The Most Photogenic Places on Earth Part I - Plitvice Lakes

This is my first installment in a planned series of travel articles on some of the most photogenic places on the planet that you simply have to visit. For this entry, I want to focus on Croatia's gem - Plitvice Lakes National Park. I stumbled across a photo of this place a couple years ago and just fell in love with it. During my last European trip, I found a way to work it into my itinerary (actually I redesigned my itinerary to make it happen) because either the photos I saw were fake or this place was as close as we get to heaven on earth and I had to see it for myself.

After my day hiking the lakes, I've decided it is indeed the later of the two. I remember one specific moment, after turning a bend on the trail and walking towards a roaring wall of waterfalls that stretched as far as I could see that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I kept going along the boardwalk, which takes you close enough to get in the middle of the mist and feel the power of endless waterfalls dropping right in your face. I snapped more and more pictures and even took a video and it was here that I stopped and realized I was surrounded by pure beauty on a level I've never seen before - overwhelmed by this incredible feeling that I was seeing one of the most special places on earth. I knew I was doing something right with my life. I couldn't help but smile and say thanks to God. I want to not only share my experience with the world, but help you enjoy one of the earth's truly special places. Whether you go here for a day or choose the lakes as one of the coolest destination weddings on earth - it's something that just needs to be seen in person with your own two eyes to fully comprehend how amazing it is.

Surprisingly, there isn't a ton of information available on getting there. Maybe it's just due to the fact the Croatia is, in a way, isolated from the rest of Europe's more well known travel hubs. I found that using Zagreb as my base camp was the easiest and most price-effective way of getting to the park (there are hotels on the park grounds, but staying there would be a true splurge).

Buses from Zagreb run frequently throughout the day in both directions to and from the park. You can find the bus timetables from Zagreb online. Most of the locations listed will be in Croatian, so type in PLITVIČKA JEZERA for Plitvice Lakes, Zagreb is simply Zagreb). The bus will take about two hours passing through some beautiful Croatian countryside and Rastoke, an amazing village built on top of waterfalls, which looked like something straight out of a fairy tale.

You can also get to the park easily by car if taking a bus isn't your cup of coffee. Pick up a rental in any of the bigger Croatian cities and the park is reachable within a few hours!

I'd plan on spending the better part of the day in the park. We took the second to last departure back to Zagreb which was around 5PM in the springtime after arriving there just after 9AM. The park is divided into two sections - the upper and lower lakes. Both are must sees. Don't even think about leaving without going to both sections. Seriously, don't do it.

I felt the hiking was better and more intimate with the falls and nature on the upper side, but the lower side offers incredible views of the biggest waterfall in the park as well as aerial views of the emerald green river. There is a shuttle boat service included with your entry pass that takes you between the upper and lower lakes. It runs often but can fill up quickly, even in the off season!

When to go?
There really isn't a 'best' time to see Plitvice Lakes. They are all incredible, I'm sure. I haven't had the opportunity to visit the park  during the winter, but the images I've seen capture a winter paradise. Springtime is great because the mountain air starts to warm up, and the park is still relatively quiet (it gets much busier in the summer!). We did have to deal with some flooded trails that were closed due to the lakes rising from the snow melt during my mid April visit.

What to bring
The hiking isn't too strenuous, but you'll be on your feet a lot. You also might get a little wet, so if you've got waterproof shoes, bring 'em along. It can be chilly in the park too. Bring some drinks and snacks and take a break at one of the hundreds of pristine viewpoints along the trail. Bring your fully charged camera and an extra battery if you have one - I can't emphasize that enough. Everywhere you turn is something worth photographing. A day here is worth hundreds of pictures.

If you've been to Plitvice, I'd love to hear your stories and please drop a comment with any questions/concerns about planning a trip to the park!

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