I love Khaleesi as much as anyone else, but I didn’t come to Croatia for a Game of Thrones tour. In fact, even though I am dying to see Dubrovnik, the thought of extreme heat, massive crowds and wicked expensive makes me head in the opposite direction, to northern Croatia. The real reason I came to Croatia is because five years ago I saw a photo of turquoise waterfalls and said, “I need to go there.” That meant I’d be going to Plitvice National Park.
I launch my day trip from Zadar in northern Croatia, on the 9:00 bus to Plitvice. It’s an easy ride and a nice way to see interior Croatia. As we near the park it begins to look like a postcard, with mountains in the background and pretty two-story homes painted white with dark brown roofs and window boxes spilling an explosion of pink and red flowers.
As I get off the bus at the park, I find myself in a group of like-minded English-speaking people: let’s get our return ticket now before it sells out. There are four of them, and they adopt me for the day. They’re very gracious, great fun, and best yet, they’ve come prepared with an idea of where to go once we get into the park. Our best friend, though, is the lady at the bus ticket counter, who directs us to avoid the long lines at the park ticket station at Entrance 1 and get them at Entrance 2. Good call, Ticket Lady, good call. After only a few minutes we have our $25 tickets in hand and are ready to hit the trail (students, bring your student ID card for a discount of about US$10).
Sometimes you travel halfway around the world and get to a place just to realize you’ve been Photoshop scammed. This is not one of them. As soon as we get on the trail we’re struck by the clarity and richness of the color of the water. It’s surreal, like being inside an aquarium. How in the world does the water get to be that rich a color turquoise? I could bore you with all sorts of data about calcium deposits, travertine dams and dolomite, but then Wikipedia would be out of a job. Suffice it to say, it’s friggin’ gorgeous.
The only downside to Plitvice is that it’s like the Mona Lisa. You can look, but you can’t touch. No swimming in its gorgeousness. This becomes a factor as the day wears on and I passed my 10,000 step goal two hours ago, with a solid two hours of hiking ahead. Must. Dunk. In. Water. While we wait in the blazing sun for the boat to transport us across the lake to our next trailhead (adult beverages in hand from the concession stand), I make a compromise and fill my empty water bottle with lake water and dump it over my head. Aaah, so refreshing and no rules broken. The water looks clear and clean enough to drink, but the wifi at my hostel isn’t good enough to confirm this, so don’t try it without doing your own research first. That’s an official legal disclaimer.
Bottom line: If you’re thinking about visiting Croatia, don’t miss Plitvice National Park. If you’re starting from Zagreb or Zadar it’s about a two-hour drive. You can skip the pricey tourist excursions if you’re comfortable getting on a local bus (ticket agents speak English and are very helpful) and can navigate with a basic map (with tons of signs in the park to direct you). You’ll save about $50 per person this way. Just make sure you get your return ticket for the late bus (for us it was the 5:00 PM to Zadar) in the morning so you don’t get stranded in the park.
Bonus: Here’s how to pronounce it: Plit-vih-suh. Like how I saved that for the end? You’re welcome. PS – Even if you’re not in great shape you can get around Plitvice. I even saw a couple of people being pushed in wheelchairs. There’s a boat and train/bus that can cut the hiking short at several places. Don’t let that be what scares you away.
Who’s been Photoshop scammed by a place you dreamed of visiting? Who’s had the reality match the dream? Please share in the comments below!