Let’s Go Exploring! Plitvice and Split: Croatian History More Epic Than Game of Thrones

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It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re surrounded by a wonderland of pure joy that looks like this:

But somehow, I managed to do it. The cause? I’ll get to that in a minute.

We ended up in this slice of paradise that Wanderer affectionately refers to as “Banff on steroids,” due to unrelenting peer pressure. We were told by every Croatian we spoke to (including the immigration officer) that “you MUST go to Plitvice (pronounced “plit-vitz-eh”). You can’t leave Croatia without visiting it, so drop everything and go NOW!” Okay, okay, we’re going. Yeesh. Isn’t it just a big ass park with a bunch of blue-ish green lakes? What’s the big deal? (Spoiler alert: It is a big deal, as I will soon find out)

Also, Wanderer wanted to test out his brand spanking new stick-shift driving skills, so what better time to do it? My anxious brain worried about the 3-hour roundtrip drive from Zadar, mapping out every conceivable worse-case scenario, so to placate it, we proceeded to buy every auto insurance known to man just in case.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry. Even though we stalled 3 times, the Croatians were super patient each time, never honking or rushing us even once, despite stalling at a green light right before an intersection. If that had happened in Toronto, there would be so much road rage, profanity, and honking it would’ve shattered every eardrum within a 10-mile radius and made us swear off ever getting in a car again. So, if you ever want to learn how to drive stick, Zadar is the place to try it out. Plus, how can you stress when the views on the freeway look like this:

Surprisingly, the drive was stress-free but when we got to Plitvice, that’s when the real stress started. First, the parking (which costs extra, despite having already paid a queen’s ransom for entrance) isn’t so much of a parking lot as a forest where you find a random spot on a clump of dirt. And for the privilege of parking in such a well maintained and paved area, you get to pay by the hour! YAY!

PROTIP: If you end up visiting Plitvice, make sure you route Google Maps to “Plitvice ticket office entrance 1”, not just “Plitvice”. Otherwise, it’ll just pick a random spot in the massive park and cost you precious time (which you will desperately need, as I’ll explain later) as you drive around confused. Oh, did I mention the parking lot is still about a 10-15 min walk from the entrance? So, park in the forest, walk to the parking ticket booth, pay, then walk another 10 mins, go over a bridge across the street, and then finally get to the actual park entrance. Forget about it if you have mobility issues.

Just to make things even more confusing, there are 2 entrances to Plitvice.  The North entrance is Entrance 1 and the South entrance is Entrance 2. You’ll be able to see the whole park regardless of which entrance you start at. Some people prefer entrance 2 to avoid the crowds but I picked entrance 1 since you’re walking towards the waterfalls in the lower lakes. If you take entrance 2, you’ll have to—gasp—strain your neck by constantly turning your head around to look at the same waterfalls. Oh the horror!

To add to this skill-testing gauntlet, you’ll also need to also pick the right tour programs. There are 7 routes you can take to explore the park, as explained on the Plitvice website.

Here’s the thing about the Plitvice. It’s so big that it takes 5-6 hours to walk around the whole thing (with a free ferry ride thrown in). 8 if you end up choosing the most extensive route that covers every nook and cranny and skip the ferry.

So, if you pick the A, B, E, or F, you’ll explore only half of entire park and miss out on a lot of breathtaking scenery. This might be ideal for those with families though as it’s only a 2-3 hour trek instead of the 5-6 hours required to see the entire park.

Which brings me to why I was a growing an angry little pulsating vein in my forehead despite the exceptional beauty of my surroundings.

Because of all the different options, I needed to optimize. To the surprise of no one, my OCD optimizer brain decided to study the options like I was prepping for the SATs so I could maximize my viewpoints while minimizing walking distance.

That winning route turned to be C. For those who start at entrance 2, H is an acceptable alternative.


Turns out none of my efforts mattered because 4 hours into route C, we found out that part of the path was blocked off, and the shuttle which was supposed to take us the rest of the way back was “unavailable.” We would have to backtrack and walk for an extra 1.5 hours. We literally found this out from another traveller ahead of us, as there were no signs indicating this change anywhere along the trail. If they had mentioned it at the entrance, we could’ve picked a different route and it would’ve saved us a lot of time and exhaustion. Even though we were tired from walking 4 hours, it was near closing time, so we had no choice but to rush back rather than walk at a leisurely pace.  

Since I had spent so much time researching, I’d also planned to visit a special off-the-beaten-path photo spot, but there wasn’t enough time.

Despite the less-than-ideal communication, we still had a wonderful time in Plitvice and would recommend visiting it. Just make sure you arrive early enough (before noon) to avoid the crowds and give yourself ample time to get through any random gauntlets they might throw your way, just to keep you on your toes.

Now, let me leave you with some of the unbelievable scenery that we couldn’t believe wasn’t photo-shopped. Wanderer has been to Banff before, and he said this was better. The water was so clear you could see the scales on a fish at the bottom of the lake from the top of a hill. At one point I thought I was staring at liquified glass being poured over the ground…

After Plitvice, we went to Split, which coincidentally was also where a lot of Game of Thrones scenes were filmed.

Our first stop was Diocletian’s palace, which is 1700 years old and built as a retirement residence by one of Rome’s Greatest Emperor, but let’s be honest, most people just come here to see the dungeon where Daenerys kept her dragons:

I tried to avoid capturing all the people walking around now that it’s been turned into a touristy underground mall

Next up was the Kliss Fortress, also with fascinating history, but again, skipped in favour of fangirling over its role as the City of Meereen from—you guess it— Game of Thrones!

GOT city of Meereen scene
Exact spot where scene was filmed on Kliss fortress

Even if you’re not a GOT fan, going to the fortress and marvelling over the incredible views is well worth your time. Entrance is only 60KN ($7.80 USD) per person.

And if you’re interested, make sure you read the plaques on the wall, telling the brutal history of the fortress and the Uskok guerrilla fighters protecting the fortress, whose badass-idy would put even the Dothraki to shame. Their children threw stones at each other as soon as they could walk, spilling blood, and later joined their fathers in navigating dangerous traps at the ripe old age of 12 to educate themselves in the art of war. If you don’t think you could get your ass kicked by a newborn baby, the Uskok would be eager to prove you wrong.  

Armour is for wimps. Real warriors wear tights

PROTIP: To get to Kliss fortress, simply take Bus #22 from downtown Split. Wait at the bus stop near the National theatre and you can buy tickets on the bus. You can ask the kiosk attendant at the bus stop for the schedule. A round trip ticket costs only 13KN/person each way ($1.70 USD)

Even though Game of Thrones put Split on the map for most travellers, I was more fascinated by its real history and the 3500-year-old Sphinx (twice as old as the palace itself!) that just happened to be casually placed outside in open air, naked and unprotected from the elements and any idiot tourist who tries to sit on it. Which is why I’m shocked at how intact and well preserved it is.

I learned about this from the Split free walking tour, and our guide, Nelson, also told us that even though Croatians don’t earn high salaries by American or Canadian standards, they have a much better work life balance, and 90% even own property at a young age, which they inherited from family, and pay 0% property tax. Nelson’s own grandmother frequently complains about not having enough money for coffee but owns her own private island, which the family goes to on summer holidays. This explains why so many Croatians we met were so chill, happy, and friendly. They work to live rather than live to work.

Our guide showing us an aerial view of Diocletian’s palace
I’d be chilled too if I lived in a city that looks like this.

Nelson also told us the story of King Diocletian, one of the few Roman Emperors who wasn’t assassinated while in office and retired from his throne (usually the only way to retire from a job like that is in a wooden box). He was especially hated by Christians for ferociously persecuting them to the point of throwing them to the lions. But in an ironic twist of fate, after his death, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and as a final FU to Diocletian, Christians smashed the relics in his mausoleum, removed his body, and turned his tomb into the world’s first Christian church.

The octagonal shaped building is Diocletian’s tomb with a Christian bell tower built right next to it. Take that, Diocletian!

Lesson learned: Preach about “turning the other cheek” but then sledgehammer your enemies into dust when no one’s looking.

And you thought Game of Thrones was intense!

If you’re curious, here’s how much we spent in Plitvice and Split:

Category Cost in USD/couple per day Cost in CAD/couple per day Notes
Accomodations $0 $0 Since Zadar was within easy driving and busing distance from Plitvice and Split, we didn’t have to get another Airbnb. We just stayed in our Zadar Home Exchange for free. Generally, Airbnbs in Split will cost you around $50-$70 USD/night.
Food $22 $30 We spent very little on food for the 2 days because we knew we were going to be walking for 5 hours in the park with no restaurants except at the entrance so we brought leftovers from the previous day’s dinner. In Split, we just grabbed a sandwich at the bus station. You will likely spend way more than we did on food in Split. It might be a good idea to pack a lunch and snacks when you’re in Plitvice.
Transportation $78 $108 Transportation was the most expensive because renting the car cost us $54 USD (including insurance) for 1 day, $22 USD for gas, $3 USD for tolls (highly recommend as it cuts your drive by 30 mins each way, saving you money on gas and time), $5 USD for parking at Plitvice, and $4 USD for an Uber to go pick up the car in downtown Zadar.

On the 2nd day to Split, it cost us $28/person round trip to take the bus from Zadar to Split, $4 USD for the Uber to the bus station and $7 round trip for 2 by bus to go to the Kliss Fortress from downtown Split.

Entertainment $40 $56 Over the two days, entrance tickets to Plitvice cost us $23 USD each because it was shoulder season. The price doubles during high season. We tipped $9 USD/person for the walking tour and paid $8/ USD person for the Kliss fortress entrance.
Total $140/couple $194/couple Going to main attractions in Croatia isn’t cheap. The biggest cost is car rental, as there aren’t a lot of public transportation unless it’s high season, but then entrance ticket prices for Plitvice double and the crowds are insane. Luckily, since we stayed in Croatia for nearly a month and were able to use Home Exchange for free accommodations those costs were able to be amortized over a long period.

Announcement: We’ll be attending the Travel Summit in Toronto from Oct 28-29, 2022!

If you want to learn about travel hacking and how to fly first class and stay in luxury hotels for free, this is the summit that will teach you how. Here’s the schedule to see if any presentations are appealing to you:

Travel Summit Schedule

Use my affiliate code “MILLENNIAL” to get $50 off your ticket here (just type “MILLENNIAL” into the “coupon” field on the “Check out” page):

Hope to see you there!

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