Croatia's National Parks: Plitvice & Krka
Hello Friends! It's been too long! Connor, Penny, and I are back in the States and I've unplugged myself from the blogosphere quite a bit as we settle in. Repatriation is certainly a process. Before we left England, we packed in a few last-minute adventures and I'm itching to share a few photos!
We spent the last full week in May exploring Croatia: the bright blue-green waters of the Dalmation Coast, a couple ancient cities, and jaw-dropping waterfalls in two national parks. We LOVED Croatia and highly recommend visiting this gorgeous country! It's an outdoor-lover's dream with so much to do.
We flew to Dubrovnik and rented a car, heading north on the famously beautiful E65 coastal road. The views were spectacular; villages, islands, and mountains rise out of the crystal clear, bright blue sea and vineyards cover the hills and valleys for miles. My pictures from a moving car didn't turn out so well, but those of you who follow me on Instagram probably caught a few glimpses in my stories.
For the first 4 nights we stayed in an apartment on the water in a village called Bibinje, 10 minutes south of Zadar. I'll share a bit more about the cities in a future post. From Bibinje, we were able to spend a day each in Plitvice Lakes National Park and Krka National Park, two of Croatia's most popular sites. If we had a couple extra days we also would have visited Paklenica National Park (mountainous hiking) and Kornati National Park (series of islands), but as usual #somuchtoseesolittletime.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
We'd been told Plitvice was one of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe. 16 crystal clear lakes lay tucked within a forest preserve, all connected by waterfalls and surrounded by hiking trails and wooden boardwalks. Over thousands of years, water flowing over chalk and limestone created travertine barriers which formed natural dams, resulting in the park's lakes. It's like a real life FernGully. The forest seems to be growing straight up through gushing water. Definitely one of the coolest things I've ever seen. The park provides maps with suggested walking routes and it's easier to choose a route when you arrive than trying to plan in advance. There are two main sections to the park and many people skip the 12 upper lakes so they can be sure to see Veliki Slap - the epic waterfall (78 meters/255 feet) in the lower part of the park. Don't skip the upper lakes!!! Choose a longer hiking route and don't miss a thing!
Plitvice's popularity has boomed in recent years, so much so that the park is at risk of losing its UNESCO status if it doesn't implement new plans for preservation and crowd control. More than 1.2 million visitors trek through the park each year, and visiting during the summer months sounds like the sort of punishment I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. Get there when the park opens, even if you have to set an alarm for 4:30am. Nothing beats walking through the upper lakes alone, first thing in the morning. The crowds later on are intense, and shuffling single-file down narrow wooden paths, pausing constantly for selfies, is not my idea of hiking.
Krka National Park
Krka National Park is situated on the Krka River and also draws visitors searching for waterfalls and beautiful scenery. Its We parked in Skradin where the river meets the Adriatic Sea and took the free ferry to the ticket office located a couple miles down the river. The river flows through a bit of a gorge and the water, again, is so so blue. The main attraction inside the park is the Skradinski Buk waterfall, one of seven on the Krka River. You can swim here, unlike at Plitvice, but you need water shoes because the bottom of the river is filled with sharp rocks and creatures.
Krka National Park has much more room for wandering and relaxing than Plitvice, maybe because they limit the number of visitors entering the park each hour. It also invested a bit more in educational signage about wildlife, fish, birds, and the history of the watermills located on the river. We spent most of the day exploring and hiking and chose to walk back along the river to our car instead of waiting in line for a return ferry.
Directional signage and maps were more readily available at Plitvice and we found ourselves wandering aimlessly around Krka. We never figured out how to see the northern half of the park and so we missed a few key things that I would have liked to check out. The 1445 Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy is tucked away on wooded Visovac island and the pictures look simply gorgeous. Another ferry supposedly takes you by the monastery and another great waterfall called Roški Slap.
Both days spent in these parks were absolutely fantastic! Renting a car was crucial for us - you can join a bus tour from any number of cities, but options are limited and you end up arriving with the crowd. We also pulled the car over a couple times along the way because the scenery is absolutely stunning. The mountains, vineyards, islands, and coastal roads take your breath away.
More about Croatia coming soon! We also visited Dubrovnik and Zadar and pit stopped in Medjugorje because, why not?
PS - Europeans are so spoiled. I will forever envy their access to places like this.