West of Zadar, you will come upon a startlingly picturesque island called Dugi Otok. Dugi Otok translates to “Long Island,” which is an accurate description of the island’s geography. Spanning around 45 kilometres, its east coast features quaint villages and beautiful beaches, while the west coast is dominated by high, rocky cliffs.
Indeed, Dugi Otok is renowned for its natural beauty and its solitude. The island’s largest settlement is known as Sali, and has fewer than 2,000 residents. So this is the perfect place to go to escape the crowds on the more popular islands.
Note that transportation on the island can be something of a challenge. There is a bus system, but it is notoriously unreliable, but thankfully it is not your only option. In Zadar, you can rent bikes or scooters. You can then with you on your Croatia charter boat and use them when you arrive on Dugi Otok, and then return them when you are done.
What can you do on Dugi Otok once you have dropped anchor? Here are some recommendations to ensure a magical trip!
1. Explore Telašćica National Park.
You will find this extraordinary park in the southeast of Dugi Otok. The most prominent feature of the park is Telašćica Bay, which is among the safest and most serene bays in the entire region. Comprising 69 kilometres of coastline and 6 islets, it offers ample opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and exploring.
Because Telašćica has been under protection since 1980, the park has had decades in which to flourish. This has led to tremendous biodiversity. As you explore the 25 small beaches surrounding the bay, you will discover olive groves, vineyards and beautiful meadows along with rugged cliffs and holm oak and Aleppo pine forests. That diversity continues underwater, where more than 550 species of fishes, sponges, coral and other undersea life have been observed.
Be sure to snorkel while you are here to behold this stunning abundance. Also consider stopping by one of the islands in the bay for a short hike. Taljurić and Katina are widely considered to be among the most scenic and distinctive.
2. Venture to Salt Lake Mir.
Salt Lake Mir is actually a location within Telašćica National Park itself. If you look up overhead photos of the park, most of them showcase this 900 metre, nearly perfectly rectangular lake.
The lake developed when the last Ice Age came to an end, resulting in the sea rising. Because there are a lot of underground cracks in the karst, water was able to leak through and form the lake.
As such, this lake is filled with saltwater. At no point does the depth exceed 6 metres. This means it can be quite warm, especially during the summer, making it perfect for a swim.
While you are here, also be sure to check out some of the views from the cliffs surrounding the lake (the lake is at elevation on top of a plateau). From here you can behold the Zadar archipelago as well as the Kornati islands.
3. Sail, dive and snorkel around the archipelago.
While you could easily spend all your time on Dugi Otok in Telašćica, there are other extraordinary destinations to visit as well. Actually, in the waters surrounding the island and its surrounding islets, there are many opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. The island has five diving schools, so be sure to plan an underwater adventure.
You will also have a lot of fun simply sailing around Dugi Otok. This is a great way to take in the scenery and venture out to some of the more remote locations. There are quite a few anchorages you can use; the safest one is Solišćica. If you need to stock up on water or power, head to Bozava, Brbinj or Sali. Sali also offers toilets.
4. Visit Sakarun Beach.
At the northern end of the island, you will come across Sakarun Beach, a truly unique destination. This beach features startlingly white sand and kilometers of shallow blue water which is exceptionally clear. The bay is well sheltered, so you can anchor here safely.
Because the water is so calm and shallow and the bottom is sandy, there are few better beaches for families travelling in Croatia. Small children will have the time of their life here, and parents can rest assured knowing their children are playing in some of the cleanest, safest waters anywhere.
Looking for another nice beach to visit on Dugi Otok? Try Veli Žal. This is a pebble beach, but once you get out into the water, you will have white sand underfoot. Like Sakarun, the waters are exquisitely clear, and you will find it is very tranquil and features some lovely views on all sides.
5. Participate in the Village Festivals.
Every single village on the island has a special celebration each summer, called a “Fešta.” The Fešta for each town is unique to that town, honouring the village’s traditional way of life. If you are present for one of these festivities, you can listen to traditional music while enjoying authentic cuisine.
For example, the largest village on the island, Sali, celebrates Saljske užance. This festival dates back more than half a century, and takes place on the first weekend of August. It lasts for three nights every year. The first night falls on a Friday, and is known as “Fisherman’s night.” This is a chance to try some of the most delicious Dalmatian seafood you will ever taste. The other nights are dedicated to unusual local sports, a donkey race, and other fun activities.
6. Plumb the depths of Strašna Peć Cave.
Close to the settlement of Savar, you will find a cave called Strašna Peć, which translates to “frightful furnace.” It measures 7 metres in height by 10 metres in width. This cave is interesting for a couple of reasons.
The first has to do with an ancient myth. Apparently, in the times of yore, some supernatural beings once inhabited the island. Rather like vampires, they were harmed by sunlight. For some reason, they wanted to divide the island in half, so they began to dig a hole in the ground to do it. But then dawn came, so they had to hide from the light deeper inside the cave. They were never able to finish their work out of fear, so they are there still, lurking in the shadows (this is a great story to share with children, who will undoubtedly find it fires their imaginations).
The other thing that is interesting about Strašna Peć is that it has a large population of bats. Indeed, it is the most significant colony in the entire area. So while you are here, you will probably encounter some of the cave’s leathery-winged residents.
7. Head to the nearby Kornati Park Archipelago.
Finally, one more thing to do while you are on Dugi Otok is to hop in your Croatia charter yacht and sail on over to the nearby Kornati Park Archipelago. Here you can explore 89 different islands and the extraordinary reefs which surround them. From Roman ruins to dolphins to over 60 butterfly species, this marvelous park has it all. Read more in our article on Kornati.
Conclusion: Dugi Otok Is a Unique and Stunning Location Showcasing Incredible Natural Diversity
Dugi Otok is a mesmerizing destination, one which offers an abundance of parks and coral reefs to explore, along with some charming villages where you can experience unparalleled warmth and hospitality. Nevertheless, many tourists in Croatia overlook it, so this is an opportunity to escape the crowds and enjoy some of the best that the Dalmatian coastline has to offer, surrounded by the peace and solitude of nature.