This week’s journey takes us back to the breathtaking beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park Plitvička jezera) in central Croatia. The park’s lush vegetation, abundant wildlife, crystalline lakes and cascading falls make it – in our opinion – one of the most spectacular natural wonders in southern Europe.
Located near Croatia’s border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, roughly halfway between Zadar and the capital city of Zagreb, this world-famous national park stretches nearly 300 square kilometers through the nation’s mountainous karst region. The sixteen lakes at the heart of the park are renowned for their distinctive and vibrant color, as well as the natural dams of travertine – evolving deposits of moss, algae and bacteria – that connect the lakes through a series of cascades over an area of eight kilometers (much of which can be explored by foot on trails and wooden pathways). Climatic conditions, differing altitudes and the lakes’ relatively rural location has resulted in tremendous plant and animal diversity. The park is heavily forested, primarily with beech, fir and spruce trees, and home to over 1,200 plant varieties. Several rare animal species – including the European brown bear, lynx, wolf and wild cat – are also found in great numbers in the wider area of the park.
Despite receiving national park status in 1949 – thus becoming the subject of rigorous environmental protection measures – the Plitvice Lakes area became a tragic focal point in the Croatian War of Independence from 1991 to 1995. In March 1991, it became the scene of the so-called Plitvice Bloody Easter, the first armed confrontation of the war that resulted in fatalities. The park was subsequently held by Serbian rebels backed by Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav People’s Army, suffering damage in the process as hotels and other facilities were used as barracks or set alight. During the Serbian occupation, ethnic Croats were ruthlessly and systematically cleansed from the region. The park was retaken by the Croatian Army in August 1995, and the majority of the Serb population was expelled. Due to widespread damage and the apparent risk of mines, UNESCO placed Plitvice Lakes on the World Heritage in Danger list, a designation finally removed in 1998 after an extensive renovation and mine clearance operation.
Today, Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Croatia, hosting approximately 1 million visitors per year. We visited during a roadtrip through Croatia and Bosnia in May 2012, and were instantly captivated by the park’s awe-inspiring beauty. We (okay, B.) took way too many photos over our two-day visit to fit into a single post, so we’re splitting this one up! Please enjoy he first set of photographs below, captured on a three hour trek through the Lower Lakes section of the park, consisting of lakes Milanovac, Gavanovac, Kaluđerovac and Novakovića Brod, as well as Veliki Slap, the largest of the park’s waterfalls.
Thank you for joining us on this adventure in the Plitvice Lakes! – T. & B. June
Next week’s journey – Day Two: Plitvice Lakes National Park – Croatia