When thinking about my favorite natural spots to visit, Plitvice Lakes National Park comes right away to my mind. It was last December when I was traveling through Croatia with my sister, and part of our itinerary was definitely visiting the well-known to be amazing Plitvice Lakes. Most people think of it as a summer destination, but during winter… it is spectacular!
What to expect
If you do some google search you’ll find amazing pictures that show these naturally created fairytale lakes. Let me describe it in a better way, imagine a lake, a nice huge lake with dark blue water, connected to another lake with other blue tones by a series of small waterfalls. Now imagine that this place has 16 lakes, almost 100 waterfalls, all linked in the most creative ways. All shades of blue, turquoise, and jade-green blend into each other as the water flows from one lake to the other. To make it even better, it can be explored all around through the wooden pathways, bridges, and crossings that serpent around them. Nature did an awesome job in this natural environment!
So if a basic description of the arrangement of these water bodies is not enough, let me tell you the awesome experience I had the day we did this winter visit.
It was December, as I said before, so the sight I was expecting was nothing like the pictures I had seen. I’d seen photos full of dazzling green vegetation, and vivid turquoise water. However, when we checked the weather cast, well… it didn’t seem too promising. Cloudy and not cold enough for snow, which made us kind of disappointed. We were anxious because we didn’t know if it was worth it, but we went anyways.
How to get there
The closest points to Plitvice are Zagreb, Zadar or Split. We were staying in Zagreb for a couple of days and planned to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Plitvička jezera in Croatian, for one day, and then continue to Zadar.
From Zagreb to the lakes, one must take a bus at the Zagreb Central Station (Autobusni kolodvor Zagreb). They run pretty often, but make sure to get there early (really early) or buy a ticket in advance. We couldn’t take the first bus that day because it was already booked out. We had to wait and took the 10:00 a.m. bus instead. The ticket is around 90 kunas and you can just buy a one-way ticket, the return ticket you buy on your way back, same price.
It takes around 2 hours to get from Zagreb to the lakes. There is just one road to get there, and the bus is stopping continuously, which made me a little impatient. This is because deep inside me, I was so eager to see snow, and that was not going to happen apparently. To our surprise and great satisfaction, little by little snow started to show. By midday, the bus arrived at the first entrance of the park.
What a surprise and what a view! I was delighted with the atmosphere: so much snow, all covered in white, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like a winter wonderland daydream.
To enter the park you need to pay a fee, that depending on the season varies. The highest price is for summer when most people go, 180 kunas. For spring and autumn, 110 kunas; and for winter, which was the case, we paid 55 kunas. Fewer people, cheapest ticket but no trains or boats operating (we didn’t mind about this). Oh, and also there are some discounts for kids, students, and groups. I found there are also two-day tickets, which is probably worth it, but we didn’t have that much time anyways.
At the entrance one can find a really nice and convenient map, showing the different routes one can take, and specifying how long it takes to complete each one. The ones marked in green start at entrance 1, the ones marked in orange start at entrance 2. All of them were circuits, so it seemed like it was impossible to get lost. The shortest was around 2-3 hours and up to 6-8 hours for going all the way to the last lake.
At first, you have a nice view from a high point, which is really astonishing to look at. Then you take a trail that goes down to the level where the lake is. Once there, there are several wooden pathways to take. We went first to the Great waterfall. It was nice, with the sound of falling water and some parts completely frozen. Then we continued through the Lower Lakes. These ones are the big ones, compared to the Upper Lakes, which are 12 smaller lakes. But with the little time we had, we could just reach the end of Lake Kosjak, the biggest of all. So our walk continued around this big lake, stopping by where bridges intersected or at specific areas with clearer water. Each corner of these lakes had a unique charm and as travelers who enjoys the little details, we stopped quite often.
In the area, you can find several options to eat, but I must be honest, we had prepared ourselves some lunch the day before. So, it turned out to be really convenient, as we didn’t need to stop to grab food. The good thing was that we had the chance to try traditional Croatian food other days during the trip. But that day, just nature was good enough to us.
As it was getting darker, we realized the park was about to close, so we went back, just to realize it was not the first entrance but the second. With our hearts filled with joy from the experience we just had, we didn’t mind walking some more; so we followed the highway that connected the second entrance to the first one by foot. There we caught the bus back to Zagreb, and after an exhausting trip, we slept all the way back.
Why are you going to Croatia during winter, everyone asked us. Apparently, Croatia, in general, is known to be a summer destination. I have to say, I still have on my bucket list coming back to see these lakes in summer. But, this winter paradise was an incredible experience I would widely recommend. I’m sure you’ll agree with me, so give it a try!
For further information, more details and specifications visit the official website. I found it so useful!