The largest national park in Croatia is Nacionalni park Plitvička jezera, known in English as Plitvice Lakes National Park. This National Park was included, in 1979, in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Park is located in central Croatia, not far from the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The National Park is famous for its 16 lakes, connected in cascades which create magnificent waterfalls. It is an extraordinary example of karst hydrography. The lakes are separated by travertine barriers formed by the sedimentation of calcium carbonate from the water and complex interactions between water, air and plants. The formation and disintegration of travertine is constant causing the water to change its course over time and so making it a dynamic, ever-changing system.
The National Park is rich in forest with many species of animals and plants, some of which are endemic to the area. The National Park is house to hundreds of species of plants and butterflies, there are tens of species of birds, over 20 species of bats and, among bigger animals, brown bears and wolves. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any though.
One of the most beautiful features of the lakes is the constant change in colour of the water, which ranges from blue to green with everything in between, depending on what is dissolved in the water and sunlight.
The typical excursion inside the park consists of a combination of boat rides, some easy hiking and what the rangers of the park call train, but it’s actually a truck with trailers set up to transport people. As of August 2016 the entrance fee to the park is 180 KN, in the summer season, and it includes transportation (boats and train) inside the National Park.
I personally chose to cross the first lake on a boat, then I hiked along and across the upper lakes making my way to the highest point of the park, the lake called Prošćansko jezero. From there I took the train to go back to the entrance of the Park and then I started hiking again, this time toward the lower lakes of the Park. It was overall about 12 km of very easy hiking and I managed to see everything important in a few hours.
The hike is easy because the Park is equipped with wooden pathways that follow the sides of the lakes and sometimes even cross them. The pathways, built on stilts about half a meter above the water, are completely made of wood. This is a very good way to minimize the impact on the environment while allowing visitors to hike in the park. I really enjoyed this technical solution together with the rule that prohibits people from swimming in the lakes, although that water is so inviting on a hot summer day.
What I didn’t enjoy very much was the number of people visiting the park. Several times there were so many people on those wooden planks that just walking was problematic, not to talk about taking a picture in front of a beautiful waterfall. Most of the visitors come on a day trip from Zadar, Split, Zagreb or other bigger cities in Croatia and not only. Tour agencies organize day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park from every main tourist city, therefore there are hundreds of visitors every day. On the other hand, all the tourists bring a lot of money to the National Park and, if that money goes to the protection and conservation on the environment, a big number of responsible visitors, who respect the nature they’re appreciating, is only a good thing.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a stunning place. A place where nature is shaped into something that can make your jaw drop in astonishment. A beautiful place that, also thanks to UNESCO, has been protected even after the horrors of the Yugoslav War and hopefully will preserve its habitats and ecosystems for a long time.