Normally we don’t get excited quickly about waterfalls, unless they’re really spectacular like the Niagara Falls. We therefore rarely make a point of visiting specific waterfalls during our travels. For our trip to Croatia, however, things was different. The pics we’d seen of the falls at Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Park made us want to go there. And they were both amazing.
It’s natural human behavior to compare things. So having visited the two most beautiful waterfalls in Croatia people asked us which one we liked best. We found this to be a hard question. Both have their pros and cons. Let us tell you about our visit to them and then you can be the judge. Included are some helpful tips for getting the most fantastic views.
About Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park consists of a chain of 16 crystalline terraced lakes that are joined by a series of cascades and waterfalls. The waters flowing over the limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams which in turn have created these beautiful turquoise lakes, caves and waterfalls. They’re a Unesco World Heritage site.
Escaping the crowds
The national park is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia. And that’s one of the biggest drawbacks of Plitvice Lakes. The crowds can be maddening at times. But it’s a big park, so there are ways to escape the crowds. Your best bet to have some relative solitude if you’re visiting between May and September is to arrive as soon as the park opens for visitors at 7 AM. That’s what we did.
We arrived at the smaller and less visited entrance number 2 that gets you halfway between the lower and upper lakes and falls and started with the upper lakes first. We worked our way up to station number 3, where we took the shuttle bus back to station 2, where we’d started. We had a solid 2-2,5 hours before the first tour groups arrived.
We then walked down big Kozljak Lake towards the more popular lower lakes and falls near entrance 1 (you can also take a boat across the lake, we did this on the way back). By then all tourist hell had broken loose. At times people had to walk single file on the walkways and pathways across and along the water to ‘enjoy’ nature. Ugh. And summer hadn’t even begun yet.
Two amazing viewpoints
But there is an option to admire the lower falls in peace. Two viewpoints high up above the falls afford amazing panoramas of the lower lakes and falls. It’s the same image you see on the entrance ticket and most promotion material about Plitvice Lakes.
The viewpoints are hardly a secret judging by the amount of pictures of Plitvice Lakes we see on social media taking from there, but still not many people seem to know about them or how to get there. During the hour or so we spent at the viewpoints we saw only seven other people.
As there’s no reference at Plitvice Lakes on how to get to the viewpoints we will explain this to you here. It’s really not that hard if you know where to look for. We went up by the stone stairs that are to the left just before you get to the highest waterfall (78 meters) in the park, Veliki Slap.
The stairs were blocked by a fence because they’re supposed to be dangerous as some of the steps are crooked and/or crumbling down. We circumvented the fence and made our way up the stairs and found them quite easy to negotiate. At the top of the stairs you keep right and after two minutes you’ll get to the viewpoint overlooking Veliki Slap.
You will probably already have seen that there’s a paved road, walk there, turn right and after a few minutes you cross a wooden bridge. Directly after the bridge there’s a trail to the right again that leads you after a few hundred meters to the Vidikovac viewpoint. This is the one with the ticket view.
We also met people who walked along the paved road coming from parking lot number 3, but this was a rather long walk they told us. There seems to be a possibility to get there by car as well, as we saw cars parked close-by. We didn’t investigate this further. We were already up there!
All in all we spent about nine hours at Plitvice Lakes, which was enough for us. If you want to get there before the tour busses arrive, it’s best to book accommodation nearby. We stayed in a very pleasant apartment in Korenica, 25 minutes away from Plitvice Lakes.
About Krka National Park
Krka National Park is one-third the size of Plitvice Lakes National Park, but still you pay the same entrance fee. Travertine barriers in the Krka river have created seven sets of falls and some small lakes here. They’re smaller in size than at Plitvice Lakes but equally beautiful.
We found things at Krka National Park things far more relaxed, with fewer people. We didn’t have to get out of bed at an ungodly hour to savor the beauty of the falls.
We entered through the relaxed town of Skradin, where we took the first boat at 8 AM for the 25 minute ride to the entrance of the park. This hourly boat is included in the entrance ticket (just ask around for which boat as there are no signs), you pay when you get to the park entrance.
That there were just a few people on the boat was a good sign and sure enough the first few hours it was nice and quiet. However, because the park is also much smaller than Plitvice Lakes, it started to feel a little crowded at the end of our visit around noon. But still it was nothing like Plitvice Lakes.
Swimming at Skradinski Buk
Another nice thing about Krka is that you’re allowed to swim in front of Skradinski Buk, the biggest falls and the star attraction of the national park. The water was still very chilly, though, but we braved it!
The 1.900 meter walking trail around the falls will maybe keep you busy for an hour, but it’s possible to make several side trips by boat inside the park. The most popular one is to the Franciscan Monastery on Visovac Island and to the Roški Slap waterfall. You have to pay a lot extra for this though.
Instead of paying for a boat tour it’s also possible to visit Roški Slap by driving there yourself. That’s what we did. Roški Slap consist of some minor waterfalls and a series of cascades – the ‘necklaces’ – that can only be really appreciated by climbing a set of 500+ stairs to see it from above.
The stairs are along the right side of the short trail around the cascades. Of course we did this. It was a tough climb since the steps were fully exposed to the sun, but it was totally worth it for the view. Climbing a little bit higher is a bat cave if that interests you.
So who’s the winner according to you? Be sure not to miss them when visiting Croatia!