Croatia: Plitvice Lakes to Dubrovnik road trip, in photos

In our first week in Croatia, we’ve seen natural wonders and man-made monstrosities, condensed medieval cities and wide expanses of open country. The route? Starting at Plitvice Lakes National Park, heading south past Zadar to Split, along the coast to Ploce, across a strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then on to the Dalmatian crown jewel of Dubrovnik. Here’s what to expect:

 

Plitvice Lakes National Park

 

Croatia's Plitvice lower lakes, seen from above

 

The water of the Plitvice (pronounced “pliht VITCH uh”) Lakes is so pristine, no swimming is allowed. That’s a recipe for torture on a hot summer day, but you really can’t blame the park rangers. After all, this place is paradise! Lake after lake cascades to the one below it in a series of waterfalls, and the wooden boardwalks bring you under foliage, through caves and up to lookouts like this one.

Limited time? Visit the “Lower Lakes” for the wow factor. We followed the advice of a local, and arrived early … but not too early. The park opens at 7:00 a.m., and the most eager tourists are there banging on gates. We arrived about 9:00 a.m. (late enough to avoid the initial rush; early enough to beat the tour busses) to Entrance No. 2; took the boat from the stop labeled P1 to P2 and then P3; walked up along the path labeled “sightseeing” (and were especially grateful when we could walk DOWN the steps by the largest waterfall, not up!); explored the lower paths at water level, then hiked up to bus stop ST1 for a ride back to ST2 near our starting point.

 

Split

 

When we say people in Split like to stay at the beach late, we mean late!

 

Late night bathers in Split

Split’s old town is set among the ruins of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s palace. At night, crowds gather near the Cafe Luxor to hear live music. What a setting!

Crowds gather in Split to hear musicians near the entrance to Diocletian's private residence

Dalmatian Coast

 

Croatia’s Magistrala 8 (Highway 8) along the Dalmatian Coast south of Split is home to the kind of ugly overcrowding you hope will never happen to pretty beach villages. All day, people wait with signs advertising their apartments for rent.

 

Croatia's Highway 8 along the Dalmatian Coast

 

Once you see the coast that these buildings frame, you begin to understand why they actually fill up….

 

Croatia hidden cove

 

Further down the coast you find wide, empty spaces, with deserted beaches (even in July)…

 

Croatia's Highway 8 along the Dalmatian Coast

 

…and cute towns as you get closer to Dubrovnik.

 

Zaton Croatia

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

The Croatian Coast is broken in one point by Bosnia and Herzegovina‘s only sea access. The border crossing consisted of a cursory glance at our passports, and left me pouting that I didn’t get a stamp. Until we saw this roadside grill…. I mean, who can stay mad at a country that keeps their coals burning throughout the day?

 

Roadside grill in Bosnia Herzegovina

 

And inside? Even better: a homey heat box of a restaurant, materializing as if by magic from decades past:

 

Roadside restaurant in Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Dubrovnik

 

And finally, the moment we’ve all been awaiting arrives: regal Dubrovnik.

 

Dubrovnik from above

 

Truth: it’s hard to feel regal when you’re jostling for space with thousands upon thousands of tourists huffing along the city’s stairs under a blistering summer sun. If you can’t hit this city in off-season, then try to spend most of your time viewing it from a distance. Later on, long after the sun has set, sneak in for an otherworldly experience. It will feel as if it’s just you, the city cats, and history:

 

Night view of stairs to Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Dubrovnik

 


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Comments

  1. Kristen says:

    I admit, I never gave much thought to this part of the world. But your photos are breathtaking and your descriptions oh, so intriguing. Another spot for my bucket list. Thank you for enlightening me!

  2. When we toured Dubrovnik and the outlying area, it was May and was very warm, even then — and lots of tourists. Many were from the cruise ships. However, it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the country and we definitely would like to go back. Reminded us a lot of our coast around Carmel/Monterey. Of course, without all that history!

  3. Interesting. I’ve been telling myself that May would have been a quieter time, but perhaps not. I guess everyone is placing Dubrovnik way up high on their list.

  4. Wow, awesome photos! Croatia is definitely on my places to hit, and I think now is the perfect time as people are just starting to realize how beautiful it really is!!

  5. Beautiful, yes. Unfortunately the “just starting” is not so much. I was blown away by the tourist crowds! Americans might tend to stick to Dubrovnik, but Europeans and Australians have definitely discovered the rest of the country, and Asians sure seem to know about Plitvice. I’ve got a post coming soon on this very topic 🙂

  6. You are truly the best travel blogger in the world. Every time you go somewhere new, I want to visit it. Ta-da, Croatia is on the travel bucket list!

    PS: My bank account is asking that you make Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or anywhere in the continental United States look enticing.

  7. Too funny! I don’t think the continental U.S. is in the cards: we’re conquering Asia next. But definitely check out these two past posts: Miami Beach: Glitz, Glam and Great Parking and California’s Pacific Coast Highway: Dramamine Drive in Photos.

    Btw, check back next week for more on Croatia. Sometimes, a picture isn’t worth a thousand words…

  8. We’re dying to go Plitvice! So beautiful! This picture of it almost doesn’t seem real: http://goo.gl/2yRl6. Thanks for the great account of your road trip!

  9. The falls are fuller in the spring, like anywhere, but absolutely astounding any time of the year!

  10. Hey your photos are stunning I have been looking at a trip but his long is it from lakes to dub? Did you do it over 2 weeks? Any advice on best way to travel? Thanks

  11. Hi Laura, it only takes about 6 hours to get from the lakes to Dubrovnik on the (toll) freeway. If you drive along the coast you’ll need to double that because of stoplights. We stayed overnight in Split on our way down, a couple nights in the Dubrovnik area, and then spent the rest of our ten days winding slowly back up from Dubrovnik to Zadar and exploring the Peljesac Peninsula and Korcula.

    We enjoyed having a car because we could turn off the main roads and discover these hidden villages. Public transportation is available, but be sure to check your exact dates because some routes don’t run in the off season (that’s the same with ferries).

    My main advice would be to avoid this area during the high summer season, since being there in July inspired me to write this!

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