Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most popular attractions in Croatia with its majestic waterfalls, tranquil lakes, turquoise blue and green waters, and unique terrain. For many years, Plitvice Lakes was a hidden treasure buried and hidden away in the Croatian countryside and mountains. While many Europeans have been known of its beauty for years, this UNESCO World Heritage sight have brought millions of people into this jaw dropping depression.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is located south of Zagreb between the Mala Kapela mountain range and the Plješevica mountain in the Dinaric mountain range, making it an easy drive from the capital city or the Adriatic coast. 16 lakes make up the upper and lower lakes as the calcium carbonate water flows through rivers, lakes, and waterfalls through the trees, moss, and dolomite and limestone rock foundations to produce one of the most stunning natural wonders in Europe.
Plitvice Lakes History
While people have inhabited this area for thousands of years, it has come under the rule of many empires and kingdoms. During the 6th century, Croats settled in the area and eventually took control defending this area against Mongols before establishing the kingdom of Croatia during medieval times. In 1102, they decided to join up with Hungary.
Over the next few hundred years, this area changed hands numerous times as the Ottomans and Hapsburg empires fought for control while Napoleon also ruled for a brief period. In the late 1800s, Croatia finally wrestled control away as Plitvice Lakes and the rest of Croatia were ruled by the Croats.
On April 8, 1949, Plitvice Lakes was designated a National Park which offered numerous protections for nature and wildlife in the area. In 1979, it was named as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites for its natural beauty.
During this time, Croatia was part of Yugoslavia which was ruled by the dictator Tito until 1980. However, the history of Yugoslavia changed in 1991 during the reign of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia. In March, the conflict among Serbs and Croats escalated resulting in the Plitvice Lakes Bloody Easter – the first shots of the Yugoslavia War were fired in the park. On June 25, 1991, Croatia once again proclaimed their independence as they fought a brutal war filled with genocide.
The park is home to a variety of wildlife species including brown bears, eagles, wolves, lynx, and a variety of birds. The abundance of beech, fir, and spruce trees in the dense forests around the lakes help these animals survive. Animals and trees are joined by a variety of flora and fauna as there are a number of different species of flowers and plants that are unique to this area.
The turquoise blue, green, and gray waters are a result of the sedimentation process from the limestone rock from the various rivers feeding into the park. As the waters wash the limestone into the waters, the calcium carbonate that forms helps give the water its unique color. Also, the sediments that are deposited result in chalk formations which settled and build. These formations are known as tufa or travertine. As these sediments build, they create barriers for the water as unique waterfalls flow over and around these new formations. As the sedimentation, limestone, rock, and water continue this cycle, there is an abundance of moss and vegetation that form giving Plitvice its unique look.
One of the most interesting pieces of information about this area is its place in movie history as it became the site of various spaghetti westerns which were filmed here during the 1960s. Karl May novels were transformed into the European version of American Westerns as Plitvice became home to many of these films, including The Treasure of Silver Lake. Even today, Croatians, Germans, and others who remember these films come to Plitvice not only for its beauty but for the cinematic history and film locations of these westerns.
Plitvice Lakes – A hidden gem of natural beauty
Before planning my visit to Croatia, I had never heard of Plitvice. Along with other wide-eyed tourists, I was able to explore the upper and lower lakes as we hiked from top to bottom. A boat took us across the biggest lake, Kozjak Lake, as we stopped along the island for a bite to eat before hiking along the wooden paths through waterfalls.
For anyone visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, the color of the water immersed among the fauna and forests adds to the serenity as many people walk in stunned silence at the beauty. Whether its the Veliki slap waterfall, the Galovački waterfall, the views of the Sastavci lake chain, or just the serenity and peace of these 16 lakes, waterfalls, and turquoise blue waters, visitors will leave knowing they discovered where Croatia’s treasure is buried.
If you love Plitvice Lakes, don’t miss out on another hidden gem of Eastern Europe in Lake Bled, Slovenia.