Plitvice – Where Unicorns, Rainbows and Fairies Are Born.

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Photo credit: Getty Images

A few years ago, my brother told me about a national park in Croatia. He showed me some photos online and I could not believe that a place like Plitvice Lakes National Park existed. From the photos it looked fake. It looked like a place where unicorns, rainbows and fairies are born. I had to see it for myself.

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Listed as Croatia’s most popular tourist attraction, each year more than 1 million visitors head to this UNESCO World heritage site.  Most visit in the summer, but the park is open year round and after experiencing Plitvice, I want to revisit the magic of this place in autumn. The color of the trees set against that water must be incredible.

Plitvice is located in the mountains of central Croatia, near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, between Croatian capital city Zagreb and Zadar.  We purposefully chose the Dalmatian region for our trip due to its central location to a number of national parks that we wanted to explore. Pltivice was the last park we visited at the end of our stay and we almost didn’t make it. I am so glad that we made the time. The park is a must-see destination in Croatia.

The park is made up of a series of cascading lakes which result from several small rivers flowing into one another. Fortunately, due to the protections provided by its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, Plitvice has been allowed to flourish and maintain its natural Garden of Eden-esque status. The topography is varied. The flora and fauna, lush.

The origin of the name Plitvice has two incarnations. One version states that a priest named Dominik Vukasović, named the lakes pličina or plitvak, meaning shallow, because the lakes were formed by river water flowing and shaping shallow travertine basins  over time.

Another version of the name stems from the fact that the river Plitvica and the adjacent village of the same name gave origin to the name. It seems most logical to me that the 2 stories are both true. The name may have come from the Croatian word for shallow and then the river and village took on the same name given their proximity. What is interesting, however, is that reference to “shallow” may not be apropos forever. The travertine basins are living entities consisting of bacteria, algae, sediment and minerals which, much like coral in the oceans, are growing continuously. The travertine accumulates and grows at a rate of about 1 cm (0.4 in) per year. Ok, so maybe the “shallow” moniker still stands, but over time the entire area is growing which I find fascinating.

Things To Do
Plitvice has something to offer every outdoor enthusiast. One can leisurely stroll along the planked walkways, hike, boat, canyon climb, cycle or ski and sled in the winter.  The only thing one is not allowed to do at Plitvice, is swim. Sorry to you swimmers out there, but there’s no swimming allowed because of the need to protect the travertine and the plant and animal life which makes the places so enchanting . If you must get as close to the gorgeous water as you can,  small row boats are available to rent for 50kn/hour (7 euros or 8 US dollars ).  You can also take a ride on an electric boat to the 12 upper and 4 lower lakes. The electric boat rides are included with your admission ticket.

There are approximately 300 square kilometers, forest trails, 16 lakes, limestone canyons and waterfalls to explore.  There were so many waterfalls that we lost count.  Many people spend a few days at Plitvice, and there are plenty of accommodation choices available – everything from luxury lodging to camping. Sadly, we were only able to carve out a day trip from Zadar.

Things Not To Do
When visiting the park, it is critical to know that one cannot:

  • Collect plant materials or take any “souvenirs” of natural origin
  • Feed, disturb, touch the animals
  • Swim in the lakes (that part is the most disappointing as it was hot as Hades and the water looks sooooooo inviting).
  • Throw litter along the trails or elsewhere, except in the garbage bins installed throughout the park. It is shocking that this is even something one needs to be reminded of, but . . .
  • Stray off of the marked trails
  • Fish
  • Yell or be loud
  • Cycle or camp within the park’s borders

The Water Really Is That Color
The lakes are renowned for their distinctive bright colors. And, the water color changes from emerald green, turquoise blue, and grey depending on the quantity of minerals, the number of organisms in the water, the season, and, the angle of sunlight.

We saw bright turquoise, emerald green and crystal clear streams. The fact that the water color changes at just about every turn, adds another element of otherworldliness to the place. This park had all my senses engaged and stimulated my imagination. I was imagining children’s books where the places were named for the different locations and colors. The fairies live at Emerald Lake, while the unicorns hide behind the rushing falls of Turquoise Lagoon. And, of course rainbows are made on top of Oštri Medveđak, the park’s highest peak. Silly? Maybe. The magic of Plitvice got me.

Practical Stuff
There are two entrances to the park. When planning your trip, check out the trail options before you go in order to know where to park.

We opted for Entrance 2 (South Gate and Upper lakes) as it was closer to the waterfalls that I wanted to see. When visiting, be advised, the park is crowded, the walkways are simple uneven wooden planks with no railings. I cannot tell you the number of times I almost was jostled into the water. Advice, take a waterproof camera and/or phone case for your smartphone in case of an accidental fall into the water.

From entrance 2, there are 4 trail options to suit every level of difficulty and time.

  • Trail E (2-3 hours – 5.2 km – easy) upper lakes to Proscansko Jezero starting with a short boat ride across the Kozjak Lake.
  • Trail F (3-4 hours – 4.6km – easy) walk the upper lakes and sail across lake Kozjaka, then visit the lower lakes – take shuttle back
  • Trail H (4-6 hours – 8.9km – moderate) starts with a bus ride to your starting point, walk the upper lakes then sail across lake Kozjaka, to the lower lakes – take shuttle bus back.
  • Trail K-2 (6-8 hours – 18.3km -difficult) like Trail K-1 – explore the whole park.

Another option if you are looking for a moderate hike, is Trail C from Entrance No 1. This path starts with an uphill climb and allows you to see both lakes. A stop at the upper lakes is also a perfect spot to rest, drink some water and enjoy a picnic.

If you go in the summer, try arrive early as it gets VERY crowded.  We were told that the majority of tour busses usually arrive between 11:30 – 12:30.  If you get there early enough, you can avoid the majority of the tour bus crowds.  Another option for a visit during the summer, is to arrive in the afternoon when most tour groups have finished their guided walks. Summer days are long with light and a peaceful afternoon in Plitvice would be heavenly.

I would also recommend packing a lunch. We made the mistake of not bringing food and were disappointed with our options. The food inside the park is bland, overpriced and poor quality. It would have been much nicer to have had a nice picnic overlooking this:

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My family loved everything about Croatia, but Plitvice was definitely one of the highlights. If you visit Croatia, you simply must visit Plitvice. And, please, let me know if you spot any fairies, unicorns or rainbows.

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  • Reply Tara April 19, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    It really does look magical, your photos are beautiful. The water colour is simply amazing. Another one for the bucket list! #farawayfiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 19, 2018 at 3:49 pm

      Thank you Tara. I hope that you get to see it in person one day. #farawayfiles

  • Reply Johlene Orton April 19, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    This place seriously looks like heaven! That water is amazing!!
    Hi from #FarawayFiles 🙂

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 19, 2018 at 3:51 pm

      And to be honest the photos do not do the place justice. Actually loved all of Croatia, but Plitvice was the reason we went.

  • Reply Janis April 19, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    We visited Plitvice last September and it is a beautiful place, it appears to have its own climate from the rest of Croatia. You’re right about getting there early, it’s popular. We caught a bus to the north and then walked south through the lakes, I think it is a little quieter that way around.

    Unfortunately, we didn’t see any unicorns. #farawayfiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 19, 2018 at 8:51 pm

      Were the trees turning colors then? I think the unicorns hide from the crowds. Another reason to go early. 😉 #farawayfiles

      • Reply Janis April 20, 2018 at 4:02 pm

        Slightly, but still very green.

  • Reply Bryna | Dotted Line Travels April 20, 2018 at 4:01 am

    It’s so beautiful! Every time I see photos of Plitvice I want to just get on a plane and go there. I hope I can one day soon!

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 20, 2018 at 8:37 am

      It is really spectacular. One of the things that I liked about Croatia in general is the diversity of the topography. It is desert like at times, then lush. There are islands and craggy coastlines, then mountains, rivers, streams. It really offers something for everyone to do. I hope that you make it to Plitvice one day! #farawayfiles

  • Reply Esther April 20, 2018 at 10:06 am

    I think the national parks of Croatia are the countries buggest gem. I visited Krka NP a while back and absolutely loved it. Haven’t made it to Plitvice, but hope to one day!
    #FarawayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 20, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      Yes – we chose to stay in the north in Zadar so we could visit as many of the national parks as possible. Krka was wonderful too. They all were in their own way and all so different. I really loved Croatia.

  • Reply endardoo April 20, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Looks amazing! #BlogCrush

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 20, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      Croatia is great! Cannot recommend it more. I hope you make it there one day. #farawayfiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 3, 2018 at 1:09 pm

      It is such a diverse country – lush forests, mountains, canyons, rivers and desert like in places. I loved it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Reply oldhouseintheshires April 20, 2018 at 10:49 am

    We are going to Croatia in the summer but to the south, near Pula. I would love to visit here but perhaps in the spring when it’s not so hot. It looks so perfect; love your title of this post btw! #blogcrush

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 20, 2018 at 2:11 pm

      I loved Croatia so much that I am determined to go back and see the south next visit. This time was all about the national parks. Next time the beaches. Have fun! #farawayfiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 3, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks. Have you been to Croatia before? I just loved. I want to return and visit the south next time. Enjoy!

      • Reply oldhouseintheshires May 4, 2018 at 10:02 pm

        No, never been. Very excited though!

        • Reply Niche Travel Design May 6, 2018 at 11:29 pm

          I hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply Clare Thomson April 20, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Fairies, unicorns and rainbows? Absolutely! This does indeed look like the most magical place. The colours of the water are quite extraordinary. Your tips about staying longer and bringing food are really helpful. Will definitely bear that in mind when we visit. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 21, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      I would like to return in Spring or autumn as the colors would be different, but also I suspect it would be less crowded. My only criticism would be that the summer crowds were a bit much. Still totally worth it, crowds and all, though. #farawayfiles

  • Reply Juliette S April 21, 2018 at 5:06 am

    If there was to be any birthplace of fairies and unicorn, then Plitvice sure would be it! I can’t get over the colours. It’s just spectacular and I hope to see it for myself one day. Great guide. It really does look heavenly. #farawayfiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 21, 2018 at 1:42 pm

      Oh I hope that you get there too. Thanks for reading and commenting. #farawayfiles

  • Reply Kathleen (Kat) (@katpegimana) April 21, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Oh wow, Plitvice is simply beautiful, love the colours of the waters! I can imagine how frustrating it can be – appreciating the natural surroundings but having to watch out for crowds trying to knock you over into the water. Will take note of off-peak hours when I visit Plitvice when I travel to Croatia 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 21, 2018 at 7:55 pm

      I would like to go back in the off season, but even with the crowds it is magical. Without crowds I think it would be spiritual. 😉 #farawayfiles

  • Reply fifi + hop April 24, 2018 at 5:07 am

    Indeed looks magical! I would believe that fairies and unicorns hail from such a place! How beautiful. I don’t know much about the parks in Croatia, but I am surely saving this post for my eventual visit. It looks like a slice of paradise and I can see how you may need a few days to explore. Thanks for all the need-to-know info. as well, and thanks for linking up this enchanting post with #farawayfiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 24, 2018 at 3:41 pm

      There are a number of national parks in Croatia – mainly in the northern region. I will be writing about each of the parks we visited. They are all quite different from one another which I loved. Croatia’s topography is really varied. Each was magical in its own way, but Plitvice was my favorite. Krka is amazing also, but quite crowded. I want to go back! #farawayfiles

  • Reply Lucy At Home April 24, 2018 at 11:27 am

    What a beautiful place! And how amazing that the water changes colour – I can definitely imagine those unicorns and fairies too. Stunning photographs too.

    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the BlogCrush linky! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂 #blogcrush

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 24, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      I am glad I am not the only one with a strong inner child. 🙂 I hope you get to see it in person one day. Actually, all of Croatia is beautiful – just very different from place to place. Thank you for including me on #BlogCrush. May I ask you to send me an email at nichetraveldesign@gmail.com to tell me how to feature #BlogCrush on my site? Thanks for reading and commenting. #farawayfiles.

      • Reply Lucy At Home May 3, 2018 at 11:17 am

        Email sent 🙂

  • Reply Faraway Files #74 | HilaryStyle April 26, 2018 at 9:01 am

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  • Reply Tanja April 26, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    beautiful post! I’m glad you liked it:)

    • Reply Niche Travel Design April 26, 2018 at 11:20 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply venturingventuras May 3, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Seriously, that water is gorgeous! Just unbelievable.

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 3, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      It is really stunning in person.

  • Reply Becky May 3, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    I’m loving all the pictures, Plitvice looks stunning! I visited it once when I was younger so I don’t remember that much of it only the that water had the most beautiful colours, I’d love to go back one day 🙂

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 3, 2018 at 5:11 pm

      I hope you get to return one day.

  • Reply Shelly Dimaculangan May 3, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    It’s a paradise! I’m amazed by the rich biodiversity of Plitvice <3 I hope to be in Croatia someday!

    Shelly
    http://shellyviajera.blogspot.com/

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 3, 2018 at 5:11 pm

      The diversity was one of the things I loved about Croatia. And it wasn’t humid!

  • Reply ozandoth May 3, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    I have to be honest, my heart broke a little when I read that you can’t swim. Of course I understand the reasoning and it’s probably what’s keeping the water look that incredible! We’ve been looking at flights to Croatia later this year and will definitely keep Plitvice in mind.

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 3, 2018 at 6:27 pm

      I hear you – it was sooo hot and that water looked so nice. I hope you get there. All of Croatia is wonderful but Plitvice was a highlight for sure.

  • Reply Ana - JauntingTrips.com May 3, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    I totally agree with you! First time I saw pictures I couldn’t believe how beautiful this place is, and yes..I’m thinking the same.. in autumn this must be even more spectacular with the leaves changing!

  • Reply Nerissa Templin May 3, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    Wow, these pictures are breathtaking! Yesterday I was literally making a list of places I want to visit and I was undecided about Croatia. Well not anymore! It’s now near the top of my list.

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 3, 2018 at 9:43 pm

      Croatia is so different in each region. I loved it and it has many wonderful national parks, history, coastline, canyons. I highly recommend it.

  • Reply C-Ludik May 4, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    I always love reading post about new places such as Plitvice 😉 Your photos have perfectly captured the beauty of this area ! I’m a truly nature lover and your photos of beautiful pristine pools, falls, rivers and forests are stunning. When we get closer to nature—be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree—we do our overstressed brains a favor. I love this feeling 🙂

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 4, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      C-Luik – I totally agree about getting closer to nature. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Reply Kanika Gupta May 4, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Thank you for this awesome blog! This has everything I need for my trip to plitvice! I have been planning it for a while and looks like I am ready to take the trip! Thanks again for such well crafted post..

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 4, 2018 at 3:56 pm

      Oh I am so excited for you. i hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Reply Shareen May 4, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    Croatia is HIGH on my list. This place looks stunning, great photos!

    http://www.pearlsandparis.com

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 4, 2018 at 4:18 pm

      I really cannot recommend Crotia enough – it is so diverse. Lots of outdoor activities, national parks (more blog posts to come) history, good food and relatively inexpensive compared to other European locations. I hope you get there soon. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Reply thegetawayjournals May 4, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    Oh my goodness! I knew Croatia was beautiful, but not THIS beautiful. Your pictures are breathtaking. That first one?! With all the color?! Yasssss.

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 6, 2018 at 11:30 pm

      oh thank you. Croatia makes it easy to take nice photos.

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