Plitvice National Park
Plitvice National Park in Croatia is considered to be one of the most beautiful natural sights in Europe. Due to its natural beauty and significance, this system of 16 interlinked lakes and a large forest complex around it were set aside as a national park in 1949. In 1979 the park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Humans have inhabited the Plitvice Lakes area for thousands of years. It has been settled in turn by Illyrians, Thracians, Celts, Japods, Romans, Avars, Slavs and Turks. In 1528 the area fell to the Ottomans before being retaken by the Austrian Empire 150 years later. The Austrians subsequently incorporated it into their Military Frontier and, in addition to the native Croats who already inhabited the region, Serbs who had fled Ottoman repression settled there.
The Plitvice Lakes became a major tourist attraction in the late 19th century. The first hotel was built there in 1896, and as early as 1893 it already had a conservation committee - the predecessor of today's national park authority. In 1949 the communist government of Yugoslavia nationalized the lakes and made them a national park. The park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979 in recognition of its "outstanding natural beauty, and the undisturbed production of travertine (tuff) through chemical and biological action" .
The park soon became one of Yugoslavia's most popular tourist attractions. However, in March 1991 it became the scene of the Plitvice Lakes incident - the first armed confrontation of the Croatian War of Independence that resulted in fatalities. The park was held by forces of the Republic of Serbian Krajina during the conflict and suffered some damage in the process, with hotels and other facilities being used as barracks. At auto-camp Grabovac there was massacre of civilians (three children) by the Yugoslav Army in September of 1991. It was retaken by the Croatian Army in August 1995 during Operation Storm, which ended the Croatian war.
The war led UNESCO to add the park to its List of World Heritage in Danger. Due to the economic importance of the park, the Croatian government made it a priority for its de-mining efforts, and in December 1998 UNESCO recognised the park's newly mine-free status by removing it from the list of endangered sites. However, the surrounding Plitvice municipality outside the park boundary still has some problems with mine contamination.
The lakes are situated on the eponymous Plitvice plateau, between the mountains of Lička Plješevica (Gornja Plješevica peak 1,640 m), Mala Kapela (Seliški Vrh peak at 1,280 m) and Medveđak (884 m). The sixteen lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains, descending from an altitude of 636 m to 503 m over a distance of some eight km, aligned in a south-north direction. The lakes collectively cover an area of about two km², with the water exiting from the lowest lake to form the Korana River.
The Plitvice Lakes lie in a basin of karstic rock, mainly dolomite and limestone, which has given rise to their most distinctive feature. The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae and bacteria. The encrusted plants and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, forming travertine barriers which grow at the rate of about 1 cm per year.
The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colours, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colours change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight.
The lakes are divided into the 12 Upper Lakes (Gornja jezera) and the four Lower Lakes.
Flora and fauna
The Plitvice Lakes national park is heavily forested, mainly with beech, spruce, and fir trees, and features a mixture of Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation. It has a notably wide variety of plant communities, due to its range of microclimates, differing soils and varying levels of altitude.
The area is also home to an extremely wide variety of animal and bird species. Rare fauna such as the European brown bear, wolf, eagle, owl, lynx, wild cat and capercaillie can be found there, along with many more common species. At least 126 species of birds have been recorded there, of which 70 have been recorded as breeding there.
Buses between Zagreb and Zadar or Split will stop at the entrance to the National Park if you ask the driver beforehand. (Cost from Zadar is 83 kn, and from Zagreb, 92 kn.) Keep in mind that, in Croatia, bus schedules are not strictly kept. The bus can come early or late, and they typically stop only long enough to pick up riders before continuing on their way. Especially in a place like Plitvice, which is quite a distance from a stopping point on a bus route, get to the bus stop early and be prepared to wait awhile.
When you are coming from Zadar, the bus driver may let you drop off at the South entrance, which lies about 4 KM from the main entrance. If you reserve your hotel near the main entrance, you have to ask the bus driver to stop at the main entrance. Otherwise, you will have to hire a taxi.
Private bus companies like "Pruevoz Knezevic" offer day trips from Zadar, although it is always recommended to arrive early at the bus stop for your return trip to ensure that the driver does not leave you behind. Tickets for these buses can be reserved before time from the main bus station in Zadar.
Private taxi transfers cost aproximately 170 euro from Zagreb and Zadar.
From Zagreb, private transfer for a day tour to Plitvice can be arranged via the Zagreb Tourist Agency. A 4 seat car and driver, pick up and drop off at hotel, flexible time, cost 750 HRK (100 eu). Such an arrangement allows you to add a stop on the way at your favorite attractions such as Radstoke village - a beautiful village on the gorge 20 km from Plitvice, where you can enjoy fresh and delicious grilled fish.
A ticket is required to enter the park (there are ticket offices on the paths as you enter the park). The tickets also entitle you to free travel on the boats which run on the lakes. Beware : In season the lines are long!
The price for a non-student ticket is 110 KN for one day or 180 KN for two days in the off season. It's 180 KN per day in season. Student will pay 80 KN for one day visit. An ISIC or other valid student card is required to get a student discount. For more detailed prices such as different seasons and parking, see the price list.
Croatia uses Croatian Kuna (HRK). At both the park entrances, official foreign currency exchange counters are present from 7:00 to 19:00. They provide extremely competitive rates with minimal commission (1.5%) and it is recommended to use them. Most major currencies are accepted like USD, EUR, GBP, HKD, CHF, AUD, etc.
As a matter of fact, most touristic outlets accept euros anyway.
You can choose from several different paths around the lakes ranging in both time and difficulty. A complete run through the park can be done on trail H in 4-5 hours (3.5 if you really hustle), but you'll want to take your time and enjoy it. The views are simply spectacular. Some trails have boat transfers and bus transfers (free of charge) to save you time walking. Make sure you hold onto your entrance ticket because they stamp it at the boat interchanges.
The paths are very well maintained. They consist of wooden planks, gravel, rocks, and steps.
Many of the paths are wheelchair accessible, but there are sections with steps and inclines.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is perhaps the most beautiful natural wonder in Croatia. In addition to the numerous waterfalls, a bevy of wildlife can be seen, including fish, frogs and a variety of bird species. Special attractions at Plitvice include the Veliki Slap, a 100 foot waterfall surrounded by nearby boulders to which tourists have access. There is also a large waterfall complex that can be access via a cave in the surrounding rock face.
The main attraction is obviously the hiking and walking in the area. Keep in mind that swimming is not allowed anywhere in the park.
Tip: If you arrive at the same time as a big group, walk one of the very well established routes in reverse. You'll probably be walking uphill for most of the trek, but you'll probably not see another person for a few hours.
In peak season, though expect a heavy crowd on a narrow trail regardless of the direction taken. There are some trails off the beaten path that seemed remote but need allow yourself extra time if you plan to do them. Else, just arrive early and beat the massively long lines.
There are souvenir shops at the main entrance of the park.
In addition to snack shops at the entrance and exit of the park, there is a large picnic area with various food stands which can be reached via ferry across the main lake.
There is a travel agency at the entrance to the park. From here, you can organize for a homestay. There are numerous locals who will rent bedrooms in their house and provide food for a competitive price.
Several large hotels have been built by the entrance to the park. These largely cater to older European tourists. If you are looking for less expensive lodging, ask around- some local apartment owners rent out rooms for low prices, in the range of €10(75 KN)/person. Few newer hostels are also opened nearby lakes with good fun and transfers to the lakes.
There is also a camping site in the nearby town, Korana (8km), mostly used by people visiting the park. Facilities are fine, good clean toilets, a small shop, and a couple of dining places. Camping can be made wherever you want; it is possible to choose a place between the trees, or a cosy hole in the hills or a more open place with a magnificent view. They also rent small bungalows if you don't want to carry camping gear.
As long as you are staying at the camping site, your ticket to the park can be renewed for free at the information office. It’s a good way to spend more time at the park and visit it outside the busier hours. Parking at the park isn't free, but if you don't want to drive the camping site arranges buses to and from the park in the main season. Be aware that these buses run only once a day and there is no other bus service to and from the camping site. If you are getting in by a long distance bus, ask the driver to drop you off at Korana instead of the park entrance.
The town of Borje (16 km) also has a camping site but that one has no bus service to and from the park.
Trails very well maintained and well marked. Please follow the rules during your visit, such as do not disturb the environment and stay on the paths.
It's worth noting that this area is one of the only remaining regions of Europe where bears roam. It would probably be more interesting than dangerous to see a bear, but were you to surprise a mother and her cub because you did not expect to see bears at all, you could be in danger. A lone bear is more frightened of you than you are of it. Yell and bang something that makes loud noises, and the bear will almost always run off. Bears can run and climb faster than you can, and running signals “prey”, so don’t run.
Buses from the park leave to Zagreb, Zadar, and Split but are infrequent during the low season. Check schedules before taking a 5 hour hike in the park or you might be forced to spend the night. Bus schedules are available at the park entrance or at the hotels near the bus stop. Schedules for buses leaving from station "Plitvička Jezera" .
Taxi drivers will wait near the bus stations and will offer to drive for the same price of the bus ticket if around 10 persons are willing to take the taxi.It costs the same, takes an hour less and most won't charge extra for baggage (The bus service charges extra). If you are going to the ferry terminal, as the driver to drop you off there.
There are buses that travel from Grabovac (near Plitvice National Park) to Bihac, Bosnia. As of 21 July 2013, the bus departs from Grabovac at 13:25 each day (except Sunday, when it is at 12:25), and arrives in Bihac about 45 minutes including the border crossing. Be warned, the signs posted at Plitvice National Parks regarding this bus do not mention the different Sunday departure time. On Sundays there is also a bus that departs Grabovac at ~16:15.