We spent our second full day in Zagreb visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. It was a chaotic day trip and one that I would do differently if I had the opportunity to go back in time.
First, the park is a two-hour drive from Zagreb, which doesn’t sound too bad if you’re in a private car, but it’s a different story on a bus.
We started contacting tour companies two weeks prior to our arrival and boiled down our options to the following:
- Pay 180 Euro per person ($480 USD total) to book with a small tour company
- Pay 200 Kuna ($70 USD + park entrance fees) to book with a tour company popular with hostel-goers
We chose option 2, and that was a mistake.
I felt that we appropriately set our expectations for the day, knowing that we would be mingling with young hostel-ers. I expected to be packed in a coach bus, and it’d smell like stale cigarettes and booze, and I’d be in my own hell for the four-hour roundtrip journey.
My expectations were accurate, with the exception that our bus was a DOUBLE-decker bus. There were so many people on the bus. It was insane.
When we finally arrived at the park, it was cloudy and misting a little bit. This is normal weather for the park because the park is in its own microclimate. It’s part of what makes it so special. Unfortunately, the fog and mist made for a very poor photo-taking situation.
It would have been helpful to know about the microclimate beforehand because we were not dressed appropriately – my mistake. I failed to research it thoroughly.
The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is made up of 16 lakes that are connected by waterfalls.
Wooden bridges connect the upper and lower lakes. Due to the severe storms a couple of days prior, the park was flooded on the day of our visit, and many of the bridges were submerged, limiting where we could go in the park.
The “tour company” that we booked our “tour” with was ultimately just a transportation company. There was no tour in the park by our “tour company”.
There were official tour guides at the park entrance who were available for hire, though. We loosely followed the “tour guide” on our bus, but he was not really informative or helpful.
We could have spent two days exploring the park. It’s enormous. The color of the water was incredible.
Here’s a misty photo showing the scale of a park section.
We zigzagged up a large rock to get an aerial view of the most famous section of the park, the curved wooden bridge.
The park is home to wildlife like ducks, fish, birds, and other creatures.
The weather got marginally better as the day progressed. In fact, it had done a 180 on us by the time we reached the upper lakes. The water in one of the upper lakes was like glass.
But just as microclimates do, the weather did another 180 on us on our walk to the bus. We were soaked by the time we boarded the bus, making for an even more unpleasant journey back to Zagreb. Our journey was made longer when the bus driver made a random stop at a roadside honey stand and picked up a hitchhiker. I was cold, wet, and bothered by the whole bus experience.
If we could go back in time and do our day trip to Plitvice over again, we’d rent a car and drive ourselves to the park. We’d stay overnight somewhere near the park, like in Rastoke-Millers village.
Our visit to the park was marred by weather (or, more realistically, inappropriate clothing for the weather) and our chosen mode of transportation, but it was still well worth the visit and something I recommend as a must-see for those visiting Zagreb or anywhere near the park.