A girl looking at the fish in the beautiful blue lake waters


Croatia's best kept secret (hint - there's no beach)

Published June 8th, 2016

Most of us have swooned over photos of Hvar’s pristine bays; have dreamt of days shucking oysters and partying under the stars in Dubrovnik; and have made an enquiry or two into the partying sun storm that is Yacht Week. But despite Croatia’s newfound glory and the hoard of travellers that now outpour their advice on the hotspots, some secrets still remain un-spread. Particularly when it comes to the mainland’s inner beauty.

Topping the list of these forgotten playgrounds is Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia’s only natural UNESCO world heritage site. If dramatic canyons, fairytale wooden bridges and giant fish filled ponds make your heart sing, then this is the place for you. Situated in Central Croatia adjacent to the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the National Park of Plitvice Lakes spans almost 300 square kilometres of parkland and comprises 16 pristine lakes.


A view of the beautiful blue waters of the lakes
Image courtesy of Samantha Chalker

What makes Plitvice so jaw dropping-ly beautiful is the unusual hues of the water, which change with the state of the lake’s minerals and organisms and the position of the sun. Beyond colour, the Plitvice waterfalls gush from great heights, hitting the surface with almighty force, yet the surrounding pools of water remain eerily still. Even for those who don’t usually appreciate the great outdoors, Plitvice Lakes National Park is utterly incredible.

Why you need to visit

Aside from stairs that stumble into the canyon and a narrow wooden path that snakes its way through the rivers to various lookouts, the lakes of Pltivice have been relatively untouched by human hands. But as the world’s curiosity for Croatia rises and the lakes become an essential dot on the map, this will surely change. If you want to see them before the cement pours in, the bloggers start going there to shoot (think Pamukkale hot springs in Turkey, sigh), and the entrance resembles that of Luna Park, then now’s the time.

For now, Plitvice is eye candy for those with a little affiliation with nature. In the lower lakes, fish swim through the iridescent blue water while canopies of trees overarch many of the winding pathways. The greater park area is also an animal lover’s paradise and is one of the only places in Europe where you can still spot wild wolves and brown bears in their natural habitat. Other free roaming friends of these forests include wild cats, eagles, owls, lynx, European green lizards and numerous kinds of bats. Sounds like it’s time to release your inner David Attenborough.


A girl looking at the little fish swimming through the blue waters of the lakes
Image courtesy of Samantha Chalker

Activities for the outdoorsy

If you really want to get wild, head to the Caves of Barać near the northern area of the park on a guided tour of narrow passages dripping with honeycomb coloured stalagmites and stalactites. This is legitimate cave exploration – think roaming by the light of headlamps and traipsing through ankle deep water. A guided tour will set you back about 50 Croatian Kunas inclusive of a detailed lesson on the curious archaeological findings of the area and the geological structure of the caves.

Other water fun activities in and around the Plitvice Lakes National Park include river rafting and kayaking, which is particularly lovely in the nearby Great Una River Canyon. Many cycling trails have also been marked around the park that lead to hidden bodies of water where you can enjoy a moment of tranquility whilst spotting wildlife.


A far away view of the bridge
Image courtesy of Samantha Chalker

Nearby ventures and tips for the outrageous

Move over Golden Gate, there’s a new orange bridge around and it goes by the name of Maslenica. If you ask us, the outlook of Croatia’s Maslenica, with its intense white cliffs and wide-open spaces, is even more photo-worthy than that of San Francisco’s golden child. But with the lacking of a cosmopolitan city nesting next to it, nobody seems to have heard about it.

The Maslenica Bridge is easily stumbled across (but not to be stumbled on; it’s super high) when heading to Plitvice National Park from either Zdar or Split. If you’re one of those outrageous daredevil types that no one really understands, you may wish to make an event out of this bridge viewing experience by throwing yourself over the side with nothing but a piece of rope saving your fragile human body from death. We believe they call it Bungee Jumping? This guy makes the 56-metre plunge towards the ocean look, errr, fun?

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Speaking of outrageous, you’re only a hop, skip and a jump (but please, not the bungee type again) from ticking another country off your To Do list. Parts of the Plitvice Lakes National Park are as little as five kilometres from the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sadly, some sources estimate that there are still over five million landmines littering this scenically magic country. Heading to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Croatia’s Plitvice requires you to cross through Bihać, the most mine dense town in the country. Unguided forest walks, explorative cycling, and wild camping are all strictly out of the question.


The stairs into the canyon
Image courtesy of Samantha Chalker

Nearby festivals

Despite all this natural wonder, let’s not forget that we are in a country with a festival calendar that is spilling at the sides with goodness – surely there is something we can team up with our Plitvice visit? Enter INmusic. Both CNN International and National Geographic Traveller have named this Croatian gem in their list of the World’s best music festivals. If that hasn’t sold you, The Huffington Post calls it “the Woodstock of the 21st Century”. Shall we continue?

INmusic festival is set on Lake Jarun, a 2-kilometre stretch of water about 20 minutes from the city centre of Zagreb, which is an easy 2-hour drive from Plitvice Lakes National Park. The 2015 lineup was headed by the likes of Placebo, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Rudimental, & Eagles of Death Metal. Hello! Not into music and partying? Don’t worry dear anomaly, Lake Jarun also offers low-key activities like yoga, windsurfing and plenty of picnic spots for those being dragged to INmusic unwillingly.


Another view of the beautiful blue waters of the national park's lakes
Image courtesy of Samantha Chalker

Tickets have already gone on sale for the 2016 edition of IN being held over 3 days commencing on the 20th of June. They are selling for the measly price of 349 Croatian Kunas – as in just over 70 Aussie smacks. We kid you not.

We were going to mention some other notable music mayhem near Plitvice Lakes National Park, but it’s not really fair now that the Mother of all festivals has been discussed.

Just do yourself a favour and get along to Plitvice, and then get along to IN.

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Samantha Chalker

Samantha Chalker is an Australian travel writer most commonly found swinging from the palm trees of India or Indonesia. On cloudy days you'll find her sucking Wi-Fi from vegan cafes, experimenting with plant dyes, hunting down traditional artisan treasures, and trying to get good at Instagram