Protected Areas in Croatia: Unveiling the Best National Parks
Croatia, a small country with vast diversity, offers a rich tapestry of natural wonders. The unique climate variations have given rise to extraordinary geodiversity and biodiversity, earning Croatia the title of “Heaven on Earth.” Over the last 2,400 years, many cultures have sought to conquer this enchanting part of Europe. Today, nearly 10% of Croatia’s territory is protected under nine different categories of protected areas, with National Parks being the most sought-after. Croatia boasts eight National Parks, among which three are stunning archipelagos nestled in the Adriatic Sea, while the remaining five are awe-inspiring destinations located on the mainland. Determining the most beautiful National Park in Croatia is no easy task, but Plitvice Lakes and Mljet stand out as unparalleled gems.
The One and Only Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia’s oldest, largest, and most visited National Park, holds a special place in the hearts of Croatians. This natural wonder was crucially founded with the guidance of Dr. sc. Ivo Pevalek (biologist), who famously stated: “There are many mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes in the World, but there is only one Plitvice Lakes.” (Check out this video of Plitvice Lakes). The picturesque images and videos of the lakes pale in comparison to the mesmerizing live impression of the lakes and waterfalls experienced during a visit. Recognized as a National Park in 1949, Plitvice Lakes gained international acclaim when it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979. While over 80% of the park comprises mountains and forests, home to diverse wildlife, the lakes, occupying less than 1% of the total area, are the most cherished and unique features of this mesmerizing corner of Croatia.
Exploring the Lakes: A Nature Lover’s Dream
The lakes are divided into the upper and lower sections, each with its distinct appeal. The upper lakes, featuring 12 dolomite-made lakes, are accessible through wooden trails and bridges constructed in 1888. On the other hand, the lower lakes, characterized by a canyon-like landscape with vertical limestone banks, boast four lakes and wooden trails constructed in 1894. The lower lakes’ stunning water color, a result of light reflection off the white-gray limestone and the lush green forest, captivates visitors. Meanwhile, the upper lakes offer awe-inspiring trails through tuff barriers, natural dams responsible for creating these magnificent lakes. The lakes are fed by two small rivers, the Black and White rivers, with numerous small streams replenishing the upper lakes. The origin of these natural wonders remains shrouded in mystery, leading some to believe that this enchanting place was created by a higher power. Counting the numerous waterfalls and small lakes in the park becomes an enjoyable challenge for most visitors, making Plitvice Lakes a must-visit destination for a lifetime.
Mljet National Park: The Oldest Marine Sanctuary in the Mediterranean
Mljet National Park proudly holds the prestigious title of being the oldest marine national park in the Mediterranean. Designated as a National Park in 1960, one-third of this captivating Adriatic Sea island enjoys protection. Mljet is celebrated as the greenest island in Croatia, boasting breathtaking limestone coasts, small islands, and imposing cliffs along the open sea (Check out this video of Mljet National Park). The Small and Great Lakes, Malo and Veliko jezero, are the park’s most iconic attractions. These two lakes, forming deep bays divided by a shallow passage, were modified by human hands in the last few centuries. Widened channels between the lakes and the open sea were created to build a watermill that harnessed the power of tidal currents—a phenomenon unique to this part of Croatia. While Dalmatia typically experiences a tidal difference of just over 1 foot, Mljet’s tidal currents offer a rare sight for visitors. Inhabited since Roman times, Mljet is steeped in history, including the legend of Odysseus spending seven years here with Calypso. Visiting this island and encountering a Dalmatian girl may make the legend of Odysseus more believable.
An Island within an Island: Saint Mary’s Island
The Great Lake of Mljet boasts an island housing the Benedictine monastery with the Church of Saint Mary. Constructed in the 12th century, the monastery was maintained by Benedictine monks, following the Rule of Saint Benedict, until the early 19th century. However, during Napoleon’s rule, the monastery was closed in 1809. Since then, the island has passed through various owners, eventually being converted into an exclusive hotel during Tito’s Yugoslavia in the 1960s. Today, the Church, Diocese of Dubrovnik, administers the monastery after the Homeland War. The easiest way to visit this unique island is by an electric boat cruise on the Great Lake. Most visitors choose to explore the island on foot and visit the monastery. Swimming in the calm and transparent salty lake and enjoying refreshing drinks at the restaurant by the monastery crown the visit to Saint Mary’s Island, the most sought-after attraction of Mljet National Park.
Explore Protected Areas in Croatia: An Unforgettable Walking Tour
Embark on the Explore Croatia walking tour to visit the top two National Parks in the country: Plitvice Lakes and Mljet. With a knowledgeable local guide, you’ll discover fascinating details about these enchanting locations, teeming with history and untouched nature. Beyond these protected areas, you’ll be enthralled by the breathtaking beauty of Croatia’s diverse landscape. Known as a hidden gem in the Mediterranean, Croatia beckons you to explore its natural wonders. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the magic of Croatia.
- Discover Croatia’s Top National Parks: Plitvice and Mljet - July 25, 2023