When the news of my trip across the world became public, I received a torrent of emails and messages with links to articles listing the most beautiful places on Earth that I had to visit. Funnily enough many of the links were to the exact same Buzzfeed article (very similar to this one) that I read countless times before whenever I felt depressed at work. To date, the only location I've marked off the list is Ponte de Piedade in Lagos, Portugal, but I vowed to visit as many of these unbelievable places as possible during my trip. Today I can happily say I've visited yet another one of these locations - Plitvice Lakes National Park!
The song of Plitvice Lakes National Park:
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is located midway between Zagreb and Zadar and is most well known for the terrace of 16 interconnected lakes and waterfalls that runs through a major valley in the park. Each lake is separated by a naturally forming dams that cascade down the side of the mountain. It is really a sight to behold even after looking at so many pictures on Buzzfeed. The park itself is an absolutely gorgeous place to aimlessly stroll through. The numerous well-marked dirt paths wind through lush forests along the edge of the water while the wooden walkways pass right over the lakes just inches above the water next to some truly mesmerizing waterfalls. I wouldn’t necessary call it “hiking” if you stick to the well-worn paths, but it is totally worth the entrance fee to see this place with your own two eyes.
The morning I arrived it was fairly overcast and I was fearful it would be another washout day like in Zagreb, but thankfully luck was on my side. As the day progressed the bright, warm rays of the sun slowly penetrated the thick cloud coverage above and the entire park took on a completely different feeling. Suddenly the deep green water sparkled like a perfectly cut gem and the leaves of the numerous trees appeared to glow against the bright sky as they swayed in the breeze. A light warmth enveloped my body like a hug from long lost friend and the effect was so powerful that I even felt my mood lighten up as the world around me sprung to life. I couldn't help but smile.
Right from the start of my hike I was presented with an awe-inspiring view of the largest waterfall, Veliki Slap, off in the distance. Only a few steps further along the trail is the iconic waterfall between lake Gavanovac and Kaluđerovac that has come to symbolizes the Plitvice Lakes. When I first a picture online of the lakes I felt they were too good to be true so I went in with low expectations. I didn't think the park could possibly live up to such stellar expectations.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
A dense forest of vibrant green trees covers the landscape and extends right up to the precipice of the canyon that cradles the famous lakes. The imposing cliffs fall straight down from the ledge into the emerald green water below creating an enormous valley through which the river flows. After years of exposure to the elements, the rock face is peppered with dark spots where soil has collected over the years and lonely trees lucky enough to find an inhabitable spot along the cliff. While many might see these as imperfections, the contrasts between the salt and pepper cliffs, deep green forests, bright blue sky, and emerald green water make for a truly stunning sight to behold.
After staring at the falls for the better part of twenty minutes, I finally came out of my trance-like state and continued south to the Upper Lakes of Galovac, Milinovo jezero, and Gradinsko jezero. I was delighted to find such well-maintained wooden walkways and it was a remarkable experience walk so close to the coursing waterfalls just above the lakes. The entire scene brought to mind memories of the old Swiss Family Robinson movie I remember watching as a child. As I made my way up through the lakes what fascinated me the most was that just before each waterfall the surface of the water appeared perfectly still as if it was a giant pane of glass frozen in time. While incredibly simple, I was endlessly mesmerized by the water and looking down I could see straight through to the rocks and the animal life below seemed to simply float in air – aside from the reflection off the surface the water, it was nearly invisible.
As a result of the rainstorms from the previous days, many of the paths along the edge of the lakes were flooded, but it hardly deterred me – a little water never hurt anyone. I continued my exploration along the opposite side of the canyon and when I finally reached the point where I planned on crossing through the valley I noticed the trail was barricaded with a sign that read “Path Flooded.”. Since I had no desire to make the forty-minute trek back around, I took my chances, climbed under the sign, and made my way down the cliff. The path dropped off at the bottom of the valley right in front of the domineering Veliki Slap waterfall. From the park's entrance on the opposite side of the lakes the waterfall seemed relatively harmless, but at this distance I came to understand how truly impressive and towering the drop was. A light mist filled the entire alcove as dozens of people snapped pictures from every conceivable angle.
It looks like I wasn't the only one who completely disregarded the "Path Flooded" sign.
I took in the majestic sight for a few moments (along with the requisite photos) and made my way up the wooden walkway where I discovered the flooded pathway I was warned about. The torrent of chilly water reached halfway up my shins and cascaded down 75 feet of the path ahead of me. The water was a force to be reckoned with. It coursed between the flimsy wooden planks with great power and, based on the positioning of the underlying rocks, occasionally splashed up through the walkway. There was no way I could traverse the path without becoming soaked, but the moment I crossed the barricade up at the top of the cliff I committed myself to this endeavour. I took off my socks and shoes, hitched up my pants, and waded through the fierce current. After being nearly knocked over a few times, I managed to make it through the frosty water unscathed aside from the fact that I couldn't feel my toes for the next 20 minutes.
I greatly enjoyed my time exploring the Plitvice Lake, but in retrospect, the only negative aspect about the park were the droves of older tourists inundating the pathways. Never in my life have I had to put so much effort into fighting the crowds of people just to get a good picture. The feeling was akin to what I remember going through to get to the front row of an EDM concert. Who knew senior citizens had so much determination. With that said, these tourists did have a one redeeming quality - they were entertaining as hell. Visitors I saw here ranged from a technology-laden Asian tourists who simultaneously wielded a DLSR camera, antiquated camcorder, and a GoPro all the way to a middle aged man wearing bright lime green, neon shoes with matching knee-high, diamond pattern socks. The “piece de resistance" for me was an old woman taking pictures with one of the last remaining point and shoot film cameras from the early nineties.
I almost bit through my tongue trying to restrain my laughter when I heard the buzz of the camera rewinding the film as the lady commented, “Damn, I’ve gone through another one, Frank give me roll of film.”
Who does that anymore?
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is a remarkable natural wonder. If you ever plan on visiting Croatia I highly recommend making a day trip to see it (although you can easily make it a two day trip). For those of you out there who are trepidatious about spending a day hiking, I can assure you the paths are well worn and there is plenty of overpriced food and souvenirs to buy – you'll be safe. For the more intense hikers, you will need to lower you expectations a bit hiking-wise, but I feel the lakes more than make up for it (and if you're determined, there are more serious trails further away from the lakes). I am so thrilled that I was able to see this wonderful place with my own two eyes; I can now mark off yet another destination from that Buzzfeed list. Here’s hoping that I get to visit the rest of the amazing locations around the world, but until then I'm off to go camping!
Here's hoping I can figure out how to set up my tent!