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It can be hard living in the shadow of a more popular, more impressive sibling. I’m sure that’s how the village of Rastoke would feel towards the famous Plitvice Lakes in central Croatia. The two may sound completely unrelated despite being a short drive from one another, but they do indeed have something in common – waterfalls. The waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes are an iconic spectacle that visitors to Croatia can’t wait to see. And yet Rastoke, a village with cascading waterfalls flowing through it, barely registers as a blip on the tourism radar.
The Village of Rastoke
Found on the edge of the town of Slunj, a gateway of sorts to Plitvice, Rastoke is the town’s historical core. While staying in Slunj to visit the Plitvice Lakes, I had an inkling that there was a waterfall to visit here. I’d first learned of the village from a photo I found online back when I was first thinking of visiting the lakes. It really wasn’t until my bus from Zagreb rolled past that I realised the scale of Rastoke’s waterfalls.
Part of the reason that Rastoke has been traditionally overlooked is that it and Slunj were a frontier border for much of their history. Wedged between the Ottoman Empire and the kingdoms of Europe, it was often only seen as a line on the map. There’s also the problem that the local economy took quite a hit in the 20th century.
Because it sat at the confluence of two rivers, the Korana and the Slunjčica, Slunj was a milling town that got hit hard by the Industrial Revolution. Throw in the blinding tourist beacon that is Plitvice Lakes and its understandable how this gem has escaped major notice.
Waterfalls of Rastoke
Although Rastoke shares the Korana River with the Plitvice Lakes, it is the Slunjčica River that creates the village waterfalls. As the river hits Rastoke, it begins to fork and fork again, creating streams that spread throughout the village. All these different streams end up creating over 23 separate waterfalls, through a limestone substance called tufa.
Some little rapids pass through the village, while larger ones pour down into the Korana River. None are as great a drop as the big falls at Plitvice Lakes, but they’re nevertheless pretty.
The village itself plays a big part in the beauty of Rastoke. Certainly the view wouldn’t be the same without the traditional wooden houses that line the streams or rest out on the little islands. Yes, there are some spots that are only reachable by quaint little bridges. You can even stay in some that offer guest accommodation, while others are restaurants with little decks out over the water.
I have to say, I was extremely lucky with my timing for Rastoke. Visiting Croatia in winter, I had arrived at Rastoke roughly a week after a major snowstorm. Croatia like much of Europe had been blanketed in snow before then being hit by a heat wave, causing major flooding as all that snow quickly melted away.
While this meant I saw towns downstream fighting floodwaters with sandbags, the waterfalls of Rastoke were practically raging. It didn’t seem like the village had suffered damage as a result, it hadn’t washed away, but I really wouldn’t have been surprised.
Perhaps the only downside to seeing the waterfalls here at full force was that they were hard to identify. Several of the more well-known Rastoke waterfalls are named like Vilina kosa the “Fairy’s Hair” and Hrvoje. Because none looked like the information boards representing them, it was a little hard to keep track.
The Best Viewpoint
Walking through the village, you’re going to find plenty of great spots for photos. For the best views of Rastoke and its waterfalls though, I think you actually need to leave the village. At the northern end of the village, there’s a small bridge that takes you across to the far side of the Korana River.
Just a little downstream from there you’ll find a fantastic viewpoint on top of the hill there that lets you see all of Rastoke’s most impressive waterfalls. That said, also head the other direction at the bridge to see a waterfall flow out from under a house. It was a photo of that very view that brought me to Rastoke.
Visiting Rastoke Slunj
From the centre of Slunj, Rastoke is a gentle 10 minute walk away. Alternatively, you can park at the viewpoint north of the river and walk down to the village that way. It’s also possible to combine the waterfalls here with Plitvice if you take this guided tour to both.
In all honesty, it was unclear whether you need to pay a park entrance or something for Rastoke. There is a tourist information centre in an out-of-the-way spot in Slunj that had some sort of sign about Rastoke but I only glimpsed it as I was leaving. Again, this was in the off-season so perhaps things are clearer and busier in summer.
As mentioned in my Plitvice Lakes article, I totally recommend Apartment Tomašević for your visit to Rastoke, Slunj and/or Plitvice. Not only are the owners welcoming, but I paid less for an apartment that slept 6+ people than I have for a small budget room elsewhere.
Have you heard of the waterfalls of Rastoke in Croatia before? Can you think of another scenario where an interesting attraction is completely overshadowed like this? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.