(Post originally submitted to AFAR magazine.)
At the end of our one-month summer vacation through Europe, we had had enough of the heat and crowds of touristy cities. We longed for open space and fresh air. After an overnight stay at a nearby pension, my family and I finally arrived early morning at this long-awaited, breathtaking wonder of nature.
The photos on the travel websites were real! The lakes are a stunning palette of emerald, turquoise and azure blue. Crystal clear waters show off the abundance of trout. The waterfalls, of varying heights, surprise you around the bend, and flow nonstop as if the turn-off valve had broken. Close your eyes and hear the gurgling. Butterflies with velvet blue wings flutter by. Ducks float quietly over the trout. Limestone provides a nice contrast in color and texture to moss and algae.
We easily explored the connection of lakes by shuttle bus, ferry and boardwalks. These walkways allowed us to traverse the lakes, while in other areas, protect plants from foot traffic. Plitvice Lakes National Park, the largest in Croatia, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Though it has attracted many tourists over the years, it is excellently maintained — no trash lying around, swimming and fishing are forbidden, no cars allowed inside.
We have been back in California for a few weeks now. Of the 8,000 photos we took on our trip, only one has been framed and sits in a prominent spot in our living room. With a glimpse of the blue-green water, I smile at the memory.
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