Croatia's Waterfall-tastic National Parks
After touring the coast of Croatia (read about that here!), we headed north from Omis, stopping at Krka National Park to check out the waterfall situation there. Krka is a pretty park with some nice walking trails, and I think its main draw is that it's close to Split, only about one hour north.
As with any popular attraction, the earlier you get there, the better and less crowded your experience will be, so we made sure to arrive just as the park was opening and had a relatively calm and quiet walk to the main waterfall area. After bumbling around exploring, Josh decided to brave the cool waters and swim at the base of the falls, which they allow “at your own risk.” (Don't worry, he made it out just fine!) Then we beelined it out of there since the selfie sticks had started swinging – more dangerous than the swimming area, in my opinion.
We made a quick stop in Zadar to check out the Sea Organ, which was a super cool experience. It's a project of architect/artist Nikola Bašić, and it's basically a series of tubes in the ocean that vent through large marble steps. Depending on the rhythm and ferocity of the tide flowing into the tubes, different harmonies are produced out of the vents, so the ocean is creating its own music, and I guess, in theory, each sound is completely different from any other sound that came before it or will come after it. We hung out there for about an hour, soaking up the sun and just watching the ocean and listening. It's incredibly mesmerizing.
Tearing our eyes and ears away, it was on to Plitvice Lakes area, about two hours east of Zadar (and two and a half hours from Zagreb). Unfortunately, it's not really close to much geographically, but is absolutely worth going out of your way to visit. The farther inland we drove, the colder and rainier it got. We had planned to spend just two days here to hike and check out Plitvice Lakes National Park, a park made up of 16 interconnecting lakes with waterfalls, one of the places that had been at the top of our list of destinations since we started planning our yearlong trip. But the weather was not quite cooperating. We did get in a “sunset” hike one evening with a group from Falling Lakes, the hostel in which we were staying, but as we were trying to find the sunset viewpoint, a crazy amount of fog rolled in, we missed the sunset, and then we lost the trail markers to help us get back down off the mountain. It was a scary ten or fifteen minutes for me (which felt like at least an hour or two), but eventually we found a blaze and got back to the hostel in time for an extremely late non-dying-in-the-woods celebratory dinner.
On another “waiting” day, we visited a nearby abandoned air force base from the Cold War, Zeljava. It's literally on the border of Croatia and Bosnia. It was one of the second most expensive military bases ever built and was essentially dug out of a mountain. Josh describes it as “swiss cheesing” the mountain. Pretty crazy. We had been told to stay on the runways at all times as there are still active mines in the area. Okayyyyy.... We drove in and right up to one of the hangars, parked, and promptly had a police van pull up next to us. Very much hoping we weren't in trouble, we got out of the car to talk to the nice officer, and he kindly apologized, and then, all business, said, “You have to leave. There will be landmine clearing in 10 minutes.” What?!? No problem, sir, we're out of there! He actually told us we were welcome to come back the next day, but we had extended our hostel stay long enough as it was, and finally the weather looked all right to visit the park.
The next morning, fog still hanging on, we got to Plitvice Lakes just as the gates were opening. We started at Entrance 1, and as soon as we walked in, we were basically smack in front of a set of stunning waterfalls and lakes. Entrance 1 puts you into the park at the lower lakes section where the Veliki Slap (“slap” means waterfall) lives. It's the highest waterfall in the park and certainly one of the showstoppers of the park. And even though there wasn't much blue sky that day, it didn't matter – the park was still stunning.
From that entrance, you can meander around on the 18km+ of boardwalks and pathways winding throughout the huge park as well as use the boat taxis and buses. The admission ticket includes one boat taxi ride and one bus ride, so you have to be a little strategic in how to plan your route for the day. We spent about 7 hours there, lingering over the waterfalls, picnicking with the sandwiches we had brought along, and exploring different pockets of the park.
We were there a little bit early in the season for any blazing autumn leaf colors, but we did get to see some reds and oranges on the early bloomers. And the water is really the main attraction – the colors change throughout the park and depending on the minerals and organisms in the water as well as how the light hits. We got to see a lot of turquoise coloring, and it was all the heart eyes.
The crowds starting thickening up around lunchtime, and after we hit a traffic jam on one of the boardwalks, we picked up the pace towards the exit to call it a day. On our way out, we climbed through the caves near Entrance 1 and then up the stairs to check out some higher paths, and were rewarded with a sunny(!) expansive vista over the lakes, boardwalks, and falls. It was a perfect end to our visit.