National parks. You usually link this term with the magnificent parks at the West Coast of the United States. But in Europe, and more in specific in Croatia, you can find beautiful national park too. Clear blue lakes, waterfalls, vast forests, impressive gorges, Roman dice … . There are eight national parks in Croatia. In this blog, I take you to three of them. We visited these parks in the special summer of 2020. Do you have your hiking boots ready?
1# Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice’ is the oldest, biggest and most famous national park in Croatia. And not only that, according to some it is one of the most beautiful natural sites in Europe and on top recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And yes, it is indeed beautiful. The process of tufa formation, which results in the building of travertine barriers, created lakes, caves and waterfalls.
There are 16 terraced lakes, connected by kilometres of wooden walkways, bridges and paths, along or across the lakes. The lakes are all at different altitudes, you have the ‘Upper’ lakes and the ‘Lower lakes’, connected by small and big, majestic waterfalls – around 90 in total. The Lower lakes are surrounded by limestone rock formations, a special view. And then there is the wildlife. We did not see any bears – apart from the statue at the entrance – but many colourful water birds, special insects, bats – in their own cave – and even a snake. Keep your eyes open, in this park there is something ‘around every corner’.
The most striking thing is the clear blue, turquoise water. The combination of this blue with all shades of green and the bright white of the limestone cliffs in the sunlight gives a magnificent interplay of colours. You simply have to see it with your own eyes !
There are many walking routes in the park, most of them well maintained and signposted. Ideal for enjoying the view. We made 2 hikes. We started on day 1 at entrance 2 with a walk around the Upper Lakes (Pogram E), all the way upstream to Lake Prošćansko. We did not take the tourist train but walked along the lakes back to the starting point in about four hours. On the second day, we visited the Lower lakes (Program A). We left from Entrance 1 and made a loop: from the Great Waterfall to the Lower Lakes canyon and the lakes below. This was a very short walk, barely 2 hours, but also very beautiful.
Plitvice is a top destination in Croatia. It is a well-maintained park and very touristic. Even during Corona times it was relatively crowded. We have been told that in a normal summer season you literally need to ‘queu’ before getting in. So it is best to visit the park early in the morning or later in the evening.
- In the park are several ferries and buses that connect the different entrances and walking routes. You can go from entrance 1 to entrance 2 in the park itself by ferries. Also the start of the walk in park 2 departs with a short ferry of a few minutes. From various ‘end’ points, buses bring you back to the starting point. We visited the park during corona times and only took the short ferry at entrance 2. We hiked back, which is perfectly feasible.
- We took two days for our visit, which is a bit long. You can easily explore the park in one day. You then choose programm F, H or K.
- It is best to book your access tickets for this park in advance. There is a maximum number of visitors per time slot. You can also buy tickets the day you visit, but there can be long queues. If you buy a ticket for two days, you have to register the first day at the entrance mentioned on your ticket, the second day you can choose. We booked Entrance 2 on day 1 and Entrance 1 on day 2.
- A ticket for 2 days costs about 33 € for an adult and 10 € for a child (7-18 years).
- The kids bought a nice jumper in the souvenir shop. Nice quality and fun to wear, especially with those bears on it.
2# Paklenica National Park
Paklenica is situated south of the Velebit mountains along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. In this beautiful park, the mountains and the sea merge. If you like impressive rock formations, deep gorges and meandering rivers, this is the place to be. The monumental gorge, the Anica Kuk, is a also a true Valhalla for anyone who wants to explore the vertical walls. This place is rock climber’s paradise !
We just went for a simple walk and enjoyed the beautiful nature. There are many walking paths. The park reminds of the Alps, although the rock formations are significantly smaller. We took the most popular route, the Velika ravine in the direction of mountain hut Paklenica, a walk of almost 2 hours and a lot of variation: a combination of steep rocky paths strewn with boulders and flat paths along a rippling river and grassland. Very beautiful and at times pretty tough. We were just too late to visit the Manita Cave.
- The entrance to the park is in the town of Starigrad. It is a short drive from the ticket box at the park entrance to the start of the hiking trails. You can park along this road. Depending on how busy it is, you may or may not be far from the start of the routes. So it is best to go as early as possible.
- We found the trails not very well signposted.
- You walk for a large part on rocky paths. So walking boots are no luxury.
- Check the opening hours of the Manita cave, they can change. You can book an extra ticket at the entrance to the park. So make sure you wear decent hiking boots.
- A admission ticket costs about 8 € (adult), 4 € (child 5-14 years) and 5 € (15-18 years). For the Manita Pec cave you pay 4 € (adult) and 2 (child 5-18 years)
3# Krka National Park
We visited this park in a less usual way: we chose the north side of the park instead of the busy south. At the southern main entrance of the park, Skradin, we met crowds of tourists, packed on boats, heading for the most famous and most visited waterfalls, the Skradinski buk and the Roski. Very beautiful perhaps, but too crowded for us. We drove further to Kistanje, in the very north of the park, and made a ‘loop’ there.
We started our visit at the Krka Monastery, the spiritual centre of the Orthodox Church, located in a bay on the Krka River and also named after the river. The monastery complex consists of a church in Byzantine style – with a rich colour palette – and the monastery. Both are still in use today. Below the church are ancient Roman catacombs which you can also visit.
From there we headed to the archaeological site of Burnum, a Roman military camp. Here, in the blazing heat, we admired the remains of the only military amphitheater in Croatia and the arches of a command building.
All the archaeological finds from this region are displayed in the Krka Eco Campus in Puljane, a small museum, very nicely structured, with a handsome collection. Rings, glass bottles, cutlery, medical instruments … Ever seen a Roman pen? Or a real Roman dice? Then this is the place to be. At the time of our visit, there were no visitors and we were given an extensive private tour. A gem in a place where you wouldn’t expect it, worth a detour.
We concluded our Krka exploration with a visit to the park’s most impressive waterfall, the Manojlovac slap, just under 60 metres deep.
- Krka is a very touristic and large park with numerous possibilities. Plan your visit well in advance. At the main entrance in Skradin you find a large information center, where you can buy tickets for numerous boat trips. There are several routes. If you want to visit the north, this is not the place to be. You can find a lot of information on the website, including tickets of the park.
- It is best to visit the north of the park by car from the village of Kistanje. You can also reach the monastery by boat, but this takes about 2.5 hours one way, which is quite a trip in the heat. Burnum, the Krka Eco Campus and Manojlovac Falls can only be reached by car
- The Krka Eco Campus is well hidden. It is a long drive from Burnum and it seems a strange route (down and up in a gorge), but you will get there eventually.
- The cost for the north is considerably cheaper than the south. You just pay 5 € (adult) and 4 € (kid 7-18 years) to visit the Krka monastery, Burnum, the Krka Eco Campus and the Manoljovac waterfall.