IN A REMOTE CROATIAN VILLAGE, THE KUTEREVO BEAR REFUGE PROVIDES A UNIQUE SAFE HAVEN FOR VULNERABLE BROWN BEARS
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Far off the beaten path, tucked away on the fringes of the Velebit National Park in Croatia, lies the Kuterevo Bear Refuge. Since 1978, a team volunteers have cared for and nurtured brown bears and provided a safe haven for older bears. Many of the bears were separated from their mothers, abandoned or were circus performers. The Bear Refuge is operated entirely by volunteers from throughout Europe and North America. The Kuterevo Bear Refuge is funded entirely by donations.
OUR EXPERIENCE AT THE KUTEREVO BEAR REFUGE
JOURNEY THROUGH THE FRONTLINES TO THE KUTEREVO BEAR REFUGE
Having an extra day to spend in Croatia, we decided to find the Kuterevo Bear Refuge having read several amazing reviews. After driving through the Plitvice Lakes National Park we found ourselves in what were once the frontlines of the Serbo-Croatian War of the early 1990’s.
The mountains and farm fields to the north of Route 52 from Plitvice to Otočac were the sites of major fighting. Serbian fighter jets dropping bombs on the neighboring villages. Snipers, perched in claimed buildings including the belfries of local churches, shot their Croatian targets.
As we passed one bombed-out house after another riddled with bullet holes, we were constantly reminded of this horrific recent conflict. We found the whole affair to be an eerie yet stark reminder of the pain and suffering misguided people can inflict upon others when allowed.
A FANTASTIC LUNCH SPOT
With great precision, our GPS delivered us to Kuterevo but not much further. After asking a local for directions to the Kuterevo Bear Refuge, we easily found it. We arrived in the early afternoon and well… all of the bears were inactive and taking cover from the hot sun! So… we decided to spend our Easter lunch up the street at the OPG Guest Accommodation Butina and restaurant which was an immense stroke of good luck.
Dining at the OPG is a cultural experience and is village living at its best. The setting was incredibly rustic and we ate outside in an old open air barn. The meal was amazing as was the service.
We returned to the Bear Refuge around dinner time. It was now 5:00 pm and the bears could not have been more active. They were into everything! We walked around the two ginormous main enclosures (which were several acres each) and admired the bears in action as they ate, bathed, wrestled and played for several hours. Overall, the Kuterevo Bear Refuge is one of those unique off-the-beaten path places you have to work incredibly hard to find, but when you find it, is well worth the experience.
PRO TIPS FOR VISITING THE KUTEREVO BEAR REFUGE
PRO TIP 1 — VERY IMPORTANT. Parking and Admission to the Kuterevo Bear Refuge are FREE. Although it is free to enjoy the day viewing the bears, they readily accept donations. The volunteers are unbelievably passionate about brown bears and are more than happy to answer questions and give you a tour. One last thing, you aren’t allowed to feed the bears as they are on a strict diet.
PRO TIP 2 — VERY IMPORTANT. If you want to see the bears in action, then you absolutely need to arrive later in the day (from 5:00 pm onward). Get up close to the enclosures and view them from all angles, not just the popular spots where other people are congregating. The bears will play to their heart’s content all over their enclosures and not just stay in one place.
NEAR THIS PLACE
TRAVEL GUIDE | PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Plitvice Lakes National Park is an exceptional, must-see destination. The Garden of Eden truly does exist in Croatia.
TRAVEL GUIDE | RASTOKE VILLAGE. Rastoke, or “the small Plitvice Lakes,” is a historic mill town constructed on several islands at the confluence of the Slunjčica and Korana rivers. It is unlike anything you have ever experienced.
KAYAKING. Enjoy all the pleasures of a 3-hour river kayak trip without battling against the current on the way back on this self-guided adventure that includes vehicle transfers back to the starting point. Marvel at the underwater life of the spectacular Gacka River through your transparent kayak as you paddle 5 miles (8 kilometers) through tranquil landscapes. ADDRESS: Unnamed Road, 53220, Prozor, Croatia.
OPG BUTINA. A farm guest house with an incredibly awesome rustic outdoor dining area. Food was amazing as was the hospitality. We spent Easter lunch here and enjoyed every moment. Love this place! ADDRESS: Kuterevo 21a, 53220 Kuterevo, Croatia
WAR TORN VILLAGES FROM THE SERBO-CROATIAN WAR. The mountains and farm fields to the north of Route 52 from Plitvice to Otočac were battlefields where Serbian fighter jets dropped bombs on the neighboring villages and snipers shot their Croatian targets from their perches in claimed buildings. Everywhere you look, the bombed-out and bullet-riddled towns serve as a sober reminder of this horrific unnecessary conflict.
BEST PLACES TO STAY
APARTMANI BURIC. Shhhhhh……. Upscale lodging with spacious apartments and incredible hospitality in the middle of rural Croatia. Excellent breakfast. The only true 4-star lodging in the area. Located minutes from the Plitvice Lakes National Park. ADDRESS: Selište Drežničko 100, 47246 Seliste Dreznicko, Croatia.
MOBILE HOMES CAMPING PLITVICE. Shhhhhh……. Yes, this is a 5-star mobile home lodging option and it is wonderful. Modern, contemporary units with hardwood floors and air conditioning, outdoor pool, fitness center, buffet breakfast, and FREE Wifi. Located meters away from the Plitvice Lakes National Park. ADDRESS: Smoljanac, 53231 Plitvička Jezera, Croatia.
Bear-watching in Croatia’s National Parks: Holidays Beyond the Dalmatian Coast