Pliva Lakes and Pliva Waterfall are two of the most impressive natural landscapes in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. Use this quick guide to plan your visit to Pliva Lakes and its wooden watermills from the nearby town of Jajce.
It was a year ago—almost exactly to the day—that we were marvelling at the water wheels in Vietnam’s Pu Luong Nature Reserve. As a fan of anything handmade, I’m fascinated by these technologies and the simple beauty of the craftsmanship behind them. Bosnia and Herzegovina has its own wooden watermills, which were traditionally used for grinding wheat.
We visited Pliva Lakes and the famous Pliva watermills on a Sunday morning in mid-March. While the forest was still looking a little bare, we appreciated the crisp weather and clear blue skies—and the distinct lack of crowds. Pliva Lakes aren’t the most impressive lakes I’ve seen in my life (maybe the landscape would look a little better in summer), but the surrounding pine forest is a tranquil spot for a stroll, and the watermills are fascinating to see in person.
This quick guide to visiting Pliva Lakes from Jajce or Sarajevo will give you a bit of background about the area while helping you prepare for your own day trip.
In This Post
- About Pliva Lakes
- History of the Pliva watermills
- How to get to Pliva Lakes
- Tips for visiting Pliva Lakes
- What to bring with you to Pliva Lakes
- Where to eat near Pliva Lakes
- Other things to do around Pliva Lakes
- Where to stay in Jajce
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About Pliva Lakes
Pliva Lakes are two natural lakes on the Pliva River in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Central Bosnia Canton. The closest major town is Jajce, which lies approximately 5.5 kilometres east. The twin lakes, one large (Veliko Plivsko) and one small (Malo Plivsko), are formed where the river Pliva widens on its course to Jajce. In town, it meets the Vrbas River and spills out into the impressive Pliva Waterfall.
The Pliva is is a tributary of the Vrbas which flows into the Sava—which in turn runs all the way east to Belgrade where it joins the Danube.
A few things make the Pliva River unique. Natural barriers of tufa limestone are what has caused lakes and low cascades to form along its reaches. Natural dams created by accumulated moss and algae that apparently ‘grow’ 1cm every year are constantly transforming the look and ‘flow’ of the landscape. The Pliva Lake basins are comprised of dolomite and limestone, the same as Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.
Historically, Jajce and the Pliva region were a stronghold of the Bosnian Kingdom. Today, the border of Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina runs right through the area, dissecting the big lake in half. It’s not an official state border, though, so visitors are free to cross back and forth.
Love nature? Don’t miss visiting Serbia’s Tara National Park while you’re in the region.
Because of their proximity to Jajce, Pliva Lakes are a popular spot for local families and tourists alike, especially in the summer months. There are playgrounds, picnic tables and fire pits scattered around the lakes, along with cafes and hotels, and shacks where you can hire kayaks and bicycles. It’s a popular fishing spot and in summer, a nice place for a swim.
History of the Pliva watermills
In 1899, something groundbreaking happened in Jajce: The first hydroelectric power station built in the Balkans was constructed on the Pliva river. The Austrian engineer who led the project wasn’t the first person with the idea of harnessing the flow of the river for energy.
Watermills (Mlinovi) have been built on the Pliva River since the Middle Ages. Just one cluster of mills remains today, located on the natural cascade where the water flows between the two Pliva Lakes. Apparently local farmers used the mills to grind wheat into flour right up until the Second World War. The Pliva Watermills have been named a National Monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina for their cultural and historical significance.
There is a set of 24 watermills, most relocated from different parts of the lake. Each mill uses its own mechanism and is enclosed within little wooden house, each with its own number and brass knocker on the door. Even though the mills are locked and it’s not possible to go inside, visitors are free to explore the area via a set of wooden walkways that connect the watermills over a series of shallow pools.
The mills are no longer in use, although one has been maintained as a model. Underneath, you can see the wheel mechanism and the water channel that feeds it. Mill number 18/19 (a double-sized structure) is missing part of its eaves. You can peek under the roof to see the remains of wooden beams and a stone wheel inside.
Natural rock barriers have been set up in the area to channel the water. When we visited, some sandbags were also being used. Comparing photos taken a few months prior, it looks like more watermills have recently been relocated to the site.
How to get to Pliva Lakes
Pliva Lakes are located approximately 5.5 kilometres west of Jajce. If you plan on walking to the lakes (it takes about 90 minutes each way), I recommend spending the night in Jajce and setting out early in the morning.
A leisurely visit with time to look at the watermills, eat lunch and have a coffee at one of the lakeside bistros should take around three to four hours. It’s also possible to visit Jajce and Pliva Lakes as a day trip from Sarajevo (more info below).
Walking to Pliva Lakes from Jajce
Since there is no public transport between Jajce and Pliva Lakes, visitors have two options: Walk or take a taxi. If the weather is nice, I recommend going on foot.
The lakes are part of the same water body that flows into the Pliva Waterfall. From Jajce, you simply follow the river west, aiming for this end point. The route starts with a path along the riverbank but you’ll soon have to walk up to the road. The entire way is flat with a very slight incline.
Along the way, you’ll see smaller waterfalls, pass through pockets of forest, and cross a lovely wooden bridge. Although a large part of the walk takes you on the road, it’s a pretty quiet highway without much traffic (on the weekend at least). In sections, the trail breaks off into forest paths and tunnels.
Directions for walking from Jajce to Pliva Lakes
- From the top of Pliva Waterfall, start walking west. Exit through the gate and pass in front of the tourist information office.
- Keep to the path until it ends (right at the supermarket). Walk up the hill directly behind to join with the road shoulder (Kralja Stjepana Tomaševića).
- You’ll soon spot a small restaurant, Eko Centar Slapovi, on your left. If it’s open, you can walk down the stairs to look at the river.
- 500 metres beyond the restaurant is a designated swimming basin called Kupaliste Brana Jajce. Cross the long wood bridge to the opposite side of the river. This is the point where the small lake begins.
- After you pass through the short road tunnel, the trail turns back into a proper pedestrian pathway. When you approach the next (much longer) tunnel, don’t go through it, but instead keep to the path on the right. This will bring you out to the big lake and the watermills.
- To reach the main restaurant and cafe hub, walk a further 750m west along the road.
Taking a taxi to Pliva Lakes
It’s a quick 10-minute ride from the centre of Jajce to the watermills. According to the tourist information office, a taxi ride from Jajce to the start of the Pliva Lakes should cost between 5 and 10 KM one-way. If you need help organising a taxi, staff at the office can help. We didn’t see many taxis out at the lakes (most people walk or drive), so it might be a good idea to organise for the same driver to return back for you.
Tours to Pliva Lakes
It’s possible to visit Pliva Lakes on an organised tour from Sarajevo. Most itineraries combine a visit to the lakes with a tour of Jajce and/or Travnik, a beautiful Ottoman town that’s close by. This day tour departs Sarajevo and visits Jajce, Travnik and Pliva Lakes. This three-day itinerary covers Sarajevo, Mostar and a few highlights of southern Bosnia before continuing north to Travnik and Jajce.
Looking for more day trips from Sarajevo? Here are 12 of the very best.
Tips for visiting Pliva Lakes
- Pliva Lakes gets busy on weekends and holidays. It’s a good idea to visit outside these times if you want to beat the crowds.
- Take care when exploring the Pliva Watermills on foot. Parts of the boardwalk have planks missing, which makes it a bit treacherous. (Perhaps repairs are made before the start of summer.)
- Sadly, the area around Pliva Lakes is a bit polluted. We saw a lot of plastic in the waterways on the way out. The lakes themselves and the watermill pools are pretty clean, with trash cans located along all the walking paths. We also saw a group of locals doing a trash pick up the morning we visited.
- Apart from swimming, there are other water activities you can do on the lakes. Kayaks and boats are available to hire from vendors along the shore of the big lake.
- We saw a few signs for landmines on this walk, especially just outside of Jajce. If you’re going by foot, stay on the beaten track.
What to bring with you to Pliva Lakes
Sneakers with a good grip are helpful for navigating the mossy rocks around Pliva. If you’re visiting in warm weather, bring your swimmers and a towel so you can take a dip in the big lake. If you’re walking from Jajce, a refillable water bottle is essential, as is sun protection gear.
Where to eat near Pliva Lakes
Why not make a day of it and enjoy lunch on the lake? There are a couple of restaurants and cafes on the shore of the big lake, all with outdoor seating. We ate at the restaurant attached to Motel Plaza. Despite mixed reviews on Google, we thought the food was pretty good (we had the grill plate), and really loved the house-made bread. The decor is extremely chic, the coffee is decent, and prices are fair.
Other things to do around Pliva Lakes
You can’t visit the Pliva region without seeing the magnificent Pliva Waterfall. It’s hard to miss—the massive tiered cascade sits right in the middle of Jajce and dominates the town. In August, cliff jumping events are held here. You need a ticket to visit the official waterfall observation area; however, the best viewpoint is actually located on the opposite side of the valley. See my Jajce guide for more information.
The small town of Jajce is steeped in history—from the medieval period right up to the founding of Yugoslavia. And it has the monuments and museums to prove it. Jajce Fortress, catacombs, the old town and the city’s mosques are all worth seeing. There’s also a small ethnology in Jajce where you can learn more about the area’s history and material culture (although the watermills don’t get a mention).
Where to stay in Jajce
In Jajce, we stayed at Apartman Pliva, a self-contained flat in the old town (located right behind the city gate). The property has a full kitchen and sleeps four (or more) people in single-king beds, making it perfect for families or groups.
Have you been to Pliva Lakes? What is your favourite nature escape in Bosnia and Herzegovina?