Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
© Janne Kahila/Getty Image
Boardwalk over Balkan lakes. Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
In a country more famous for its coastline, about a million visitors each year venture inland to amble along these boardwalks and marvel at spectacular lakes and mountains. Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and largest of Croatia's national parks. The big attraction is the series of 16 descending, turquoise-colored lakes, connected by subterranean karst rivers, and above ground by streams and waterfalls. The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is created by the interplay of water, plant material, and bacteria. The water changes color from green to azure to gray depending on the angle of the light and the density of minerals and organisms in the water. About 11 miles of wooden boardwalk make it easy for people to wander among the lakes, falls, and caves that are open to visitors year-round.
The 115-square-mile park was established in 1949 in what is now central Croatia, near the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1979, Plitvice's unique beauty put it on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The lakes seem to magically disappear into the moss-covered earth, and then reappear downstream, proof enough that these woods are indeed enchanted.