Plitvice lakes, clear green-blue water & ‘the worst burger ever’

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With no people around me but surrounded by red, yellow orange and green leaves, I walk along a wooden decking that winds its way through the clear teal water. Black fish swim in schools close to each other and further along, a few ducks are swimming. Funny, I kind of expected special ducks at this place, but you can find these ones in any pond in the Netherlands – the only difference here is that they seem to float due to the transparent water. Like in Rastoke, I had rather expected fairies and mythical creatures. But I find it special to be alone in this place, even with these ducks. Where? In Plitvice National Park in Croatia.

Almost 30,000 hectares of nature

This is the largest national park in Croatia. And the crazy thing is: entrance ticket are not expensive at all! Especially if you have a student card. If I lived near here, I would be here every weekend. Although… Then it would become normal and I wouldn’t want that.

Together with five other travellers and guide Luka from Free Spirit Tours, I start hiking route C, which takes me past all the lakes – according to Luka, this is only 1% of the park! How small we humans are compared to nature. Of course you can go to Plitvice for several days, but one day is enough to see a lot. Everything was clearly marked, so visiting the park without a guide is not a problem.

At the first large waterfall I encounter, it is very crowded, but that is because it is close to an entrance. The sun put a spotlight on the upper parts of the waterfall. It rained the past few days, causing the water to pour down buckets at a time. When there is little rain, the view is not nearly as impressive. I walk on and at one point I take the boat. It glides across the water quietly. I sigh, look around and enjoy nature and the wind blowing through my hair. According to Luka, it is normal in Croatia that everything is slow and takes a long time – fine, this couldn’t take long enough for me.

A different world

On the other side of this lake, I hardly see any other people. Because I’m taking pictures, I walk more alone anyway, at the back of our group. I hardly know where to look, there is so much happening around me and I love to zoom in on details. This is the perfect place for depth-of-focus photography. That clear water also creates a Stranger Things vibe in some places. Not in terms of atmosphere, mind you, this is totally the opposite! But because the water is so clear, I see a different world down there. The surface of the water seems to be the dividing line between our world and the “Upside down.” Water always forms a dividing line, but here I can actually see what is below. At the same time, the coloured autumn leaves are reflected in the surface of the water. It is a kind of mirror that reflects and that you can see through. And nature itself creates this!

Autumn in Plitvice

With green leaves, the park is surely beautiful, but the yellow, red and orange autumn leaves add an extra dimension because they stand out more against the blue-green water. On an information board, I see pictures of the park in winter: white surroundings through which the clear blue water flows and waterfalls frozen in time. Also beautiful! By now, the sun has disappeared behind the clouds. I have seen bright blue clear water, but not as much as I expected. The algae that provide the blue colour of the water are always there. However, the amount of sun also affects the colour blue you get to see. Nature rules in this place and is full of surprise. For this reason alone, it is definitely worth visiting this park.

You can’t have everything

Aimeé, a group member and young woman from Hanover, is here for a project for her work. The euro will be introduced in Croatia in 2023, and this project is preparing and testing this. She sits next to me and takes the first bite of her lunch, a burger. Her reaction? “The worst burger I ever had”. Well, even in this place you can’t have everything.

A half-hour drive from Plitvice National Park is Rastoke, a village surrounded by streams and waterfalls of all sizes. It is easy to combine with the National park. Want to know more? Read the column about Rastoke.