The largest of eight national parks in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park features beautiful teal cascade-style lakes and waterfalls, and the park itself draws over one million visitors per year. Had I known this earlier, I might have done a little research on when tourist season was. But I didn’t…
I arrived in Plitvice a day early and stayed at Plitvice Backpackers, which I’d highly recommend to any solo traveler. It’s a quaint little hostel that actually feels like home, and the backpackers all cooked dinner together, watched TV in the living room, and made bagged lunches for the park the next day. The owner Leo is very friendly as well, and he even provides a free ride to the supermarket in the evening and to the park in the morning. Free rides, free wifi, free linens, free coffee/tea all day… what more could a backpacker ask for?! Leo also suggested that we go to Plitvice as early as possible to avoid crowds. How right he was.
I arrived at the park around 8:45am and bought my entry ticket straight away. In peak season (1 Jul-31 Aug) the regular adult price is 180 kuna (~$27), shoulder season is 110 kuna, but in the off-season it’s only 55 kuna (~$8). So there’s a good reason straight away to avoid August. Not only is busy season more expensive, but also the crowds are out of control. I was waiting outside the entrance for some friends and noticed the line growing longer by the second. By 10am the line was at least 50 meters long and was taking people around 30 minutes just to get a ticket. Thank god I got my ticket early.
By the time I entered the park, herds of people had taken over all the walkways. The line for the ferries and busses seemed to take ages, so I ended up walking a lot just to avoid the lines. Not only were people everywhere, but many were walking in large groups that were impossible to pass or stopping directly in the center of the walkway to take photos. The entire atmosphere of the park was just too chaotic and frustrating.
However, when I stopped for a moment and took the crowd out of the equation, the place was peaceful and gorgeous. The serene lakes were a teal-blue color with majestic waterfalls cascading into them. Ducks floated on the surface, and lizards sunbathed on rocks. The overall setting seemed like something out of a fairytale.
When I decided to skip the ferry because of the line and walk to the other side of the lake myself, I saw only 2 other tourists in my 30-minute walk. Walking alongside the lake was peaceful, I could feel the cool breeze among the trees instead of the crowds pushing past, and I could hear the lapping of the lake against the shore, instead of camera clicks and constant chatter. Though I wasn’t following the typical tourist path, I felt like I was experiencing Plitvice as it should be.
But no, that’s not the typical experience you’ll have at Plitvice in August, because the hordes of tourists ruin it. Instead of embracing the serenity of the park’s atmosphere and appreciating such a natural wonder, most tourists seem to only care about getting through the entire circuit and snapping away photos. Nobody wants to physically walk around the lake, because that’s a waste of time, right? They just want to get to the big waterfalls, take photos, and leave. While such a surreal national park should be more of an experience where people go to appreciate nature, Plitvice in busy season is just another tourist attraction like the Sydney Opera House or the Eiffel Tower.
You should still go to Plitvice Lakes… just not in August. And when you go, take time to get off the beaten track and surround yourself by nature instead of tourists. I guarantee you’ll appreciate the place a whole lot more.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌