We made a two-day stop in Plitvice Lakes National Park, what the guidebook calls Croatia’s “Adriatic hinterland,” about a hundred miles southeast of Opatija. We’d wanted to go there way back in 2013 when we first came here on our big adventure but it’s really hard to get here without a car. So part of the calculation in deciding to rent a car for this leg of our Slovenia/Croatia trip was to get to Plitvice.
The whole reason one comes to the area is this series of cascading lakes and waterfalls, surrounded by lush forests. It isn’t cheap – it’s about $40 per person, plus $10 for parking – but for a day-long outdoor experience it’s hard to beat. I mean, it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1970s. Oh, and one historic note worth mentioning. When Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the Yugoslav (i.e., Serbian) army’s first point of attack was Plitvice. They held the park through the duration of the war and in fact it is thought that some remote parts of the park – not anywhere close to where tourists go – may still have Serbian landmines. Yuck.
So what’s going on here? The basic idea is that the geology of the area is loaded with limestone. As all the water flows along it picks up limestone and drops chalk sediment all over. That creates ideal growing conditions for moss and algae which constantly reroute the flow of water. The result is an ever-changing landscape of waterfalls cascading to lower lakes, over and over, all in stunning turquoise. And apparently it’s been going on for a long time, as in since the last great ice age.
And that was it. Though shorter routes are available, including lovely tour boats that glide across the biggest lakes as significant shortcuts, the full route around the major lakes in the park is about 12 miles. Which of course I had to do. Admittedly, I was sore the next days but the views were spectacular and definitely worth it.
Now it’s down to the ancient city of Split on the coast and off on a 14-day bike trip!