Paradise in the Plitvice Lakes
Lush waterfalls, verdant greenery, and pools that change from turquoise to teal to aquamarine — the Plitvice Lakes are one of the most famous sights in Croatia. As soon as Dave and I started planning our Croatia itinerary, we knew we had to visit the Plitvice Lakes — so we decided to fit our visit in between our Istria road trip and our Dalmatian Coast cruise.
After arriving and checking into our guesthouse, we found out that rain was forecast for the afternoon, to my great disappointment. I could take rain anywhere, but please, NOT AT THE PLITVICE LAKES! Anywhere but there!
So we made sure to get there in the morning so as to maximize our time in the sun.
We soon learned that the Plitvice Lakes are actually two sets of lakes — and visiting them is like visiting two different national parks!
The Upper Lakes
We began our exploration in the Upper Lakes of Plitvice. These fantastic lakes were nothing like the well-manicured lakes and tiny waterfalls I imagined — there were bright teal lakes and huge waterfalls, but these lakes were wild and untamed.
The path snaked around, up and down — sometimes on dirt pathways, sometimes on wooden planks — and while the lakes had their share of tourists, they weren’t too crowded. We’d occasionally cross paths with an athletic-looking older couple or pair of Korean girls in designer flats. Some people brought their dogs.
I’ve gotten into a weird habit of humming the Jurassic Park theme whenever I see a beautiful, tropical island-like natural wonder. The Upper Lakes made me do that in earnest, even as the clouds began to gather overhead.
And that’s when the rain started pouring down.
Rain in Plitvice
My heart sank as we chugged across the lake to the Lower Lakes, rain pouring down around us in sheets so thick we could barely see ahead of ourselves. All I wanted was to get beautiful, sunny pictures of the dreamy lakes.
And then came an incredible stroke of luck — by the time we got to the other side of the lake, the rain had stopped completely.
All right! Time for the Lower Lakes!
The Lower Lakes
Now, the Lower Lakes are the lakes that you see on postcards! Series of tiny waterfalls, one after the other, lakes of varying colors, the most dramatic waterfalls of all. Plus a cave. (We also saw a random old French guy pee right in the middle of the cave, but that definitely wasn’t a postcard-worthy moment.)
The crowds were absolutely insane at the Lower Lakes — it was probably five or six times as crowded! Groups were pushing each other on the wooden plank pathways (I’m honestly surprised that nobody fell in), bottlenecks formed behind the slow-walking elderly, and a line of Spanish middle schoolers chirped, “Hello! Hello! How are you?” to every adult who passed them.
It was exhausting, and a complete contrast from the peaceful, rugged Upper Lakes, but the crowds didn’t take away from the beauty surrounding us.
The piece de resistance of the Upper Lakes was Big Slap — the tallest waterfall of all!
At the Big Slap (which is seriously impressive as you gaze at it, tiny water droplets splattering across your face) you’ll find several platforms on which to take photos of yourself and your travel companions, making you think it’s the finale.
But the real finale is what you see on your walk out: an incredible view above the Lower Lakes, taking in several of the waterfalls.
I’ve seen pictures from this angle before and always assumed they were taken from a helicopter. Not so! Anyone can do this.
Tips for Visiting the Plitvice Lakes
- Plan to spend cashola. Dave and I took the H route, which goes to both lakes and includes two tram rides and a boat trip, and it costs 110 kuna (about $18) per person.
- Wear good shoes. The wooden platforms are uneven and can be slippery. I swapped my flip-flops for sports sandals halfway through the Upper Lakes and felt much better.
- Bring lunch. There are a few kiosks along the way, but it was nice to find a
- Plan on spending five hours or so. Dave and I spent about two hours each at the Upper Lakes and Lower Lakes, but we moved pretty fast.
- Don’t bring your bathing suit — swimming is prohibited here. However, swimming is welcome in Krka National Park, about a 90-minute drive south.
All in all, I’m glad that even though we had a rainy day, the lakes shined through with their beauty! That, to me, is pure sunshine.