Plitvice Lakes is a Beautiful Mess

Of all the places I had been looking forward to in Europe, Plitvice Lakes was the most anticipated. Beautiful images of Plitvice Lakes have been circulating around the internet for years now, and i had been dying to get a photo or two myself.  However, when i got there my fun was saddled by rain and disorganization; but mostly disorganization

With only about 6 hours in the National Park, I was hoping to make the most of my time. Instead, I spent my time navigating the obstacles of the park’s complete lack of organization.  For a place that grabs so much money, the park is managed embarrassingly.
When we entered the park, the information woman offered an itinerary featuring long walks on the road away from the falls. The map that was handed out was out of scale, showed no distances and offered no information at all.

Along the trails themselves, things were even more miserable. Many of the paths were submerged under water due to rains, but there was no signage in place to warn people. You could walk 20 minutes and be forced to return. Moreover, the signage on the trail gives no indication of distance or time walking the points indicated. Tourists have no idea how long it will take them to get from point A to point B.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

There is a bus that runs occasionally up and down the park, but even that is borderline disgraceful. Rather than stopping at points of interest along the trail, it basically just goes to the start and finish. Tourists are offer left to walk long distances on the road or hope the bus driver is nice enough to drop you off somewhere, and he wasn’t willing when we were there.

There is no doubt that Plitvice Lakes is beautiful. But for the 6 hours I had in the park, I would guess that no more than an hour and a half was spent in points of interest. The rest was spent trying to navigate the system and getting between places. I honestly felt like I wasted a chance to see one of the most beautiful places in the world, and that’s a shame.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

How Plitvice Lakes Needs to be Improved

  • Give Visitors Proper Maps: at the moment they are just given a tiny map on their ticket with no indication of time/distance.
  • Improve Signage: Add more signs on the trail. Also, add distance and estimated walking time.
  • Improve links between road and paths: The road and paths are hardly connected meaning that people walking on the road are left to scamper up steep sections. There should be stairs built in key spots.
  • Improve the Transportation System: The one bus they have now is fine, although it’s way too slow. The problem is it never stops in places it should since there is no link between the road and the paths. Moreover, schedules need to be added to the stop boards.  People have no idea when the next bus is scheduled to come.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia-4

My Advice for visiting Plitvice Lakes in a Day

  • If coming from Zagreb, book a transfer or tour with Day and Night Hostel.
  • Upon arrival immediately do the bottom section of the park. Walk to the main road and the bus stop there. Then catch the shuttle bus all the way to the end of the park and walk back towards the start.
  • Don’t waste you’re time with the boat, it’s slow and only goes every hour.
  • Pack a lunch. Eating at the restaurants will be slow and expensive. Just do a picnic instead.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Conclusions

Obviously Plitvice Lakes is amazing and worthy of the attention it is getting. Even with the rain and fog, I was amazed at the parts of the National Park I saw. However, for a National Park parading itself as a world class destination, it is more poorly organized and operated than most other parks in the world. I’d love to visit Plitvice Lakes again knowing what I know now, but visitors deserve better value for what they are currently paying.

National Park fees are meant to go towards the preservation of the park and the improvement of park facilities.With over 1.1 million visitors each year, an adult ticket costing about $15 in the low season and $20 in the high, one can estimate the park brings in a gross of around 12-15 million USD a year, and they can’t afford signage or maps?  At Plitvice Lakes, one has to wonder where the vast amounts of money that are dropped into the park are going now, because it certainly isn’t going back into the park’s preservation and it’s infrastructure.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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6 Comments

  1. I cannot agree more with everything you’ve written. Clearly they should and could improve so many things. Luckily, you still managed to capture some amazing photos. I could just imagine what you’d come with if you didn’t waste your time trying to navigate the system and getting between places. Lovely photos!

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    • Problem is, Frank, I think they’re using the tourism money to put into the government coffers, whether to reduce deficit or line their pockets. National Park money should, go back into preserving the parks. In most countries all the money from the park, plus some public funds, go into the parks. Here, I highly doubt that to be the case.

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  2. nature is main focus of plitvice lakes, wooden trails already disturbed that…this park should limit number of visitors and make it less commercial….your ideas are ok (adding distance to maps…) but don’t forget that there are tons of people who enjoy slippery walks and just wondering around…. plitvice aren’t man maid attraction, wild beauty should stay rural as possible.

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    • I don’t disagree with you. I’d love to see them limit the number of people allowed in each day. However, I can’t see that happening right now at Plitvice, they seem too interested in earning from tourists.
      If they can’t limit the people, they need to do a better job of creating places that tourists can and can’t go. The way it’s set up now, tourists end up way off path, which does nothing to limit the impact. For nature and tourists to go together. A good example of well-established infrastructure is Iguazu Falls in Argentina.
      But, as I mentioned, I don’t think there’s much interest in protecting nature in Plitvice from the management, they seem so disinterested in all regards.

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  3. I too was frustrated with the maps but you weren’t in the United States. That sort of Western thinking is why I call myself a traveler and not a tourist. Expecting things as if you were at home is a waste of time and quite frankly makes you sound like a whiney American (the worst kind of person). We had rain and submerged decks, but since my expectations in a country less than 25 years old are realistic, I don’t have to complain. Getting lost was part of fun. We did the entire trail from entrance 1 to entrance 1 and some other sights with the rain. You made the choice to complain and ise a shuttle bus instead of hiking the whole thing. And yeah, it was the prettiest place I’d ever been.

    Post a Reply
    • Man, why would I be in the United States? I’m not American. It’s such an American thing for you to assume that everyone is American.
      Also, I didn’t spend my time complaining. I spent my time hiking, why would you assume that I just sat under a tree complaining.
      Look, I know this isn’t the fully developed world. I understand that. However, if you’re going to bill the place as world-class and charge world-class prices, people are going to expect world-class services. That’s the issue.
      I’m in China now, and the parks charge 1/2 these prices and are 1000x more developed. I’m tired of people using the “You’re not in America” line. I’m a journalist, as well as a traveller, and my job is to call it as I see it. And I see it as a complete mess. One of the most beautiful places on the planet, but an absolute mess, and this is meant to be a point of pride for Croatians, instead, many are embarrassed by how it’s managed.

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