Travel. Mostly it’s fun; usually it’s educational in one way or another; now and again it can be inspirational. And every so often a travel experience can deliver a whack to the solar plexus that has the breath whooshing from your body.
Seeing Veliki Slap in the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia for the first time was one such moment.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is visited by thousands upon thousands of people each year. But that didn’t stop me feeling like Livingstone stumbling upon Victoria Falls when I turned a leafy corner to be faced by an overdose of frothy cascades thundering from emerald shrouded crevices in the limestone cliffs.
I made a mistake that I made over an over again during our travels through Croatia. With my eyes doing an impression of a Manga cartoon character I reverently mouthed: “This could be a scene from the Amazon.”
At various points that followed whilst exploring Croatia I’d say ‘this is just like Italy,’ or ‘this reminds me of Greece‘ until the penny dropped and I realised that the vistas and character were none of the places I compared it to. It was simply Croatia.
Andy had researched Plitvice Lakes National Park before we travelled whereas I’d barely glanced at a picture. That first unexpected view had me beaming like a particularly happy Cheshire cat.
Veliki Slap, The Big Waterfall
I’m a sucker for limestone cliffs. I still consider Krabi in Thailand to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve feasted my eyes upon. But 78 metres high Veliki Slap (the big waterfall) with its army of watery minions at its feet totally trumped Krabi. The only thing was that this was our introduction to Plitvice Lakes National Park. How do you follow a dramatic opener like that?
The Route to Veliki Slap
Often I’ll wait and wait until there is no evidence of human life in a scene. But occasionally including people serves to illustrate the scale of a vista. This is above the small waterfalls en route to the base of Veliki Slap.
Wet Wooden Walkways
Heavy rains preceded our arrival at Plitvice Lakes National Park and although they’d stopped, the sky was still mean and moody. Not the best for photographs but it did mean that the falls, big and small, were gushing exuberantly. It also meant that water levels were impinging on the paths in places, adding frisson to the normally dry walkways.
A Natural Paradise
A Seamless Blend of Man and Nature
This particular spot on Kaluderovac Lake, named after a monk who lived in a cave by its shores, epitomises the notion that the walkways compliment rather than detract. To me the path just looks as though it belongs there.
A Jade Paradise
Although Veliki Slap represented the dramatic talking point of the park, this unassuming little spot was possibly my favourite section. The Jade water exuded a magical presence; a tranquil fairy tale setting of a spot that was comfortingly calming. Calming until images of Chinese warriors clashing swords as they fly across its surface swooped into my mind. There is something very Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon about it (even though the fighting on the lake scene was actually in Hero – before anyone corrects me).
As well as leading to lakes and waterfalls, walkways snake off in other directions to places like Supljara Cave which has good views over the lower lakes and the most ridiculous stone steps you’re likely to find anywhere.
Wildlife in the Park
What do you mean there’s no examples of wildlife in the picture? Can’t you spot the bear peeking out from the trees? Despite the park being home to lynx, foxes, pine martins, badgers and around 40 to 50 bears, we didn’t spot one. Even the waters don’t hold as many fish as you might think with the lakes being populated mainly by not particularly high numbers of brown trout, carp and river crabs. There is also a snake called the ‘riberica’ which apparently dives in to the water to catch the fish – which might explain their low numbers.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in May meant that we didn’t have to share the park with hordes of other people. Often we had the walkways to ourselves meaning that our exploration felt as unhurried and as calm as the glassy green lakes beside us. The downside is that there is more of a risk of rain outside of the busy summer season (a drenching whilst waiting for a ferry across Jezero Kozjak means we speak from soggy experience).
The Park Bus
With the heavens dumping wet stuff, we ended our trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park by catching one of the park buses from Jezero Kozjak back to a spot near Entrance 1. The park bus is no jaunty lightweight tourist bus. It’s a chunky, grunting machine that looks like it was designed to transport dangerous criminals. When I climbed on board I half expected to find a wild-eyed Nic Cage chained to a sociopathic John Malkovich type sharing the cabin with me. Instead there were only a handful of wet Japanese tourists.
It says something about the enchanting effect of a visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park when even the park bus inspires flights of fancy.
Plitvice Lakes National Park Fact File
Tickets cost 80 kunar (between 1 November and 31 March) and 110 kunar (1 April to 31 October). Tickets include ferry and bus trips. Opening hours are 8am to 4pm in winter, 8am to 6pm in Spring and autumn, 7am to 8pm in summer.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+