Krka and Plitvicka - 2 of Croatia's National Parks
Croatia is known for a few things, an amazing coastline dotted with old walled cities, beautiful islands to get away and potentially party the night away, and for the amazing waterfalls that they have when you head slightly inland. Oh, and they also have some great wines, wines that are just starting to get the international recognition that they probably deserve. We’re good with their wines being unknown, as it means that you can get great drinks at inexpensive pricing.
But this post is about one of Croatia’s main attractions – the waterfalls. We spent time at both the Krka National Park with its waterfalls and at the Plitvicka Lakes National Park, the later probably being the one that everybody has heard about and tries to make sure that they have a chance to stop to take in the views.
Krka is just north of Dubrovnik, close enough that they organize day trips out of the city, and it is a great sight to make it to if you’ve got a short stay and can do one of these quick day trips. There are a few entrances to the park and we read up that there was free parking at the site. We went in to the northern entry (Skradin Entry) and we told, no they don’t have free parking – just at the other entrance. From this entrance, you need to take a boat into the main part of the park, which is a nice slow meandering ride up the river to a point when finally, you can see the Skradin buk waterfall coming into view.
You are dropped off and then you can begin your trek upward and into the various falls in the park. There is swimming allowed at the lower falls, and seeing as we were there on an incredibly warm September day there were plenty of people taking advantage of the great weather to enjoy their time swimming in the pools at the base of the falls.
We walked up and past the swimming area, there are some old mills and then of course the new snack shops selling drinks and food to the hordes of tourists that must run through the site in high season. We had packed our own lunch so once we were up and past the old mills we sat and listened to the rushing water as we enjoyed some sandwiches and chips. That’s the way to do it when you’re on the budget – find a way to skip the touristy restaurants if you can. If we were just visiting on a standard short trip we would have sat with the other tourists and enjoyed a mediocre meal and overpriced beer and enjoyed a better view of the falls.
The falls are gorgeous, there are different trails to walk around and see everything, I’m going to presume they are all great, we picked a short one and did a slow wander through the falls. There were still a lot of tourists, again we would hate to see the place in high season. But then again, early in the summer the falls are better to see as they have more of the winter thaw feeding into them – better falls, more people. It’s a tough decision, if we ever go back in the spring I’ll let you know which we deem to be the better option – right now, even with lower water levels, as I stated earlier, the falls are great to see.
We probably spent about 3 hours touring the Krka falls, we could have easily stayed there longer and toured around some of the more outlying falls, but we had heard about a winery located just a short drive up the road from the National Park. Wine? Of course, we are up for a visit and so we stopped at the Bibichi winery where we enjoyed a quick tasting before blowing out budget and purchasing a case of wine. Not really burning through the budget since this case will last us a few weeks, and one we get into some of our longer stays in apartments that have kitchens, a bottle will go great with a nice home cooked meal.
Also, on our ride back from the falls we did stop to give our car a much-needed bath and vacuuming out. We’ve had the car almost 2 months, half of the lease period, and it seemed like it was the perfect day to get it all cleaned out from the drives over some rough muddy roads and to clean out the inside of all the debris that we had managed to track inside in a short 8 weeks.
So, for the one of the slightly lesser known falls of Croatia – I’d mark them as a should do, just not a must do. They are great to see, and if you’re only able to do a day trip out of Dubrovnik or Split then these should be near the top of your to-do list. But if you’ve got the time then you’ve got to find a way to see the grand gem of Croatia’s many waterfalls, the Plitvicka Lakes and Falls.
These falls have a very organized system just outside of the park, they have managed to make sure that they are capitalizing on the tourists that are coming to see these. Massive parking lots for people to drive in themselves and separate lots and areas for tour buses to park. There are two places to park and enter the falls, and then once you’ve purchased you ticket you also get to take a trip on the local park transfer bus and on a boat that takes you across the middle lake from the top of the lower falls to the base of the upper sections.
What we learned later is that you only get one ride on each (the boat and the internal tram) with your entry fee – you can walk the whole park, but it will take you 8+ hours. We walked the lower section, took the boat up to the middle of the park, and then did a short walking loop, since we were running out of time, before grabbing the tram back to the lower parking lot.
Had we had a full day there we would have loved to have taken the tram to the start of the park and then walked down to the mid-section boat before walking down through the lower falls. We didn’t plan enough time, and luckily (or unluckily depending on your view) it was a rainy day for most of the morning – letting up shortly after we arrived in the afternoon. We wish we could have walked up, or taken the tram, to the start and seen the entire range, but we saw enough to really appreciate the magnificence of the stretch of falls here.
We spent almost 4 hours walking here, it is also very crowded and since the walkways are sometimes narrow if you’re caught behind a tourist group it can make the sudden slow walk maddening. There aren’t enough passing lanes along the walk, but luckily, we only really got stuck twice behind a slow walking group of tourists. Again, high season must be a nightmare. Another thing that maybe saved us, or just makes us look like novice tourists, is that both our camera batteries started flashing red very early into our hike. We had adjusted our packs to be light for the hiking, and hadn’t packed the extra batteries – right? Who makes that mistake? Especially since we’ve done this same thing before in Angkor Wat. Apparently the more excited we are about seeing something that is everyone’s must see for a country, the more likely we are to let our minds go blank and forget everything we’ve learned over years of travel.
Once again, we try to take the positive outlook on this, we would have been even more of those obnoxious tourists that spend all sorts of time trying to get that perfect photo. As it worked out, we would turn our camera on, snap a quick photo or two, and then shut it off and move on to the next. Sometimes I think it allows you to more fully appreciate the place, as less of our time was spent viewing the falls through a camera lens. My only regret was that we saw an iPhone sitting at the bottom of a pool just outside a landing at one of the more spectacular falls – had I had a full battery I would have a photo to document what had to be a horrible moment in somebodies great holiday trip.
We get why this is on everyone’s list, we only saw about 60% of the site and were amazed by it.
So we didn’t see it all, and we saw it at the end of the summer when the falls are near their lowest flow rates, and we still loved it and would want to come back and see it again. Maybe in the spring, but we would try to figure out that narrow window of when the snow starts melting and providing a lot of water for the falls, but when it’s still too soon for the hordes of tourists to start coming out to see them. If we can figure out that sweet-spot of touring I'm sure we would really enjoy a day or two here, but keep in mind that we find that perfect time will not be sharing that here.
But it was worth it, and then from the exceptional falls we headed west and back to the coast. That night we stopped in Senj and enjoyed an equally exceptional sunset…