The Plitvice Lakes National Park had been on my bucket list for years, from the moment I saw a picture of the unreal jade and turquoise waters. After landing in Dubrovnik, we immediately drove 5 hours to sleep by the park and be able to access it as soon as it opened. The area has a lot of cheap and nice guesthouse, we’d definitely recommend the one we stayed at: Guesthouse Plitvice Villa Verde.
Right before 7am, we parked by Entrance 1 and got our tickets. At ~$40, they are steep by Croatian standards, but undoubtedly worth it, and given the capacity cap of 20,000 visitors per day, booking in advance was recommended in pre-COVID times. Plitvice is a very popular daytrip from Zagreb or Split, so expect hordes of people from around 10am onwards. But our first impression early in the morning was absolutely magical. We descended on the first little lake surrounded by waterfalls and started walking on the boardwalks. We were pretty much the only ones there, and it was incredibly calm.
There are several itineraries named A through K, and we decided to follow C, which is a complete loop of the lower and the upper lakes, but added some must-do detours that I’ll get to in a moment. We checked out Veliki Slap (the big waterfall), and then walked south on the boardwalks to Kozjak Lake (P3 on maps). Crossing this lake on a boat was another one of our favorites, as the still water perfectly reflected the lush shores and the sky.
The walk around the upper lakes was maybe even better than on the lower ones. There were waterfalls everywhere, and the sun was bringing out the different hues of green and blue. The water was so clear, that we could see tons of fish and cool ghostly trees at the bottom of the lakes. When we reached the shuttle stop that is meant to be the return point for itinerary C (ST3 on maps), we were nowhere near ready to leave.
So we detoured into route K, which has some high viewpoints that are epic. We had to navigate a few switchbacks, but absolutely loved seeing the park from this perspective, with the lakes clearly at different heights and water falling from one to the next. When we descended back to where the boat had dropped us off (P2 on maps), the park suddenly felt so much busier. It had also gotten so much hotter over the nearly 4 hours we had spent there.
We rode the boat back (to P3), but instead of walking back the way we came, we again opted to check out the upper viewpoints. This area didn’t feel as well organized, which is surprising given it has some of the very best views in the park. We basically exited the park and walked on a road, getting a peak of the lakes every once in a while. The jackpot was at the end, when we reached the so-called postcard spot on the other side of a bridge. The views, a 360 over the lower lakes and right above the big waterfall, were just unreal, and the best way to close out a perfect day.
Well, except we still had to hike down, and up on the other side to reach Entrance 1. By then, it was 100 degrees and the boardwalks were packed. Most of the magic was gone, and we were ready to go. Plus we still had to drive 2.5 hours to Split, our next and also very rewarding destination!