When I was planning our trip to Plitvice National Park, one of Croatia’s most highly prized tourist destinations, I imagined frolicking around the park’s incredible pathways, gaping at the beauty around every turn, and quietly enjoying the park’s thousands of waterfalls. Well, there were certainly lots of waterfalls, but that’s about the only part I imagined correctly. We spent most of our time just trying to not fall off the ridiculously overcrowded pathways.
A well timed shot – this doesn’t look too bad!
We went to the national park on a crisp mid-September day. The host at the BnB we stayed at was also a part-time tour guide for the park so she gave us some insight and advice about things like what time to arrive (early! Like 8am!), which entrance to use (number two, they are fairly close to each other and she said most people head towards number one), and which pathway to take to maximize your waterfall to walking time (take the tram up to the top of the upper lakes and walk down, then take the ferry over to the lower lakes).
The upper lakes still not looking too bad!
We followed half of her advice correctly – we went to entrance two but not at the early hour she recommended. We got there around 11am, whoops. The arrival process was fairly simple, parking was a little less organized than I imagined. People just kind of haphazardly park their cars where ever they will fit in the forest area that is the parking lot. As soon as we started walking into the park, we noticed massive amounts of people entering with us, and I could tell we were going to have a huge problem.
A huuuuuge problem
The overcrowding was prevalent throughout the entire park. There are only a certain amount of walkways, and as most of them are about four feet wide raised wooden paths right above the water with no handrails, there’s not much/any room to step aside and wait for people to pass. Our host also gave us a bit of advice and suggested we take one of the longer routes to avoid some human congestion that we expected. When we first started, it wasn’t so bad, you could still take photos like this:
But soon we made it far enough along the long path to meet up with the shorter paths. Which meant catching up to bus loads of tour groups. It became rather annoying and difficult to walk on the paths. It was hard to enjoy the waterfalls when you are constantly making sure you aren’t about to be run over, or run someone over. We had heard tales of tourists falling off the paths and into the water, but we didn’t expect to actually need to defend our spots on the pathways so we didn’t go for accidental swims. (Swimming is prohibited for the record).The most congestion we faced was near the boats that carry people across the lower lake. We had to have been standing on the tiny little pier with 1,000 other people. That’s 2,000 elbows. Very unpleasant. With no clear way to line up or board the boats, people just pushed forward whenever a boat docked. I have no idea how the captain was able to count the proper amount of people, but time after time the perfect amount of people were able to find seats on the boat.
If it was possible to stop and not be mobbed, the waterfalls were quite beautiful. And there were just so damned many of them.
We found out later from our host that there were something like ten thousand visitors that day, more than she had ever imagined for September. My biggest advice for visiting the park is to go early, start at entrance two, and prepare yourself for an accidental swim.