A Day in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Lisa and I have been driving up the coast of Croatia for several days now. The Roman influence on culture and architecture in Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar has been very impressive. It is now time, however, to head inland for the first time in Croatia to see what I've been told is a natural treasure. We arrive in Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the waterfall havens of the world. I love UNESCO World Heritage sites, and this made it to the register in 1979.

We approach the park through a mountainous karst area in central Croatia that borders Boznia and Herzegovina. Ascending a north-south road connection, the Adriatic coastal region is left behind as we enter the Croatian inland.

While the weather has been spectacular on our trip so far, it looks like our luck is about to end. It's pouring rain, and touring the waterfalls is an impossibility right now. We hunker down for the night as I listen to what sounds like a deluge pounding on the window of our hotel room. It looks like I will be reading my book and post-processing my pictures for a while.

Remarkably, the rain eventually subsides, and we head out to the hiking trails. I'm told by our guide that there are 16 lakes that have formed from the confluence of several small rivers. These basins are separated by natural dams composed of travertine, a form of limestone. The travertine barriers have been designed by the interplay between water, air and plants. Moss, algae and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, forming boundaries that grow at a rate of about 1 cm per year. The end result has been the creation of beautiful lakes, caves and waterfalls, a geological process that continues today.

It takes about 6 hours to explore the lakes on foot. The park consists of 2 sections, referred to as the upper and lower lakes. We have gotten a late start today because of the weather, making a hike through the lower lakes our goal for the day.

Most obvious to me as we explore the trails are the distinctive colors that seem to be constantly changing. Depending on the angle of the sunlight as it hits the mineral and organism rich waters, shades of azure, green, grey and blue make this park a phenomenon to behold!

The highest waterfall we see is known as the Veliki slap, most notable at the end of the Lower Lakes. The Plitvica river flows over this precipice at a height of 78 meters. The water drains into multiple canyons below where smaller waterfalls form.

This area is biodiverse, the result of the particular geographic position of the lakes together with specific climate features. Due to the Velebit mountain range, the weather patterns in Plitvice Lakes is separated from that of the coastal region. The National Park is situated in the Plitvice plateau, and is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. As a result of this environment, the availability of water is greatly influenced by the configuration of the terrain. This has an important effect on the diversity among and within plant and animal species within this domain.

Having photographed the waterfalls, we are now on the lookout for the fascinating flora and fauna in this area. Plitvice Lakes is far away from the noise and pollution of some of Croatia's industrial areas, and consequently, are well preserved.  We see beech, spruce and fir forests that are a mixture of Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation. I'm also searching for European brown bear, wolf and eagle. Unfortunately, they are not visible today, either due to the time of day, weather conditions or avoidance of humans.

We start wrapping up our hike due to darkness. As I record my thoughts in my notebook and review my photos, it is quite clear to me that missing Plitvice National Park on a trip to Croatia would be a big mistake. Getting here took extra effort, but was well worth it. Anyway, the packing begins for a trip to Zagreb tomorrow.