After a great stay in Sarajevo (easily in the top 3 of our favorite places in the Balkans), we had a packed day going to Plitvice Lakes National Park and then on to Zagreb. If you recall, we tried to get to Plitvice Lakes on the day we crossed the border from Slovenia to Croatia and got a flat tire. This was take two. We got up very early to be out the door around 0730. It would take about 5 hours to drive to Plitvice Lakes from Sarajevo, as we first had to drive north west in to Croatia, then pretty much straight north from Plitvice Lakes to Zagreb. Our original plan was simply to hypotenuse it.
The scenery along the way was really lovely, and the drive was perfectly smooth despite encountering several more police checkpoints and a ton of traffic police radar traps. We learned first hand to flash your lights to oncoming traffic if the police were nearby – seemingly its a universal human inclination to help one another avoid traffic cops!
Towards mid-morning we stopped at a gas station for coffee and a bathroom break, encountering clouds of indoor smoke as we did so. Soon after, we drove through a city called Jajce quite by accident and saw a magnificent waterfall in the foreground of a castle and old town. It looked so magical, and we wished we had time to stop. But we chose the Plitvice Lakes waterfalls over the Jajce waterfall, so our fate was sealed.
By late morning we were already about an hour away and starting to get in to the Bosnian side of the Plitvice Lakes park – it was called the Una National Park. Una was also the name of the river we had been driving next to for most of the day. We made a stop around the last town before the border to fill up and use the restroom. I couldn’t figure out which diesel to use at the pump – there was a regular diesel and a Euro diesel – so I was confused and trying to check the manual. A gas attendant came out, didn’t speak English, but was kind enough to choose for me.
The border crossing was pretty easy – 30 minutes max. Pretty soon we were entering Plitvice Lakes National Park, passing Entrance #2. We read in advance that Entrance #2 was a great way to beat the crowds since it was farther away from the main waterfall (but connected still via trails and transportation). But we decided to roll the dice and at least check out Entrance #1, which would put us closer immediately to use our limited time better. We estimated that we had about 3 hours, until 1600, to explore. Then it would be 2 hours to Zagreb and we had to get the rental car back before the Sixt office closed down.
We found parking easily at Plitvice Lakes Entrance #1 so we figured it would be easy to get in. We were wrong.
There was a long queue when we made it to the area to purchase tickets, and very unclear signage on what we were supposed to do. Brendan got in line while I investigated. Turns out, everyone was queuing up to buy tickets for the 1400-1500 entrance slot – the same entrance slot we would have bought in advance if we had not been uncertain about our arrival time. I encourage you to buy the tickets in advance – and you are only able to do so 48 hours in advance – if you have more predictability in your day.
While in the line, I decided to at least enjoy it by getting some beers from the cafeteria at the entrance. They fueled us once inside. We were able to get tickets, despite the long line and waiting for about 30 minutes until like box office opened at the bottom of the hour.
Once in, we immediately found ourselves sandwiched from tourists…from everywhere. But a healthy dose of Asian tour groups again alongside many others, including a Gate 1 tour group (the agency we went to Morocco with).
A short walk later we were overlooking the famous Plitvice Lakes waterfall that’s in all the pictures.
We decided to take the path down to the waterfall, which is the main trail through the Plitvice Lakes National Park. We definitely had to wade through a large amount of people moving slowly or stopped on a narrow walkway. It took much longer than it should have, and wondered what it was like on a “crowded” day. We were catching it in shoulder season on a Friday afternoon. The weather was really nice – much better than it was the day we were originally supposed to go.
Here are some pictures of our journey:
After we made it past the first lake, we decided to grab lunch at the grill on the property a short distance away. I had a burger and a beer, and Brendan (zero tolerance in Croatia) had a coke and a burger. It was a m’eh lunch but did the trick. The beer was good.
We wanted to do the entire lake loop, but that could take the entire day. Deciding we had seen enough to get a taste, we opted to leave still wanting more with time to explore Zagreb.
The walk was a bit faster because there was less to stop and see going through the interior – and a slightly bigger path with less clumps of people (although a few intractable tour groups still). We stopped for one last shot of the beautiful Plitvice Lakes.
Pro tip – take your parking ticket with you so you can pay at one of the machines before getting back to your car.
Double pro tip – maybe don’t pay for a parking ticket, because oddly the parking attendant opened the gate and let us out without even looking.
Two hours later on pristine Croatian toll roads, we were in Zagreb on plan.