It was already part of the schedule. We both were really looking forward to go to the Plitvice Lakes National Park (Plitvička jezera). But the previous night in Zagreb, we were checking the weather cast and, well… it didn’t look quite promising. I had searched through the web for references on it during winter, and from the pictures, it seemed like a winter-wonderland scene from Frozen —movie which I completely adore— and therefore our expectations had grown greatly. I sighed, “Maybe it’s not really worth it, maybe winter is not the right season to go to the lakes. We could just leave it in the bucket list for some other time.” But she insisted, we were already there, she said. “And besides, it’s not like we come to Croatia every weekend, let’s just give it a try.” I agreed, although not truly convinced. I know her quite well to know that something like that wouldn’t stop her from going. It’s part of the charm of traveling with my younger sister. So we set the alarm and went to bed.
It was late December and was expected to be cold (but cold doesn’t necessarily mean snow, and that was what I was afraid of), so I dressed in as many layers as I could. Long-sleeve shirt, sweater, sweatshirt, light jacket, big jacket, gloves, scarf, hat and finally a “it doesn’t matter anyways” layer against disappointment. All prepared, we set for the Zagreb Central Bus Station (Autobusni kolodvor Zagreb). It wasn’t long before we did get disappointed. The bus at 7:30 had no seats left (seriously?!) and so we had to wait for the next one, that departed at 10:00. So, I would suggest buying tickets previously. Buses depart every 2 – 3 hours, and a single ticket costs around 90 kunas (HRK). The return ticket was not sold there, but at the park.
Breakfast at the station, chatting to kill time and finally taking the bus almost three hours after we had planned. The ride though was nice, I enjoy when the sun beams through the window because it makes me go sleepy. I woke up halfway there and still no sign of snow. I sort of gave up by then. The ride from Zagreb to the Plitvice Lakes is about two hours, and looking at the clock I was almost sure we would spend a cold, but not snowy day there.
Around fifteen minutes before arriving, the scene started changing… little by little. “There’s some snow there! And a little bit more over there!” We were overly thrilled to think that there might be some snow. There is just one road to get to the national park, and the bus made continuous stops. It was a little past midday by the time the bus arrived at the park. And to our great delight we arrived at a completely covered in snow. If you’ve ever seen kids playing in the snow, you could picture perfectly how my sister and I were fooling around. Snow is one of the most beautiful things in nature, and that very moment was filled of joy!
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is formed by 16 crystalline lakes, connected by a series of waterfalls and separated into Upper Lakes and Lower Lakes. The whole park has wooden pathways, footbridges and crossings, and covered in snow, they blend perfectly into the surroundings. No wonder why UNESCO proclaimed it World Heritage Site.
There are two entrances to the park, Entrance 1 – Rastovača and Entrance 2 – Hladovina; something that we should’ve kept in mind (but we didn’t). Prices change depending on the season, because during winter the panoramic trains and electric boats do not operate. The entrance ticket is around 55 kunas in winter season, and with our student’s ID we got a discount and paid just 45. Prices during spring and autumn are 110 kunas (student fare, 80) and in summer up to 180 (student fare ,110). There are also two-day tickets and guided tours available, but we took none of these options.
There is a huge map at the entrance indicating suggested routes. Routes in green A, B, C and K start from entrance 1 and routes in orange E, F, H and K from entrance 2. Depending on how much time you’ve got, you can choose the trail, from 3 hours up to 8. We went for B, which covered the Lower Lakes, the Great Waterfall and some smaller waterfalls.
It started with a steep road. It was quite slippery, which turned out to be so much fun. The sight was astonishing, and the color palette of that scene was both mesmerizing and perplexing. Deep green and turquoise, in contrast with shades of white was something new to me. I just wanted to dip into it, but it was -4°C and no swimming is allowed, not even in summer. We continued towards Lake “Kozjak”, the biggest one in the area which extends up to 4 km. We walked for a long while, stopping continuously to admire the view. The colors of the water varied from lake to lake, because of the deepness and the vegetation, but each one of them had its unique color scheme to admire. Earlier we had prepared ourselves some lunch, which became really convenient, because even though there are some restaurants around the area, there was no need to stop and search for somewhere to eat. We walked along the lake for long time and at a certain point took another path, but still having the lake in sight. We couldn’t get lost. Maybe it was because of the season, but there were not so many people that day. At a certain point, it was just us. We went back to the trail beside the lake. The nice map at the entrance indicated the time it takes to complete each route. But from my experience, the timing indicated there doesn’t consider contemplating the scenery for hours (as we did). The park was soon to close, so we headed towards the entrance to take the bus back, (or that’s what we had thought), soon to realize that one was the second entrance. It started getting dark. What then? It was still a long way to walk to the other entrance, but well, we were feeling so ecstatic for the whole experience, that it didn’t matter. So we walked along the highway that links both entrances, singing our lungs out with joy.
So, I must admit, the Plitvice Lakes went far beyond my expectations. It was incredible. I would suggest spending a whole day there at least, and well, I still haven’t crossed it out of my bucket list. Can’t wait to see how it looks like during summer time!