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Those who plan a getaway to Croatia will never want to miss visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage boasts of its landscape which you might imagine in fairy tales. The more photos you see of its waterfalls and the crystal-clear water, the more irresistible it gets; and you might find yourself adding it to your travel itinerary.
If only it is just you and the natural heritage when you are at Plitvice Lakes National Park… Considering people may well think exactly the same, you will need to endure being swept along by other visitors especially during the peak season.
Don’t get put off by it though, as you won’t regret a visit once you see the speechlessly beautiful scenery. To help you feel less intimidated by other tourists and fully enjoy the grand natural asset, I am to share some tips for planning your itinerary. These might not be the only way to enjoy Plitvice Lakes National Park but I hope they can be still useful. The following tips are based on the two-day tickets, though you can still improvise even if you are planning to visit it in just one day:
Buying a two-day ticket at the ticket office of the entrance 1
Although you can look around Plitvice Lakes National Park in one full day, the better way to make most out of your visit to the national park is to get two-day tickets. It is much more relaxing and gives you flexibility in terms of when to enter and for how long you would like to be around.
The ticket prices vary depending on conditions like the peak/off-peak seasons and concessions – and you can check it from the national park’s website.
Plitvice Lakes National Park Homepage (English): http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/
Checking-in at your accommodation near the entrance 1
This may not be a huge issue for those who rent/own a car to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park (which wasn’t my case). For backpackers with less flexibility, AirBnB would be a good choice as quite a few places located just outside the entrance 1 within walking distances.
Day 1: Entering Plitvice Lakes National Park after 3pm and staying till its closing time
As it is more likely that Plitvice Lakes National Park is not your first destination within Croatia, I would recommend you to spend as long as you want in the previous place in the morning before heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park. And as a general tip to travel Croatia in summer, I think you had better transport from one to another in the middle of the day to avoid the time when it is too hot.
I arrived at Plitvice Lakes National Park Entrance 1 (by bus from Skradin) just after 2pm; and after checking-in at the accommodation and purchasing the ticket at the ticket office it was around 3pm. In summer it opens until 7pm, which allowed me about 4 hours to look around. With the two-day tickets you can casually stroll the park till the closing time on the first day. The time to leave the park isn’t as strict as I thought, so take a chance to enjoy the very last moment of your departure. (Don’t be too late though for your safety before it gets way too dark!) There was almost no one at this time allowing the best moment to embrace the epic scenery with the cool breeze.
Day 2: Getting ready to trek as early as possible and enjoying a much quieter and peaceful atmosphere
Now that you saw the view with the sunset on your Day 1, it is time to feel the fresh cool air. The NP opens at 7 a.m. and it really is the best time to enjoy the NP as you wish. Check out early from your accommodation and leave your luggage there for trekking. The national park gets busier after around 10 a.m. (definitely 11 a.m. onwards) so you will have a few hours without crowds. I entered it just before 8 a.m. It still gave me long enough for photos as well as sightseeing, but I would say no later than that.
And you can capture the golden sunlight reflected on the rocks and waterfalls at this time! 🙂 One thing to note is you may feel a bit chilly during the first few hours. For it being summer I thought it would be nicely cool (not cold) in the morning with summer clothes on. I didn’t feel I was getting warmed up, however, no matter how long I walked till before 11 a.m., so I’d recommend to take a light jumper.
Hop on and off a boat or a train for different views
Strolling areas around the entrance 1 in the first afternoon and next morning, you may well want to move on seeking for another beautiful sights. Your ticket includes a free ride of boats and trains within the national park, taking you to different areas. (I personally think trains are actually a series of mini buses). Just pick whichever you would like to take when you see the signposts with boat and train symbols. I got on a boat first to the entrance 2 region. There, I circled before taking a train to another direction. It was great fun encountering different atmospheres (still stunning) from the previous walks near the entrance 1.
I had wondered which routes to take when planning – routes K and H were mentioned a few times; I ended up being on different routes from what I had thought but they were still amazing. So I’d recommend to just walk wherever you feel curious about to explore – every spot is beautiful!
Lunch at the entrance 2
The main reason to get on a train after a big round walk was to have lunch. Plus, it was when a wave of visitors started exploring. As I looked around it to a satisfactory level by then, I was more than happy to fill my empty tummy. 😉 The train lets you off right in front of the entrance 2, where you can find a fairly big restaurant/cafeteria. Three sections were here next to each other: a cafe, a self-serviced restaurant, and a proper restaurant. The self-serviced restaurant was decent, compared to the price. You won’t have as many choices as what you see on the menu though. Their daily menu served seemed limited. You can check this out directly at the queue line.
Ending your visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park, coming back to the entrance 1 by train
After lunch it was time to go back to where I started trekking, the entrance 1. It was around 2 p.m. and it really really was hot and full of people. It actually gave me a feeling of ‘been there, done that’. Huge satisfaction accompanied this emotion too, for having appreciated the NP in a quiet and cool status. This implied the end of the visit was reaching, so I took a train back to the entrance 1.
Enjoy the last bit of the national park till the entrance/exit from the train stop (entrance 1). A number of visitors will pass you by to the opposite direction as you leave (enjoy that smug feeling)! haha.
As said in the beginning, depending on individuals’ preferences and schedules itineraries will look different. But by exploring like this, I felt I made most of the time at the national park and the money. The summery sunset and autumnal morning reminded me of the priceless beauty of the nature; and I managed to take a lot of great photos without too many crowds. Particularly as I wasn’t pressured to keep moving for others, I could keep my pace stopping by whenever I wanted.
For those who have only a day for this, after-lunch would be desirable (i.e. half of my route), unless transportation allows morning arrival.