is no nearby airport and no train station that takes you into this part of the country. You will be on the road surrounded by tour buses and other cars, each of those vehicles trying to make it to the famed teal lakes. A great company to rent a car from is Nova Rent-A-Car. I rented my car from them in the Split airport and made the drive from there. I found the car to be in great condition, the people working in the airport booth to be helpful, and the guy getting me out of the parking lot to be attentive and kind (even when I accidentally left the parking brake on and started to drive away). They have a mix of both automatic and manual gear cars, so no worries if you can’t drive a manual (I still can’t either). They can also help you get everything situated if you plan on doing intercountry drives, and set you up with the appropriate paperwork for that, which trust me, is totally necessary when crossing borders.