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I recently had a fabulous day on Dugi Otok, Croatia. This island near Zadar hadn’t been on my radar long. Although I only heard of it a few weeks before my visit, I’ll remember it much, much longer.
After living in Split for 3 months, I took a backpacking trip up the coast of Croatia, calling in Zadar and Istria before arriving in Slovenia. Although I visited many wonderful places during my Croatia itinerary, Zadar sticks in my mind.
From the charming old town to sunsets at the Sea Organ, the cheese (that’s a Pag story!) and the islands, Zadar is where the city and nature meet in harmony.
Dugi Otok introduction
The largest island near Zadar is Dugi Otok, translating in the local tongue as long island. If the name wasn’t enough of a clue, this map below should illustrate the long, thin nature of the island.
The entire island measures 45km in total (but only a few kilometres wide), taking approximately 1 hour to drive from one end to the other. It has a population of just 1,600 people, spread between 12 villages.
I’ve explored many Croatian islands – mainly during day trips from Split – and found few as quiet and untouched. There are popular places on Dugi Otok (mainly Salt Lake Mir) that receive tour groups at certain times of day but, if you explore by car, you’re unlikely to encounter crowds.
Looking for island day trips from Zadar? Pag Island is completely different but fascinating in its own way with regional trades dating back centuries. And cheese… So much cheese!
How to get to Dugi Otok, Croatia
The starting point for Dugi Otok is Zadar, accessible from other locations in Europe by flight, bus or car. The main way to reach Dugi Otok from Zadar is by ferry.
Passenger ferry: In peak season, the daily 8.15am passenger ferry takes 45 minutes to reach Sali (Dugi Otok), giving you the whole day there. It takes 45 minutes costing from 48kn (€6.30) each way (20kn for islanders).
Buy your tickets on the G&V Zadar website. Set the ‘to’ destination as Zaglav (Sali). Zaglav is the name of the port and Sali is the village closeby. Whether you select the Melita or Anamarija ferry company, it will depart from the G&V Line Iadera port close to central Zadar.
Car ferry: take a Jadrolinija ferry to Brbinj (1 hour 20-40 minutes). This departs from Gaženica port.
During peak season and on weekends, it’s recommended to book a few days in advance.
How long to spend on Dugi Otok?
A day trip to Dugi Otok is enough to see the highlights and get a feel for the beautiful island. Your only problem will be how to get around as I’ll discuss next.
A great idea is staying overnight. With countless beaches, towns and natural attractions, you could spend a week on Dugi Otok without getting bored especially if you’re in need of rest and relaxation.
Browse accommodation on Booking.com.
How to get around Dugi Otok, Croatia
Dugi Otok is a tricky Croatian island to navigate because there’s very little public transport. Either rent a car in Zadar and take the car ferry to Brbinj (but the schedule works better for those staying overnight) or take the passenger ferry and rent a car from Adamo Travel on Dugi Otok.
One way to take a Dugi Otok day trip is by catching the passenger ferry then hiring a scooter or boat on arrival to the island.
What to do on Dugi Otok, Zadar
Now we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the main tourist attractions on Dugi Otok island, Croatia. I’ll share the most famous places and a few hidden gems…
Explore Telašćica Nature Park
The southeastern part of Dugi Otok island is dominated by Telašćica Nature Park, pronounced tel-ash-cheetsa. This beautiful bay area comprises nature, woodland, striking karst cliffs, beaches, viewpoints and clear waters (up to 67 metres deep) home to abundant marine life.
Although it became a protected area in 1980 and a nature park in 1988, it’s been appreciated far longer: the Romans famously used the area for storage.
Thirteen islands make up the nature park which is best explored by boat or kayak.
What to do in Telašćica Nature Park
- Visit salt lake Mir – between Telašćica Bay and the sea can be found a fertile strip of land with a lake named after the Croatian word for peace. Surrounded by forest, this 900m brilliant blue lake has therapeutic properties due to its high salt content and medicinal mud. Better yet, it’s 6 degrees warmer than the sea and perfect for swimming! Reach it by car or boat.
- Grpašćak viewpoint – an old fortress from the Austro-Hungarian empire days sits at 161 metres above sea level, drinking in unbeatable views.
- Take a nature walk – with over 500 species of plants in the park and 300 species of animals, here you can appreciate nature from wild asparagus to bottlenose dolphins and peregrine falcon.
Ways to explore Telašćica Nature Park
Chartering a small boat and exploring the coast is undeniably the more idyllic option but in Croatia you’re always at the mercy of the bora (wind) which can make sailing conditions hazardous.
An easy way to visit from Zadar is by organised Dugi Otok day trips that call at Salt Lake Mir and the Kornati Islands during the same day.
Meet the Dugi donkeys
One of my first experiences on Dugi Otok island was meeting the adorable local donkey population. Once upon a time, donkeys were everywhere on the island to assist with manual labour. These days, machines have largely replaced them, however there are still several donkey farms to be found.
If you see a field of placid, friendly donkeys, be sure to say hello. Tempting as it may be, don’t feed them! Although – strangely – the herd above were munching on loaves of bread. Who knew donkeys love sourdough?
Sightsee & eat in Sali town
Dugi Otok isn’t a destination known for its cities. But if it’s food and amenities you’re after, the village of Sali is a pleasant place to wile away a few hours with attractive harbour views and quality culinary options. As the island’s largest hub, here you can hire boats, scooters and bicycles.
Visit Sali’s tourist information office to pick up brochures including hiking trail maps for exploring Sali’s surrounds on foot.
Due to abundant marine life and olives groves, Sali has over 1,000 years of agricultural history. Despite its small population, it’s known for lively cultural festivities that I’ll mention later.
Food and drink options in Sali
With fresh seafood and quality olive oil sourced from the island, the next thing to do in Dugi Otok is sample the food in Sali…
Konoba Trapula has fantastic reviews and it’s little wonder why: the food is fantastic! This ambient little restaurant is tucked away down a side street in Sali but well worth sniffing out. The friendly staff (who speak perfect English) can offer recommendations if you’re not sure what to order.
Here I had fresh octopus with roasted vegetables and a balsamic glaze. Just perfection!
Coffee at Maritimo
This is a lovely spot to rub shoulders with the locals while sinking your morning or afternoon coffee. Maritimo is a spacious bar & cafe with plenty of outside seating overlooking the harbour. Choose from a wide range of coffees, beers, wines and typical spirits like rajika and maraschino (cherry liqueur from the Zadar region).
Ice Shop Conteš
Would it be the perfect summer holiday without ice cream? I think not!
Conteš is an ice cream cafe beside Sali harbour with plenty of flavours as well as infamous spaghetti ice: plates of ice cream shaped like spaghetti! I learnt recently this is a popular German food but it’s not a thing in the UK so it’s still a novelty to me.
Other villages on Dugi Otok
- Bozava – this small village in the north-western part of the island is nearby Dugi Otok attractions, Veli Rat and Sakarun Beach. There are a few accommodation options and a tourist train to the beach in peak season.
- Zaglav – close to Sali port, this village is known for its Franciscan monastery and church dedicated to its patron saint, St. Michael. There are two diving schools in the village should you have ticked off the main things to do in Dugi Otok and fancy exploring the underwater world instead.
- Brbinj – with just 76 residents, this tiny settlement has a couple of hotels and restaurants, surrounded by bays and beautiful nature.
Visit Lighthouse Veli Rat
It’s worth travelling away from Sali and Telašćica Nature Park to experience the northern part of the island.
Nestled amidst forest and bays, Veli Rat Lighthouse is located a 5-minute drive from tiny Veli Rat village and close to other natural attractions on Dugi Otok including Sakarun Beach. This northern part of the island is only accessed by one road, highway 109.
Built in 1849, the lighthouse sits beside a small church. An old legend says that thousands of egg whites helped to thicken and strengthen the walls. To this day, the watchman still lives with his family inside the lighthouse. Apparently, there’s always a waiting list for the job of watchman and who’s surprised? What a place to call home!
There are spectacular views from the top of the 40m tower but sadly, it’s not usually open to the public (I was lucky to visit as a guest of the tourist board and be invited to climb to the top). Even without the climb, it’s a charming place to visit on Dugi Otok with wonderful natural surrounds including charming pebble beaches with clear water and gentle waves.
Kayaking tours in Dugi Otok
Since a Dugi Otok day trip from Zadar isn’t the easiest given the lack of public transport, a fun option could be a full-day kayaking tour around Dugi Otok. You’ll explore the striking coastline peppered with secret bays and secluded caves. The afternoon’s activities include paddling to a sunken shipwreck in the north of the island.
To begin the tour, simply catch the ferry from Zadar to Dugi Otok’s Brbinj where you’ll be picked up by van and transferred to the starting point of your kayak adventure. Book via GetYourGuide.
Visiting the Kornati islands
Although not technically part of Dugi Otok, it’s impossible to discuss the island without mentioning this striking island cluster. With no less than 140 (!) islands, the Kornatis hold the title of largest archipelago in the Adriatic.
The islands are located just south of Dugi Otok island, clearly visible from viewpoints within Telašćica Nature Park. None of the islands are inhabitable due to the lack of fresh water so the best way to explore is by cruising around them by boat. The craggy, karstic rocks are especially striking against the brilliant blue ocean.
Plenty of tours visit the Kornatis and Dugi Otok from Zadar during the same day. Browse Kornati island tours from Zadar.
Best beaches on Dugi Otok, Croatia
There are several beautiful beaches on Dugi Otok; here are a few of the best…
Although I visited on a windy day in April, Sakarun was stunning. En route back to the harbour from Veli Rat Lighthouse, we had the beach entirely to ourselves and, although this might not be surprising for April, I now notice reviews in June still mentioning the uncrowded nature of the beach.
The beach is around 800m in length with plenty of space to spread out, and shallow waters suitable for all swimming abilities. There are a couple of refreshment stands in summer and a small train that runs between Sakarun and Božava village.
If it’s unspoilt, uncrowded beaches you’re after, I think you’ll love Sakarun Beach!
Veli Rat Beach
As mentioned above, the coastline beside Veli Rat Lighthouse is a must-see place on Dugi Otok. It’s a pebble beach like many on the island but the views, crystal-clear waters and surrounding forest more than make up for it.
There are a few catering facilities beside the beach should you get hungry or thirsty. There’s also plenty of parking near the lighthouse.
Not far from the car ferry port, Brbišćica is a lovely secluded bay. Although far smaller than Sakarun, it’s just as beautiful with clear water and opportunities for kayaking in summer. There are no facilities so bring your own lunch, water and sun protection!
Boat hire on Dugi Otok
Although it’s possible to explore the island by car, it’s far more atmospheric to experience the coastline by boat in the summer months (weather-dependent). If you have a license, you can hire a boat in Sali and visit Telašćica Nature Park and other points of interest. The several places to moor including Sali, Brbinj and Božava.
Another option for those without a boat license is a boat trip with a local driver.
Diving in Dugi Otok
Thanks to the island’s rich nature and abundant marine life, it’s a fantastic place to dive. There are several schools on Dugi Otok including Kornati Diving Centre in Sali and Dive-Dugiotok Centre in Zaglav (where the passenger ferry from Zadar arrives).
Islet Mežanj and the underwater cave at Brbinjšćica are two must-see places for divers!
Hiking in Dugi Otok
Although I ran out of time to hike, I learnt about the plentiful trails via the pamphlet on Magic Trails on Dugi Otok by the Zadar tourist board. A few hikes beginning in Sali include:
- Lungo Mare (6km) – this route takes you from Sali to Zaglav along the coast via Bočac Beach and Sascica Bay.
- On the Edge (6.5km) – this circular route starts and ends at Grpašćak viewpoint, journeying around Salt Lake Mir.
- Charms of Telašćica (5.6km) – incorporating the Roman villa and St John’s Church, this hike starting in Sali balances historical elements and beautiful olive grove surrounds.
- North Side (9km) – this mammoth hike departs Veli Rat and explores the northern peninsular before returning to its starting point.
Cultural festivals in Sali
The various villages on Dugi Otok hold annual celebrations, historically honouring their patron saints, although these days I suspect they may be an excuse for music, food and other entertainment. The biggest festivities are held in Sali.
An important festival tradition is tovareća mužika, or in English, ‘donkey music’. The 3-day Sali Fiesta kickstarts on ‘Fisherman’s Night’ (Friday of the first week in August) when boats arrive in the harbour playing the traditional music. It continues with food and performances before wrapping up with a donkey race on the Sunday.
The festivities even attracted a visit from Bradley Cooper when he was relatively unknown and presented travel documentaries in 2001 (see this video at 20 mins)!
Is Dugi Otok worth visiting? Absolutely! Dugi Otok is worth visiting for travellers who like wild nature, secluded beaches, diving and hiking.
Can you stay on Dugi Otok, Croatia? Yes, there are several hotels and Airbnbs on Dugi Otok. Booking.com is my preferred place to book accommodation.
- Apartmani Sali Seaview (from €90 per night) is a beautiful place to stay near Sali with a kitchen, bbq and balcony overlooking the ocean
- Picić Guesthouse (from € 87pn) in a beautiful base with a balcony and sea views
- Apartments Milin (from € 90pn) – to escape the world, this private apartment at the northern tip of the island has all your amenities and easy access to nearby beaches.
Can you drive on Dugi Otok? Yes, Dugi Otok is an easy place to drive with good roads. You can hire a car on arrival or take the car ferry from Zadar.
What to do back in Zadar
I’m guessing you’re visiting Zadar and Dugi Otok so here are a few things to do on the mainland:
- Listen to beautiful music created by the waves at the Sea Organ and stay for sunset at the Greeting to the Sun installation
- Learn about the history at the Roman Forum in the heart of Zadar
- Eat delicious ice cream at Stasticarna Donat
- Take a day trip to captivating, moon-like Pag Island
- Read all my things to do in Zadar here.
Thanks for reading!
For more Croatia content, see my other blogs…
- What to see and do in Split
- 21 best day trips from Split
- 18 best restaurants in Split
- What to do in the Old Town, Split
- Cafes and coffee shops in Split
- Things to do in Trogir, Croatia
- The ultimate Krka Falls day trip from Split
- Visiting Marjan Hill, Split
- Top things to in Zagreb, Croatia
- 15 best Zagreb coffee shops
- Zagreb street art walking tour
- How to visit Plitvice Lakes as a day trip from Zagreb
- Fun things to do in Dubrovnik
- Visiting Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik
- A day trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina from Dubrovnik
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING CROATIA
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For trains, I use RailEurope. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.
For buses, I use FlixBus. Find journeys between European countries from €1!
Use Omio to compare trains and buses in one search. It’s so handy!
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s affordable but covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!