Magical Plitvice Lakes in Winter
Monday, February 11, 2019
by Sagarika Mohanty
As a kid, I’d read stories by Hans Christian Anderson almost every day and then visualize the setting in my head. Little did I know that one day I would actually manage to visit a place worthy of being called a fairytale land or in today’s parlance, Winter Wonderland. Lake Plitvice ( Plitvička jezera) during the winters is a textbook fairytale-Think snow-clad mountains, Azure green frozen lakes, huge cascading waterfalls, and the most important part, not too many tourists blocking your view.
About Lake Plitvice
Plitvice Lake National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Croatia and is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. The national park consists of 16 lakes interconnected with a series of gorgeous waterfalls of varying heights. I have definitely not seen a place as beautiful as this and trying to put it in words is going to be a difficult task.
How to reach Lake Plitvice
Plitvice is located halfway between Zagreb (Croatia’s Capital) and Zadar (A gorgeous coastal city). A lot of people, especially the locals drive and come here. It surely is a lovely drive. My husband and I made a day trip to Plitvice from Zagreb and we took the bus. The buses in Croatia are very comfortable, run at regular intervals and are pocket-friendly too. You can book tickets in advance and have your seats reserved. Search for Croatia Bus ticket and you will get some reliable options. The sites provide options for various bus operators and also contain reviews of the bus which helps you make an informed choice. You can also go to the local bus station either in Zadar, Zagreb or even Split or Dubrovnik for that matter and book your ticket. The fare is around 8 USD one way. It takes about 2 hours to get to Plitvice from Zagreb. We took the 7:30 am bus and were at the gate by 9:45 am. We had booked return tickets and took the last bus out which was not the best thing to do in winters. It gets dark and desolate and there was not a soul around while we waited for our bus on the road, since the park had shut for the day a while back.
Things to Note
Plitvice is open all year round. There is an entry fee to enter the park which varies according to the season. From November to March (Winter), it is about 9USD which is the cheapest. In spring (April-June) and autumn (September-October), it is 23 USD and in summer (July-August) it is 39 USD. If you are on a tight budget like we were, then winter is the best time to go. The ticket price includes a trip on the boat and panoramic train if it is in operation. However, the downside of visiting in winter is that you cannot explore the entire park. The higher lakes are off-bounds in winter and you are allowed to only see the lower lakes which are spectacular too. There are 2 entrances to the park, Entrance 1 for the lower lakes and Entrance 2 for the higher lakes. Entrance 2 is closed during winter.
I believe in the summers there are a lot of restaurants and cafes open in the area, but in winters the options are limited. There was one cafe outside the park which was open. It is advisable to carry some snacks like sandwiches and some drinks with you so that you can have a small picnic for lunch. The pekaras (bakeries) in the Auto-bus station open quite early and have a variety of yummy snacks which you can pack.
Now for clothing. This is the section you need to pay close attention to. As it is, Croatia gets cold in the winters and the lakes in Plitvice are frozen so expect sub-zero temperatures. It gets really windy so make sure you have a warm jacket, a muffler and adequate headgear which covers the ears too. Proper footwear can a deciding factor at Plitvice in the winters. We wore ordinary hiking shoes and that was definitely not enough. This is because the pathways are covered in ice and there is a tendency to slip and skid. It is easy to walk on snow, but walking on ice is very tricky.
Going Around Plitvice Lake
After buying our tickets from the counter, we were pretty much on our own at the park. There is a fairly big map at the entrance which gives you a basic idea about where you can go. There is no option but to walk a fair bit if you want to explore the park. I was surprised to see groups of senior citizens cruising through the park effortlessly in their hiking gear. The terrain is actually not very difficult to manoeuvre. You have to walk down a hill on a gravel path and go to the boat station. Wait for the boat to arrive. Take a short round trip on the boat, then hop on to the wooden walkways to go from one lake to the other. In good weather conditions this is a cake walk, but when the pathways and the walkways are covered in ice it felt like a matter of life and death. We actually formed a human chain with a few tourists and held hands while walking downhill. There are no railings to take help of and it would have been really difficult to walk it down alone. The boat trip was ok. You can take a few photographs while on the boat. The real fun begins after that when you get on the wooden bridges. There are 4 lower lakes, all of which are connected by plunging waterfall. The largest is the Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall) and what a majestic sight it is to behold. Once you are done admiring that you go further down and reach the wooden walkways which you need to cross if you want to get up close and personal to the waterfalls. On one side of the walkway is a cliff and on the right side is the immense waterfall. My guts gave away somewhere in the middle and I did not go any further but I saw the rest of the people walking quite easily, some even with their pet dogs. It all comes down to the footwear I think. If your boots don’t slip on ice, you are good to go. Towards the end, I must confess I was terrified, but that takes nothing away from the beauty of this place. I have not seen a place so beautiful and so perfect. It truly was magical. Plitvice in Spring/Summer must be wonderful too and I believe there are a lot of tourists who visit then, plus the entry fees are almost double. I’m just happy to have seen this magical avatar of Plitvice in winter and Croatia became extra special for me post this trip.