Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The turquoise-colored cascading lakes at Plitvice

We left the incredibly scenic Croatian coastline and headed inland to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Founded in 1949, Plitvice is the largest national park in Croatia and one of the oldest in SE Europe.

View from our Airbnb accommodation in Poljanak

Staying within the park was a little outside our budget, so we opted rent a room on Airbnb in the small village of Poljanak, about a two mile walk from the park. The hike to the park took us past rolling countryside and dense forests of beech, spruce, and fir.

View from our daily hike to Plitvice

Early morning mist on the lakes

Plitvice Lakes is famous for its vividly colored cascading lakes and waterfalls. The 16 cascading lakes are separated by travertine dams, which grow at the rate of about one centimeter per year.

Once in the park you can walk miles and miles of wooden plank boardwalks and dirt trails that navigate through and over the lakes and waterfalls.

Silent, electric boats shuttle hikers across the park’s biggest lake

A Beech forest

Part of the wooden boardwalk crossing over a waterfall

Waterfalls flowing over mossy travertine dams

Waterfalls galore at Plitvice

The placement of the wooden boardwalks make visitors feel as if they are walking on water

We tended to visit the park in the early morning hours just as it opened. We visited once in the afternoon and were shocked by the overwhelming crowds of people lining the narrow pathways as seen in the video below.

I found this antler while hiking in the park. The first one I had ever found!

What most people do not realize is that the park covers an astonishing 73,350 acres.  Tourists usually just plan day trips from Zagreb to walk the boardwalks and trails around the lakes, but few seem to explore the many trails that extend outwards, deep into the national park.

We found this hericium mushroom on our hike. Hericiums are edible mushrooms with medicinal properties and happen to be very tasty.

We spent a day hiking northwest of the main lakes. The national park has a wide variety of plant communities due to its range of microclimates and varying levels of altitude. We found an incredible number of mushrooms!

Just a few of the mushrooms we found

Flora in Plitvice National Park

On Lake Kozjak, one of the 16 cascading lakes, we rented a row boat to escape the crowds and to tour the lake by ourselves.  Dan showed off his rowing skills as he rowed us back and forth across the lake for an hour.

Fish in the crystal clear waters

The only downside of staying two miles away from the park was when we had to catch a 6 am bus to Zagreb in order to board a train to Slovenia. We woke up at 4 am to start our hike in the dark. As we stepped outside, we discovered that it was pouring rain. We miserably trekked in the dark and soon became drenched from head to toe. Fortunately we made it to our bus and Zagreb, albeit soaking wet.

The Balkan Coastline: From Montenegro to Croatia

Looking down on Kotor and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The Mediterranean port of Kotor, Montenegro is set just off the Adriatic Sea on the Bay of Kotor. Kotor is one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic and is surrounded by walls that date back to the 9th century. Formerly part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro is one of the world’s newest countries, declaring independence based on a voter referendum in 2006.

Left: Switchbacks of the Cattaro Ladder. Right and Middle: Heading into San Giovanni Fort

The ancient walls that surround Old Town Kotor stretch for 4.5 km (3 mi) directly above the city – and I mean straight up a nearly vertical mountainside. Tourists can climb the walls to San Giovanni Fort, 1,200 meters above the city.

Most people decide to climb the 1,350 steps to San Giovanni Fort at the top of the walls and then precede back down the stairs.  Hating to see the same scenery both on the way up and way down, we decided to take an alternate route to the fortress.

Hiking in the Dinaric Alps above Kotor

Wild pomegranates and flowers along the trail

We decided to hike up the Cattaro Ladder, an old mule track with more that 70 switchbacks. The Ladder was built by the Austrians in the 19th century as a military road up and served as a supply line for essential provisions into Kotor.

Luckily we started the 940 meter ascent early in the morning, as it was cool and we were in the shade. The hike offered magnificent views of the bay and Old Town Kotor which got better the higher we climbed.

The hike up to San Giovanni Fort. On the way, we discovered the Church of St. George which is over 1000 years old

The view on the way up the 70+ switchbacks

In most of our pictures of the Bay, a giant cruise ship can be seen. We encountered some cruisers at the top of the Ladder zip-lining across the canyon. Zip-liner circled in purple 🙂

At the top of the switchbacks, we descended towards San Giovanni Fort and from the Fort we continued down the 1,350 steps back into Old Town Kotor.

View from San Giovanni Fort

The 1,350 steps down to town

Medieval Old Town Kotor

One of the great views from the bus ride between Montenegro and Croatia.

From Kotor we headed northwest along the coast of the Adriatic to the famous walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The defensive walls were built in the 12-17th centuries to protect the city from invaders.

View of the walled city of Dubrovnik as we descended into town

The best way to see the city is to walk the walls above Old Town. The two kilometer walk provides incredible views of the red-roofed homes and limestone buildings sheltered within the walls.

View of Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street from atop the city’s walls

The iconic red-rooftops of Dubrovnik’s Old City

Kayakers paddling outside the city walls

Scenes from the city walls

Some might recognize Old Town Dubrovnik from the HBO series Games of Thrones which was filmed here

The turquoise-green Adriatic Sea surrounding the walled-city

Old Town at ground level from inside the walls

Sleepy cats rule Old Town

Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, built in 1725

Continuing up the coast of Croatia, we headed 3 hours northwest of Dubrovnik to Split. The city is built around the Roman Diocletian’s Palace,  which was built in the 4th century. To get a view of Old Town, we climbed the 12th century Bell Tower.

Inside Diocletian’s Palace

View from inside the Bell Tower

Climbing the stairs to the top

View of Old Town from atop the Bell Tower

From Old Town we walked to Marjan Park for more views of the city

The turquoise Adriatic Sea

From the coast we headed inland to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park, famous for its cascading lakes and waterfalls. We were excited to get back to the wilderness!