Plitvice Lakes National Park
The two most visited places in Croatia are the city of Dubrovnik and Plitvice Lakes National Park. Mike and I are slowly heading towards Dubrovnik but in the meantime, we detoured across the mountains to visit Plitvice. We had heard about this park from many sources, including friends in Canada. Last year when we were in Croatia in July we planned on visiting Plitvice until I looked at their website. It recommended that you not visit the park during prime season if you had an alternative option. We talked to people who said that during July and August you walk along the paths with a thousand other tourists, you stop and wait while they take selfies and then continue moving with the crowd. It didn’t sound like the nicest way to visit such a beautiful site. We decided to wait until we returned out of season. It looks like we came two weeks earlier than would have been ideal as only half the park is open at the moment. We are going to be travelling to the most southern part of Croatia and we will probably stop here again as we return north. I understand that the crowds start arriving in June which may be when we get back here.
To get to Plitvice, we had to cross a mountain range. We started to get concerned about the hiking when we drove through mountains with snow all around. The drive was beautiful. The closer we got to Plitvice, the narrower the road got. In my last article I wrote, “The other norm [in Croatia] are the narrow, single lane mountainous roads for two-way traffic. … Hopefully we never come upon one when we are driving in the RV.” I think I tempted the fates. Near the end of our drive, the mountainous road we were on descended through the park. Remember we were in our very large RV, towing a car. The road became a very narrow one-lane road with two-way traffic. Luckily there was very little traffic but that doesn’t mean no traffic. In the middle of one S-bend we came upon an SUV driving towards us very quickly. We had a little bit (6 inches) of slippery snow between the passenger side of our vehicles and a drop straight down the mountain with no guard rails. There was no way to move over and nowhere to pass. The gentleman driving the SUV seemed quite good. He did back up a little and pull as close to the rock on his side of the mountain as he could, but it wasn’t enough for us to get by. He obviously didn’t want to try and go backwards very far on this narrow road with S-bends. After a couple of attempts backing up a little at a time, with us moving forward a little, he managed to get himself into a position where he could squeeze by. I was very worried that Mike was going to try and give him an extra inch or two and we would slide down the mountain. It took a while for my heart to slow down. I am glad to say that that was the last car we saw before the road got a little wider. We won’t be driving on that road later in the year when there is more traffic. I haven’t checked to see how we leave here yet, but if we have to go a couple of hours out of our way we will.
The national park is famous for its lakes arranged in cascades. There are sixteen small lakes interconnected by cascades and waterfalls. The cascades are natural and not man-made dams. The 16 lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster with 12 Upper Lakes and four Lower Lakes. Until April 1 only the walk around the lower lakes is open. The walk around the Upper Lakes opens in just over two weeks.
The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colours which change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of the sunlight. While we were there the water was a beautiful turquoise colour. At the beginning of the trail, everywhere you walked you could hear falling water. It was lovely.
I wore my new, not yet broken in, hiking books that I bought to stop me going over on my ankles in rough terrain. Well it turns out that following the main paths in Plitvice means that you never encounter rough terrain. I was expecting tracks through the woods whereas the path that we followed was a very well made and well-maintained path. Our trail took us around the whole of the Lower Lakes and included an electric boat ride across one lake and a short shuttle bus ride near the end.
There were other tourists around, but often Mike and I would often appear to be the only ones in the park. This made it easy to take photos. The lack of crowds was fantastic. It was just Mike and I hiking together through Croatia’s most famous, beautiful park, or so it seemed. This was brought home when we took the electric boat ride. This bunched up all the visitors since the boat only ran once an hour. When we got off the boat, obviously we did so with all the other passengers. When we walked to the sight-seeing vistas just off the path, we had to wait for the other people ahead of us to take their photos and get out of the way so that we could see. In total there couldn’t have been more than 30 or 40 people on the boat, but it was annoying. I can’t imagine what it would be like in the summer. The park gets more than one million visitors a year and I would bet that 90% of them are within a four-week period. I expect that we will see more people if we come back again later in the year. It won’t be high season, but it won’t be winter season any more either.
A campervan stopped in at the campsite the same day we arrived. It had Slovenian license plates, but it turned out that the couple in the van were from Texas and had just rented the camper that morning in Zagreb. We don’t know why it had Slovenian plates instead of Croatian plates. Eric and Clarissa came over to our RV in the evening and Mike cooked everyone some dessert crepes to welcome them to Croatia. Crepes are extremely common here. The two of them are going to spend the next three weeks travelling around countries like Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia etc. Most of those countries, Mike and I will not be visiting. Our insurance isn’t valid in many of those places. In some of the countries, like Albania, I worry that our RV would look rich and ostentatious which is never a good thing if you are in a poor area. I could easily be wrong about the state of the Albanian economy, but I don’t think that we will have time to find out this trip anyway.
The area around Plitvice is much too hilly for us to do any cycling, even with our electric bikes. It also looks like we won’t be spending as much time as we expected in the National Park, so I am guessing that we won’t be here too long. Since it was a three-hour drive inland to get here and then we will return to the coast with the RV, that makes this an expensive side trip, but the park certainly is lovely.
We spent a few hours wandering around the nearby village of Rastoke. It had to be one of the prettiest spots that we have seen. It didn’t have the grandeur of mountains or the fjords in Norway but there was water cascading far and wide. They weren’t huge waterfalls, but it was really pretty with the sound of running water everywhere. There was the main river, water entering it from various sources and heights, pools of water cascading into other pools. Anyone who visits Plitvice Lakes National Park should walk around Rastoke as well. It is a very small area but lovely. If you do visit Rastoke, you need to walk across the river to the opposite side from the village and look back at it. That is a great view. Rastoke was known for all its mills run by water power.
This area is quite close to the Bosnian border. In 2016, the first year of our adventure in Europe, our vehicle insurance purchased from Tour Insure (based in Germany and specializing in providing insurance for expats) was valid for places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania , Kosovo, etc., but for some reason, those countries were removed last year. We think it is just a money grab by either Tour Insure, or those countries that are now excluded from our policy (apparently you can now buy insurance at the border as you enter each of those countries that are now excluded). We thought that we might like to drive around into Bosnia and Herzegovina while we were in this area, so we went to the border ahead of time to find out about how to purchase insurance for one day. We will need to use this information for further south in Croatia as well because you need to pass through Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to travel between Split and Dubrovnik. The highway actually goes through Bosnia and Herzegovina for about 8 km or 5 miles. You are supposed to purchase insurance at the start of the 8 km stretch of highway. At the border where we are now, they told us that the smallest amount of insurance you could purchase was for 15 days and that it would cost almost $50. That was just for our car, we don’t know what will happen when we add the RV to it. We decided to skip Bosnia and Herzegovina for the moment and possibly visit the country later if we are forced into paying for 15 days on our way to Dubrovnik.
Mike and I had a great time at Dolina Jelina, or the Deer Ranch this afternoon. It was just another example of how nice it is to travel outside of prime tourist season. The owner’s daughter, who spoke English well, toured us around the property and then we joined her and her parents for some schnapps and cheese afterwards. With only the two of us, we were made to feel more like guests than customers. The ranch has two types of deer on their property and they are kept separated. They are all just starting to shed their winter coat. We spent a lot of time with the larger red deer. Most of the males have lost their antlers this week. One of them lost one yesterday and they expect him to lose the second one in the next day or two. Apparently, when the new antlers start making themselves known, they push out the old antlers. When the antlers are growing (during spring and summer) the antlers contain blood vessels and are sensitive. If you look closely at the picture you can see that one antler is gone and where the next one will come off. The deer actually bleed a little from the stump where growth of the new antler causes the old antler to fall off. We were told that while they have their antlers, the males eat first. In September (mating season) they will fight other males. When the male deer are without antlers, or when the antlers are growing and sensitive, the female deer will actually fight with the males.
The other deer were “Fallow deer” and they were much smaller. The very young ones didn’t know enough to be scared of people yet and one little one was eating out of Mike’s hand. Apparently, he learned that behaviour from his father who had died of old age last summer. It’s mother was much more timid and wouldn’t come close. Fallow deer’s colouring was excellent for blending in with the trees and the woods at this time of year.
Tomorrow we are heading towards the Island of Pag. We are going to try and stay in a somewhat hidden parking spot right on the water. There is no electricity or fresh water there but there is also no charge. We will stay there for a few days and if we want to spend more time, we may move to one of the open campgrounds in the area. This island is fairly close to where Mike and I met our friends from Norway last year.