The first thing that comes to people’s mind when thinking of Croatia are the beautiful beaches and walled cities of the coast but the country has beautiful national parks inland as well. Plitvice National Park is easily the most famous but Krka National Park seems to be getting a lot of attention lately as well, we visited both after leaving Drubrovnik. Both parks have amazing waterfalls and winding paths that take you right on top of the blue-green water. But which should you visit? Take a look at the photos below but spoiler alert, my answer is both! Also, view more photos on my photography site.
Plitvice is the more famous of the two parks, photos of its beautiful waterfalls are all over Pinterest. But we heard Krka is much less crowded AND you can swim in the pool at the bottom of Skradinski Buk. We arrived a little after 9am and the parking lot didn’t have many cars which seemed like a good sign. It’s a 20 minute walk to the actual pools from the parking lot (a shuttle is available) and we walked immediately to the paths. I really wanted to get shots before too many people were around but already there were groups of people walking through sticking their giant ipads in the way of my shots. Another issue I didn’t consider was the vibration from people walking ruining slow shutter-speed shots.
A small waterfall in Krka National Park, Croatia
Looking down at the pools of Krka National Park
George & Cindy walking through the paths of Krka National Park
The colorful water under a walkway in Krka National Park
It didn’t even dawn on me that when driving from Dubrovnik to Trogir, our next stop, we’d have to pass through a tiny little piece of Bosnia that reaches the coast until our trip began. The Balkans have experienced countless wars over the centuries one of which was the Austro-Ottoman War. The war ended in 1699 with the Treaty of Karlowitz creating the majority of the borders in the area that exist still today. The border crossing in and out of Bosnia turned out to be trivial, they looked at our passports quickly and didn’t need to see paperwork for our rental car. The only restaurants or hotels that exist on the 20km of stretch of land is the small town of Neum. The little resort town is cheaper than surrounding Croatia and we ate a delicious café (Restoran Bonaca) overlooking the ocean. Excellent and cheap seafood – definitely the ideal lunch spot if driving between Dubrovnik and Split/Trogir.
Restoran Bonaca is a great restaurant in Neum with a beautiful view
Trogir itself is very close to Split, one of Croatia’s largest cities. Split gets more tourists than Trogir and is supposedly a very nice city but Trogir was absolutely perfect for us. Trogir itself is a tiny little medieval town (and a UNESCO World Heritage site) on an island wedged between the mainland and a larger island in the Adriatic. Our AirBNB was in a great spot just across the bridge from the Old Town and was an easy walk (AirBNB is a great option for Trogir, there are very few hotels.) Trogir is great to walk around at night and so small you can become familiar with it in just an hour or so. The first night we ate dinner at a pretty forgettable place but the second night we ate at what would end up being my second favorite restaurant of the trip. Kristian Pizza is truly amazing. The food and service were so great we ended up going back a second night. The restaurant is family owned, the father walks around greeting everybody and the son was our server. I would eat the seafood gnocchi and the homemade pasta everyday – please excuse the gratuitous food photos here.
Between traveling and dealing with the chaos here (maybe I’ll write about that later but when I sit down to think about it I just get aggravated) I’ve had little time to post the rest of the photos from our Europe trip. With our next Europe trip just two weeks away (I promise we do work!) I’m going to try to get caught up.
High on our list of places to visit in the Balkans was Dubrovnik. Yes, it’s touristy but everyone I know who went has loved it. Plus, with three of the four of being big ‘Game of Thrones’ fans we had to see King’s Landing for ourselves.
From Kotor, we hired the same driver to take us to Dubrovnik and after a bit of confusion finding our AirBNB we managed to locate it and check in. The owners were a charming older couple who took quite a bit of time making sure we knew every single little detail about the home – maybe overly friendly but not that surprisingly given how friendly we found people in the Balkans to be. As soon as we checked in we walked to the Old Town to take a look. All of the old walled cities along the Dalmatian Coast are similar but this one was much larger than Kotor.
The entrance to the old town of Dubrovnik
Apparently there are two species of turtles that live in the area. I had no idea until I came across this guy
Escaping the crowded main drags of the Dubrovnik you find quiet spots like this
There are several spots in Kyrgyzstan that come up over and over on traveler’s lists, Song Kol is definitely a big one. Despite it being barely two hours away, we had yet to visit it so I arranged a trip for a quick weekend trip. Six of us headed up early on a Saturday and stayed in one of the many yurts. The trip was nice but to be honest, there are many better places in Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps it’s just easily accessible so many tourists go but if you’re time is limited, I’d skip it. If you do have the time, Song Kol is worth seeing but I’d stay just one night unless there is a festival going on.
Here are some Song Kol photos from our trip:
There is no shortage of yurts at Song Kul
An going series of photos I call ‘Trash Cow’
Tay and I at Song Kul
The sight of Song Kul just makes some people want to dance
This is a cow house.
See? Cow house.
Many horses and other animals roam Song Kul, this one is tied up
The hills opposite us as the sun was setting
The little boy kept things running in our yurt
We had some fun under the Song Kul stars
More fun at night writing our names
‘Eric’ at Song Kul
Song Kul yurts under the Milky Way
Song Kul yurt camps
Song Kul baike squat
The long valley road to Song Kul
Finally saw the Kyrgyzstan camels
I also made a short video testing out doing timelapses
Details: You can either go to Naryn or Kochkor and just find a driver on your own (should be about 1500KGS each way) or pre-arrange a ride through CBT or Shepherd’s Life (no website, located in Kochkor near the taxi stand) for a bit higher price but everything is much more convenient. CBT or Shepherd’s life can arrange your yurt stay but there are many up there if you are taking your own taxi. A stay in a yurt, dinner and breakfast will be 900-1000KGS per person.
Before I get to the this trip, I wanted to link to an interview I recently did with the Amateur Traveler podcast on Kyrgyzstan: Podcast interview
Two years ago, Taylor and I accepted our invites to Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan and I immediately began researching what I could and looking all the places I wanted to see. One spot kept sticking in my mind as the number one spot I had to see, Kel Suu (I’ve since learned, not the real name, an explanation is below this post.) But being so far from everything and in the mountains near China, I didn’t know how feasible a trip would be. Earlier this summer we went on a great hike near an ancient building called Tash Rabat which was not that far from both Chatyr-Kul and Kel Suu. I got the idea to link up a hike to the lake with a drive to Kel Suu, we just needed to find a driver, explore permits, etc.
Our friend Tamara lived closest to the area and has been working with tourism organizations. She was able to make all the contacts and arrangements for drivers, our yurt stays, etc. As the date approached, she and our other friend for the trip went to the police station to get the border-zone permit as they were told the process was. While Tay and I packed and made our way to Naryn, Shaun and Tamara ran all over Naryn visiting various offices and trying to get permission to visit the border zone. By the time we had arrived they gave up so we visited the local CBT office who told us they would absolutely be able to get us the permit the next day. It gave us time to see some people in Naryn and the next day, the permit did indeed arrive (their contact info is below) and we went to At-Bashi to spend the night for our early start.
We met up in the morning with the same driver we rode to Tash Rabat with before. He drove us past their family’s yurts and Tash Rabat to the end of the road shaving some time off our trip. I wrote more about the hike in the last Tash Rabat post so I’ll skip to the end of the valley where we turned around last time. We knew there were several routes to take from the end of the valley. When we arrived and we saw the multitude of options, the directions given to us in Kyrgyz and the hastily drawn map on the dusty window of the car suddenly seemed inadequate. We studied the GPS, made a decision and headed up the steep scree to our intended pass. This part of the hike wasn’t fun but we were up in under an hour. At the top, snow started to fall… yes, it was August still. But snow is better than rain and we continued on. We didn’t hike down the hill for long when we saw Chatyr-Kul Lake, we picked the right pass! Our excitement was lessened when, after another 20 minutes, we saw our route ended in a waterfall. Backtracking and picking another pass sounded exhausting… Shaun went up a narrow chute and discovered a path that would work – not the easiest route but doable.
End of the road and beginning of our Tash Rabat hike
Much of our hike was in the company of yaks
The yaks make funny pig-sounding noises
This photo was taken from where we stopped hiking last time, any of the passes in front lead to Chatyr-Kul
The yaks like the highest grass they can find it seems
Shaun loving the hike
Tay & Tamara coming up the least fun part of the hike