Although as a kid I watched movies featuring the heroics of fictional Apache chief Winnetou, I am embarrassed to say that until recently(!) I did not know that most of them were shot in 1960s Croatia, by the Plitvice Lakes and waterfalls among other locations. This fangirl wanted to see for herself…
Tracking down Winnetou
When I recently told friends that Walter and I were planning a road trip to Croatia, several Winnetou fans among them buttonholed me about those locations for filming the books by Karl May. Yes, indeed! Turns out that none of the films were made in Wild West settings like the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley or Death Valley!
So, there it was: Croatia, our road trip destination, had the extra added attraction of having served as the backdrop for Pierre Brice’s Winnetou and Lex Barker’s Old Shatterhand mountain man as they acted out their tall tales of the Western frontier. It just added another fillip to our curiosity about this land and the wish to explore its wonders for ourselves.
The Plitvice Lakes and “Treasure of Silver Lake”!
The Plitvice Lakes anchor not only Croatia’s largest, but also its oldest and best known national park. It was listed in 1979 as a UNESCO World Nature Heritage site, making it one of the first nature monuments to get on the list.
The glistening turquoise-hued lakes, the thundering waterfalls, and the singular karst formations served as the setting for the lake and waterfall scenes in the Winnetou film, “Treasure of Silver Lake.”
Right around here it was that Winnetou, breathing through a reed stalk, stayed submerged in a lake to throw those rascally pursuers off his trail!
The “Treasure of Silver Lake” was said to be sunk in one of the Plitvice Lakes. Which one exactly, however, I was unable to find out ;-)
These mysterious surroundings fire up my imagination, so much so that I even started seeing an Indian chief looming on a rock outcropping here or from behind one over there. See him, with his arms folded, eagle eyes fixed on me!?
It gave me the heebie jeebies!
Even as I was trotting along the wooden walkway, the sounds of my own hiking boots irritates me. I feel like someone is stalking me!
Then, as I encounter some tourists, one of whom makes me think of another Winnetou movie character, the dotty Sam Hawkens, that was the last straw: I decide to send Winnetou packing and instead fully enjoy the park’s spectacular nature scenery before we drive back to the hotel.
The next day…
Krka National Park – more of the same, but also different
As it turns out, the next day the Apache chief is still not quite out of my hair. Maybe I will find some trace of him in Krka National Park, our destination today, which also served him as a movie hunting ground. The anticipation builds again!
Krka National Park can be accessed from different sides. We choose the entrance in the village of Skradin.
We find some (pay) parking lots just outside the village entrance. Slightly disoriented, we walk through the idyllic fishing hamlet. There’s no national park as far as the eye can see.
Never mind any kind of Western saloon.
Only when we reach the harbor does a dreamily beautiful mountain and sea scape expand before us. Right away the fantasy grabs me by the scalp lock again. So, this is where he hid… that elusive Winnetou.
Before I can sink further into my revelry, Walter fortunately tugs me onto a boat that carries us to Skradinski Buk, the largest and most famous of the park’s waterfalls.
Here the tourists frolick in the water in droves. Me, I’m shading my eyes, still on the look-out for you know who…
Besides Skradinski Buk, Krka National Park has other waterfalls as attractions.
Which moves me to observe that we Swiss are perhaps a bit spoiled when it comes to water tumbling down rock faces, so that we tend to refrain from taking snapshots of them from all angles as if there were no tomorrow like the other folks here.
But, I must admit, the color palette of blue, emerald green, and turquoise makes for a sensational color spectacle! In this respect, you might say our Schaffhauser waterfall won’t hold water to Skradinski Buk ;-)
Along the Krka river and the lake shores, incidentally, you come across the occasional ruined fort, water mills, and monasteries. The question pops into my mind if Winnetou today might not hide around here?
At the end of the day, I am forced to conclude that there’s nothing left here of Karl May’s legendary character — but, better yet, that this is a place full of natural beauty.
The Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Park are among Croatia’s most visited tourist attractions. So, be prepared for not being the only ones to enjoy these natural surroundings.
Even if some of our photos make it seem like it’s lonely here: they were mostly taken between two Chinese or Japanese tour groups…
Whatever you do, get to both parks early in the morning to hike the well-maintained trails before the crowds arrive (just before noontime).
This way you can also get into a restaurant on your way back before the rush sets in. In addition to fast food service, there is also an à la carte restaurant.
And, for those with no time for both parks, we recommend settling for the Plitvice Lakes. They are a trace more attractive.
Arriving by car
Both parks are easily reached by car. There are enough parking places (if you get there early.) However, at about $10 for the day they are not free.
Even though the trails circling the lakes and waterfalls are in no way near like hiking in the Alps, we nevertheless recommend stout shoes or solid sneakers.
Hiking in flip flops or ballerina shoes (which we saw everywhere in both parks) is no fun!
Further, always having enough water with you is recommended, because in the summer especially it does get quite hot and at times it can be a while between watering holes.
Admissions price (as of August 2017)
The price varies seasonally. In high season, be prepared to pay 180 kuna (ca. $28) per person in both Krka National Park as well as the Plitvice Lakes. With the ticket sale revenues from the Plitvice Lakes, the national park finances its work in protecting and maintaining the nature monuments.
The admission price covers the park shuttle bus and electric boat ride (Plitvice Lakes). The boat ride in Krka National Park to Skradinski Buk is also included.
Hint: You can buy your tickets for Krka National Park online!