PhotoLog: Plitvice Lakes

UNESCO World Heritage Site in north central Croatia.

Sixteen lakes serve as the backdrop to a plethora of playful waterfalls that emerge from nearly every crevice of this magical forest. Rumor has it there are 90 waterfalls in the park, but there must be more/less on any given day as the hills just ooze water. If a bombardment of waterfalls isn't enough to entice you -- the water here is colored an exotic blue/green that is unique to the region and worth seeing on its own merit (thanks to the deposits of travertine under the water).

In the beauty, it is fairly easy to not realize this is where the Croatian Homeland War began in 1991. Beginning at Plitvice, Croatians were forced out of the area and the park was occupied. Though this was a long and extensive war, my untrained eye saw zero trace of occupation in the park, however, evidence of distraught still remains in the surrounding area.

GETTING AROUND. If you plan to visit, realize the maps supplied by the park are fairly useless. Use the Internet to learn what you want to see before coming. The "Great Waterfall" was one of my must-sees and finding it was easy. It is near Entrance #1, which is where I suggest you begin. The trail to the Great Waterfall ends at the waterfall, but you will see slews of smaller waterfalls there, too. After getting your photographs, turn around and head for the next best part of the park: Kaluderovac Lake. This trail is connected to the Great Waterfall trail, so it isn't too far away.

The Kaluderovac Trail allows you to walk over the lake along what is basically a wall of glorious waterfalls and it will end at a detour spot that leads into a large cave. At this point, the trail is old, so use caution. The cave was made famous by a local monk Kaluder (hence the name Kaluderovac Lake), who spent most of his time meditating there. The cave is quite small and contains a staircase that takes hikers to a viewpoint atop of the cave. Here, you will meet up to a scenic cliff trail above the lower lakes -- this is where you will get the best photograph of the Kaluderovak waterfall wall (see my first photograph in gallery below).

When visiting, definitely come early or arrive late to the park as it gets jammed with bus crowds during the midday. Having a car afforded us the luxury of seclusion because we could stay late, in fact, we were one of the last cars out of the park. By early evening it seemed we had the place to ourselves even though it was peak season!

GETTING THERE. To see Pitvice Lakes, we flew into Zagreb and rented a car. Anyone considering this as an option should go for it. The airport (which was just a few months old when I arrived) is very small, clean, beautifully designed, and easy to get around. The car rental process is a little unorganized by USA standards, so bring your patience and you will do fine. The drive to Plitvice from the airport consists of just a few turns and should take about two hours. We took our time and stopped to see Rastoke and bought some groceries about 10 miles outside of the park for a picnic at the Lakes. The roads in Croatia are primarily curvy two-way streets and the natives are aggressive about passing slow drivers. Traffic got heavier near the park, but it was never difficult. Croatia as a whole seemed to be on the edge of a tourism boom, however, they seem to be on-the-fence if they want to embrace this path or not.

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