The scene was set before me, bodies flying left and right as I marched on without a second glance to see where they had landed. It was the 2019 Royal Rumble and I was on my way to Wrestlemania. Only it wasn’t the 2019 Royal Rumble, I was treading the boards at Plitvice National Park and there were no bodies being cast asunder. Not on my part at least.
I could wax lyrical about the turquoise waters, the sound of cascading waterfalls and the drama of the sheer rock faces but truth be told no words can do justice to the beauty that is held within Plitvice. Photographs cannot even begin to replicate the feeling of being at one with the place. Perhaps that is more a comment on my photography skills. It is at this point I should acknowledge out that I don’t feel I got as much from my Plitvice experience as I could have. This post, I hope, will serve as a guide to visiting Plitvice for those who haven’t been as much as a checklist of how to do it to myself for future reference. Because in the words of Arnie,
“get to the chopper!” I mean, “I’ll be back.”
My first tip may seem like an obvious one but it is of vital importance. Go early. Particularly if you are making a pilgrimage from Zagreb by bus for the day. The journey takes two and-a-half hours. Leaving at eight in the morning I naively thought that by 10.45 I would be strolling around a tranquil national park, at one with nature. Wrong. I was still in the queue approaching midday. It was a little bit busy, who would have thought that of a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Heed my warning, dear reader, get to Plitvice as early as possible.
Tip two. Book in advance. I arrived without a ticket to the park, it is possible to book online in advance and oh how I wish I had. I’m British and as such love a queue however that novelty wears thin when you have to queue to buy your ticket and then queue once more to be admitted to the park itself. If you book online you expedite this process. It is also worth booking bus travel in advance, I was lucky to nab a spot on a bus the day before I visited.
At this point we need to set off on a tangent. A lot of my frustrations during this trip were self-inflicted, I hold my hands up to that fact. One thing that didn’t make sense to me was the admission system to the park. Visitors are let into the park on the hour, every hour in a group. To me this makes no sense. As I stood waiting in both queues the number of people arriving increased, as did the size of said queues. By showtime Plitvice became akin to the starting line of the London Marathon (other marathons are available). There was jostling, tutting and general bad will between the day’s patrons as they all tried to get the best view of the park unfolding before them and find the best spots to take photographs while expecting the hundreds of people behind them to stop and, you’ve guessed it, form a queue. Surely a better system would be to allow visitors to enter when they arrive, thus stemming the flow of traffic around the park. Be prepared for this frustration when visiting, pack lots of patience or Royal Rumble scenes could unfold before you.
My third tip is one that could be the umbrella that covers this entire post. Do your research. My bus back to Zagreb was due to leave at 5 in the afternoon. By the time I got into the park this left me a scant four hours to explore, allowing an hour to get back to the bus stop. There are signposted routes of travel within the park, ranging from the short loop which suggests it takes four hours to longer seven to eight hour loops. Knowing my time was short I had one option, take the short loop. This took me two hours to complete including a stop for lunch. So I went round again, why not? I feel that taking the short loop I missed out on some of the more impressive sights such as the bigger waterfalls and a boat ride however. Perhaps if I had done my research I would have had time to take in more of Plitvice’s natural beauty.
Time constraints didn’t give me opportunity to go beyond the beaten path. We all like a little adventure but at Plitvice going rogue is not advisable and could be cause for serious dangers of the man made and natural variety. Croatia is a beautiful country but war still lingers as a not too distant memory in its history sadly. As a result of that there are landmines still undetected in the country. While Plitvice has been cleared (according to my online research) and there would naturally be no mines in areas with marked paths, it would be unwise to veer too far off course just to be on the safe side. Then there is the potential for bears. Just as I don’t claim to be an expert on landmines, I don’t claim to be an expert on bears but before leaving to go interrailing my brother gave me some sage advice, “if you see a brown bear punch it on the nose, if you see a black bear run away.” He then qualified that key piece of information for me, “but it could be the other way round actually.” My trip to Plitvice was mine and bear free as it turned out.
Having completed my two circuits I was ready to plunge my aching feet into an ice bath. As one wasn’t readily available I took the second option. Sitting at the bus stop. This turned out to be a blessing. On the outward journey I travelled on a double decker bus with allocated seating. The bus home was a single decked affair with a free-for-all in terms of seating arrangements. Whoever invented boy, girl, boy, girl seating would be spinning in their grave. Presumably located between two other dead bodies of the opposite gender. Some people didn’t manage to get on this bus and had to wait, presumably for the next bus. I was on my way back to Zagreb by this point, and you will be too if you make sure you get to the bus stop in a timely fashion.
Plitvice is stunning. One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. It should be on every interrail bucket list but it does require advanced planning to be done in the way that will produce the most enjoyment. I’m not one to usually fly by the seat of my pants and doing so on this occasion cost me a better experience from my visit. When I return I would like to spend two full days at the park, finding accommodation nearby and arriving as early as possible to beat the queues. If you get the opportunity to visit then grab it with both hands. You won’t be disappointed.