Thursday morning we set an early alarm in order to get up, shower, check out of the hotel, take the tram to the bus station, and catch the first bus to Plitvice Lakes. We got to the bus station in plenty of time, purchased tickets at the counter, and went to the downstairs platform to wait for the bus. We stowed our large bags under the bus (7 kuna per bag) and asked the driver to let us off at the small village just outside the park where our campground was located.
The bus ride from Zagreb to Karlovac was rainy but otherwise uneventful. After Karlovac, the road became narrower and curvier as it wound through the countryside. In several places we noticed houses near the road that seemed to show damage from bullets and shrapnel which we assume was left over from the last civil war. Two signs along the road pointed out areas of German economic aid and we saw a memorial site with tanks and armored personnel carriers.
At about 10 a.m. our bus stopped at the village. One of the Croatian ladies in front of us said "not Plitvice, not Plitvice" as we got up to get off. We found this quite typical of most of the Croatians we encountered - friendly and helpful. We smiled, thanked her, and pointed to the Autocamp Korana campground across the street.
We checked in and were pleased with our little bungalow. We changed into hiking clothes and set off to the campground's information office. We asked the young man at the counter about the shuttle bus and he told us, "The bus leaves every day at 9 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m.". We then asked him if there was any other way to get to the park and he said, "sure you can take your own car." Little did he know it was over 6,000 miles away. When we explained this, he said, "Well you could try the public bus. It stops at the bus shelter just across from the campground entrance". We grabbed our daypacks and headed over to the bus shelter.
After several minutes, a taxi came by and offered to take us to the park for $50 kuna (about $10 US). A short cab ride down the road and we were at the park entrance where we purchased tickets. We also asked at the information desk about where we could catch the shuttle bus back to Autocamp Korana and where told that it stopped on the other side of the road, over the pedestrian bridge.
The park offers several pre-designated routes which are clearly marked on large maps along with the approximate time required to complete each route. At each trail junction, signs clearly indicate which path to take for each of the routes. After selecting one of the routes we headed off down the trail. Despite being an overcast, almost rainy, weekday there was quite a crowd on the trails.
Our hike took us along several of the lakes, past a number of waterfalls and small caves. At Jezeri Kozjak we stopped for a short rest and snack before boarding the electric boat that took us across the lake. Upon reaching the first stop, we decided to get off the boat and extend our hike further south. We continued south to the panoramic shuttle bus stop where we took the bus back to the second park entrance. From there, it was a short hike along the rim of the canyon back to the park entrance.
We arrived back at the first entrance with plenty of time to catch the shuttle back to Autocamp Korana. We crossed to the other side of the highway, made a few quick purchases at the gift shop, and staked out the parking lot where all the tour buses were parked as we weren't exactly sure where the shuttle bus would stop. About 5:15 I noticed a small bus stopping along the highway. I made my way back over to the bridge and noticed a small bus shelter with several people waiting inside. I asked about the shuttle bus to Autocamp Korana, and was told we had just missed it. The rest of the group was waiting for a bus back to Zagreb. I went back to the bus parking lot, grabbed Leslie, and joined the group back at the bus shelter.
After quite a wait, a Zagreb bus with seats available stopped. I asked the driver about getting a ride to Autocamp Korana, and for 10 kuna was able to get back to the camp.
We had a nice dinner at the camp restaurant. The food was good, the service was good, but we noticed that the check doesn't seem to come unless you ask for it.
After hearing from fellow travelers and reading in the guidebook that Croatian buses would not stop if they were full, we opted for an early start to Split. We had a nice continental breakfast at the camp restaurant. Our accommodations had included a charge for breakfast, but we apparently were not on the breakfast list so I paid our waitress for the meal. We stopped at the camp store and picked up some rolls, cheese and salami. We also noticed the shuttle bus sign at the information office. While waiting at the bus shelter the previous night we had thought that the bus stopped at the first entrance at 5:30 p.m. but the sign clearly showed it was 5:05 p.m.
At check-out we explained the mix-up about breakfast. The front gate staff called the restaurant and the manager drove up to the front gate to refund our meal.
Not wanting to risk having a bus full of Plitvice Lakes visitors pass us by at the Autocamp Korana stop, we opted to take the camp's shuttle bus to the park and then catch a bus to Split. When we arrived at the park, there was a steady rain so we spent some time at the cafe writing postcards until venturing out to the bus shelter by the side of the road. The bus to Split showed up about when we expected and, after the Plitvice Lakes passengers got off, there were plenty of seats available.
The bus headed south through the countryside and after 20 minutes or so stopped at a roadside restaurant were there were several other buses in the parking lot. The driver stood up and made an announcement in Croatian. He then pointed at his watch. By this time most of us had gathered that this was a rest stop and, from where he was pointing on his watch, that it would be about 30 minutes. The driver then held his arms straight out in front of himself with his fists closed. He alternately flashed with all ten fingers three times. Yup, 30 minutes.
After the break, the bus journey continued and a couple things became apparent. First, the bus was stopping at every little village and crossroads along the way. The second was that the bus was going to Split by way of Zadar. There are two buses from Zagreb to Split and we were on the slower of the two. We were in for a long ride.
At one point during the trip, the bus came around a bend and there was a long straight stretch of road in front of us. A two or three cars had pull out to pass and were headed straight for the bus. All but one of the cars quickly pulled back into their lane while the last car continued to pass. Sitting only 2 or 3 seats behind the driver, I had a pretty good view of the oncoming car and as it drew closer, I muttered an epithet - just as the car pulled back into his lane.
A few miles down the road, we were driving up a particularly curvy stretch of roadway when a little blue Renault came zipping around the corner, well across the centerline of the road. The right rear wheel of the bus actually clipped the curb as the bus driver hit his brakes and pulled to the right as the Renault swung wide to miss the bus. The German guy behind me must have been watching because he exclaimed, "Scheiße!" as the two vehicles squeezed by.
Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the co-driver picked up his cell phone and place a call. Several minutes down the road, the bus pulled up to an intersection. There was a gray Mercedes parked in the oncoming lane with several people in the car. When the bus stopped at the stop sign, one of the people got out of the Mercedes and walked to the bus door while the co-driver retrieved a package from above his seat. The bus driver and the Mercedes driver chatted for several minutes while the co-driver handed the package to the man from the Mercedes.
We finally reached the coast and the town of Zadar. Again the bus driver stood up, made the announcement in Croatia, pointed to his watch, and flashed 10 fingers three times. Yup, 30 minute break. We purchased ice cream cones at a little shop in the bus station while we waited.
After our break at Zadar we continued down the coast. At one point, a man got up from his seat, walked to the front of the bus and started talking with the driver. The bus got off the highway and the man got off the bus at the next intersection - which didn't seem to have the usual bench and bus shelter. The bus continued northward (the opposite direction of Split) and we assumed the driver was looking to get back on the highway. We were surprised and a little disappointed when the bus pulled in to the local bus station. Jokingly, I held my hands out in front of me and started flashing my fingers. The German girl behind us noticed this and said
Nein, Nein. Ich bin gleich aus dem Fenster!
If he does that I will jump out of the window and walk to Split!
Luckily there was no 30 minute break and the bus continued south along the coast towards Split.
More Plitvice Lakes photos
Map showing location of Plitvice Lakes photos
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