IT WAS like I stepped into a scene from a fairy tale. I was standing in the middle of an azure blue lake, surrounded by waterfalls, flowering plants and chirping birds; I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Now I am sitting in my office back in Malaysia, and I can only daydream about the magical Plitvice Lakes National Park in central Croatia.
Plitvice was the highlight of my 26-day Eurotrip, I can spend days hiking along the 295-sq km forest reserve. The park is known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon.
Wooden walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water, giving you an excellent vantage point to take in all the beauty of the park.
There are many mapped out routes that are available for visitors to explore, some are proper trails, others are more rugged hikes, there are also cycling routes for those who wish to see the park on bicycle.
It is impossible to see the whole National Park in one day, but there are several tour programmes that you can follow depending on how long you would like to trek for. Each trek is assigned a letter of the alphabet or a number.
With only one full day in Plitvice, my family and I tried to pack in all the major waterfall sights during our trek.
We started our journey from the P3 port and took trail number two towards the Big Waterfall Veliki Slap (the trail was unfortunately partly closed due to flooding), we then took the panoramic train (more like a bus) ride from St1 to St3, and took trail 10 that goes through all the major waterfalls to the P2 port where we then took a ferry back to our P3 starting point.
The above route was taken to reduce the uphill climb, as my 83-year-old grandfather joined us for the trail. The trail took us about six hours, at a leisurely pace.
While my grandfather went back to our accommodation to rest, a few of us continued on a trail around Lake Kozjak (trail eight) towards the P1 port and took a ferry to P2 port and set off on part of the number 12 trail before we had to turn back to catch the last ferry back to P3.
I must mention that the ferry ride is on low-noise and ecologically-friendly electric boats, which gives passengers the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of the magnificent lake. If you’re lucky, colourful small birds might fly on board to hitch a ride with you!
We then took a trail to the Veliki Slap Big Waterfall, as we weren’t able to catch a glimpse of it due to the closed trail. It was certainly an overwhelming sight at 78 meters high, the largest in the entire park.
Not only does the park have a gorgeous natural landscape, but it also has a variety of flora that are endemic to the area, such as, the narrow-leaved bellflower (Edraianthus tenuifolius), Thor’s buttercup (Ranunculus scutatus), and the Dalmatian scilla (Scilla litardierei).
There are also a number of endangered plant species in the park, so remember to not pluck the plants!
Many wildlife also calls the park their home. You can encounter (or hear) many species of birds, butterflies and several mammals. Among the mammals you can encounter are: the brown bear, wildcat, lynx, otter, wolf, deer etc. So be alert.
I visited the park in the end of April, which is considered low season. So there are times where you are wondering the trails alone, which is truly a magical feeling.
However, the weather during springtime can be quite cold. While I was there, the temperature ranged from two to 11°C.
Unfortunately, the weather during my hike was very cold and foggy, so some of the waterfall views were hindered by the layer of fog. But it did give a very mysterious feel to the park, which was just as captivating.
Like any adventure, it is important to be prepared. Bring adequate water, snacks and travel in a group. Although joining a tour is not necessary, as the trails are very clearly laid out and there are park rangers to give you advice on which trail to take.
Plitvice is what dreams are made of! If you’re ever in the region, I highly recommend you to visit the park.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own