Exploring Dugi Otok: the ultimate guide to a perfect island getaway in Croatia

by | Mar 3, 2024 | Croatia, Europe | 0 comments

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

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Places like Dubrovnik, Split and Hvar have become world famous. But considering that Croatia’s coastline is dotted with over 1.000 islands, islets and reefs, I was convinced that there had to be some places that managed to stay under the radar.

I found myself researching the best islands to visit in Croatia, looking at island after island, one dreamier than the next. And finally, I stumbled across a photo of a turquoise lake surrounded by forests at the top of rugged cliffs plummeting into the deep blue ocean.

Turns out this place is Dugi Otok, one of Croatia’s largest and lesser-known islands!

I knew right away that Dugi Otok would be one of the highlights of my 3-week Balkans Road Trip. And it turned out to be better than any island fantasies I could have had.

Pebbly beaches and hidden sea caves dot Dugi Otok’s coast, the villages are quaint and colourful, and the lonely bays and coves boast some of the clearest water in enchanting shades of turquoise and blue.

This guide includes everything you need to know about Dugi Otok. Find out where to find the turquoise lake at the top of the cliffs, the most stunning bays and epic swimming spots, where to stay on Dugi Otok, and where to eat the best local food on the island.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Where is Dugi Otok

Dugi Otok is a part of the stunning Zadar archipelago, which comprises numerous islands and islets. It is situated in the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, just off the coast of Croatia. 

The Zadar archipelago is part of Dalmatia, a region known for its crystal-clear waters, picturesque islands, and charming historic towns. Dalmatia is also famous for its delicious seafood, local wines, and vibrant summer festivals.

All the key ingredients for a perfect island getaway!

How to get to Dugi Otok

The quickest way to Dugi Otok is to fly straight into Zadar airport. There are direct flights to Zadar from many European airports during the summer months, and connecting flights from many airports around the world. I like to use FlightConnections to check out available flight routes.

While you could easily spend your whole Croatian holiday on Dugi Otok, I’d recommend visiting the island as part of a larger trip like this epic 3-week Balkans road trip!

Travelling by ferry in Croatia

About 40 of Croatia’s over 1.200 islands, islets and rock formations have scheduled ferry or catamaran connections to the mainland. Many islands have several ports and are connected with other islands, and there are even ferries from Croatia to Italy.

It’s safe to say that finding the best ferry connection for your trip can be a little confusing if you don’t know where to look. Luckily, Croatia Ferries has this great page, showing all possible routes from a specific port.

Once you’ve selected your route, you’ll get an overview of all daily departures each month of the year, the name of the ferry company, and whether it is possible to take your car on the ferry. Once you’ve established all of that, I’d recommend searching for the ferry company and booking your ticket directly with them.

Whenever I travel abroad, I always use Airalo to get an eSim with local data. It’s the easiest way to stay connected!
2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Catching the ferry to Dugi Otok

There are multiple ferry crossings between Zadar and Dugi Otok, but only one route where you can bring your car. Jadrolinija has between two and three ferries per day from Zadar to Brbinj.

You can check timetables and book your tickets here. We booked our tickets on the day and ended up having to extend our stay because the ferry was fully booked. There are obviously worse things than spending an extra day on a beautiful island, but if you’re on a schedule, I’d recommend booking your ferries in advance.

In addition, there are passenger ferries from Zadar to Bozava, Sali and Zaglav, and from surrounding islands in the Zadar archipelago. 

I’d recommend bringing your car to make the most of your trip to Dugi Otok!
Brbinjscica Bay on Dugi Otok

The best things to do on Dugi Otok

Don’t worry about running out of things to do on Dugi Otok anytime soon. You can spend your days exploring sea caves and quaint villages, go for a hike or boat trip, swim in the turquoise water, or simply lounge on one of the islands pebbly beaches.

BrBinJscica Bay

Brbinjscica Bay is a small, secluded bay surrounded by imposing cliffs and numerous sea caves. It’s the perfect spot for a swim, and you can also hire kayaks to explore the coastline.

How to get to brbinjscica Bay

Coming from Sali, you’ll pass something resembling a driveway on your left-hand side just before the turn-off to Brbinj. This is the beginning of the steep and rugged road to Brbinjscica Bay.

Parking spots by the bay are limited, but there are various spots along the road too. After about 2 km you’ll pass a parking and a “private” sign. We left our car there and walked the last km to the coast. But we saw lots of people park further down and there didn’t seem to be any issues.

Dragon Eye in Dugi Otok from above

Dragon Eye

The Dragon Eye is a natural rock pool near Brbinjšćica Bay shaped like an eye. It is one of the most spectacular swimming spots on Dugi Otok, and the surrounding limestone formations are excellent for cliff jumping.

The Dragon Eye is one of the coolest places to visit on Dugi Otok.

How to get to the Dragon Eye

Follow the same road to Brbinjscica Bay, but park your car by the last turn before the bay. Look out for a little patch of dirt in the corner of the street. From there, a narrow path leads into the shrubs and down to the coast. Walking to Dragon’s Eye shouldn’t take you much more than 5 minutes from the road.

Golubinka Sea Cave

The Golubinka Sea Cave is the largest and most impressive cave in the Zadar archipelago. It consists of a 50-meter-long, rocky tunnel that leads to a stunning little hall with a shallow, pebbly beach at the end. When the sun shines through the opening in the ceiling, the hall is illuminated by the most stunning shades of green, blue and turquoise.

How to get to Golubinka Sea Cave

You can either hire kayaks at Brbinjiscica Bay and kayak the 600 meters to the cave, or swim the 150 meters from Dragon Eye. The third option is to follow the small path along the coast from the Dragon Eye, then jump off the cliffs next to the sea cave.

No matter how you play it, getting to  Golubinka Sea Cave involves getting in or at least on the water. But this is what makes visiting the sea cave all the more fun.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Telascica Nature Park

Remember the picture I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Of the turquoise lake at the top of rugged cliffs?

That’s Telascica Nature Park, a protected area covering 70 square kilometres in the southeastern part of Dugi Otok. The Nature Park encompasses a variety of incredible landscapes, including serene bays and lush pine forests, impressive 200-meter-high cliffs, and the turquoise salt lake Mir.

You might even encounter some of the 14 free-roaming donkeys living at the park.

I’d recommend setting aside a whole day for Telascica Nature Park while you’re visiting Dugi Otok. Spend the day exploring the park on one of the various hiking trails, hire some kayaks or pick a lonely bay to spend the day. And at sunset head up to Fort Grpascak for some of the best views on the whole island.

How to get to Telascica Nature Park

The mainland entrance to Telascica Nature Park is located a short drive along the main road from Sali. You’ll see a sign and a small ticket booth, where you can buy your day pass for yourself and your vehicle for about 3 to 7 euros each, depending on the season.

The viewpoint and visitor centre at the top of Steene Cliffs are accessible by car. However, if you want to visit Lake Mir, you’ll have to leave your car at the designated parking inside the nature park.

During the summer months, shuttle buses run regularly between the parking and Gospoja Konoba, a restaurant close to Lake Mir. Alternatively, you can walk the 4 km to the lake, which shouldn’t take you much more than 30 minutes.

Kornati Islands

The Kornati Islands, located off the coast of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea, are a breathtaking archipelago comprising around 140 islands, islets, and reefs. The islands are renowned for their unique and rugged beauty, characterized by rocky cliffs, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and diverse marine life.

Most islands are uninhabited, with only a few small settlements and fishing villages. The absence of human development has helped preserve the pristine nature of the islands, making them a sanctuary for wildlife and a protected national park.

You can explore the pristine bays and beaches, and the diverse underwater world of Kornati Islands on a guided or private boat tour (if you have a licence). You can contact Adamo Travel or visit the tourist information in Sali to book a tour.

Veli Zal Beach

While Sakarun Beach is often named the most beautiful beach on Dugi Otok, I have to agree with our Airbnb host, who said Veli Zal Beach is better!

Like many beaches in Croatia, Veli Zal is made up of small, white pebbles. It’s nestled at the bottom of a steep slope, and thanks to its remote location, often less crowded than the more popular Sakarun Beach. Just make sure to bring an umbrella, because there is absolutely no shade.

How to get to Veli Zal Beach

Driving around Dugi Otok, we often found ourselves edging down sloping roads in search of the island’s best gems. Veli Zal is no different.

There is a turn-off from the main road roughly halfway between Brbinj and Dragove. From there, it is a steep, narrow drive to Veli Zal Beach. As long as you have a small-ish car, you will be fine, but I’m not sure if a scooter would manage the incline.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Veli Rat Lighthouse

The Veli Rat Lighthouse, constructed in 1849, is one of the oldest and most renowned lighthouses in the Adriatic region. It was built to guide ships and sailors safely through the treacherous waters of the northern Dalmatian coast.

You can climb to the top of the 42-meter-high lighthouse for some stunning views of the coastline, nearby islands and the vast Adriatic Sea. There’s also a small museum on the premises that features exhibits on the region’s maritime heritage and the lighthouse’s historical significance.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Where to stay on Dugi Otok

If you’re looking for a fancy all-inclusive-resort, Dugi Otok is not the place to visit. But other than that, you can find various accommodation, from simple guesthouses to luxurious boutique hotels scattered all across the island.

Sali

Dugi Otok’s main town Sali is located at the southern end of the island. The colourful houses spill out around a picturesque harbour, where small fishing boats are anchored next to imposing yachts. Sali is the best place to stay if you want to be within walking distance of various restaurants, cafes, bars and shops.

  • Bay Sascica and Apartmani Porat are two cosy one-bedroom apartments in Sali. Bay Sascica is located in a more quiet area, across the road from a small harbour and swimming spot. Apartmani Porat is right in the centre of Sali, only meters away from restaurants and the harbour.

Zman

Zman is a sleepy fishing village about a 10-minute drive from Sali. Here you can start your days with a dip in the clear water, then walk along the quiet bay and grab a pastry from the small supermarket. And after a day of exploring Dugi Otok, you can enjoy a local meal at one of the two Konobas (taverns) in the village.

  • Villa Nai 3.3 is one of the most luxurious getaways on Dugi Otok. This unique villa is built from stone harvested from the olive grove surrounding it and blends perfectly into nature. It features 8 stylish rooms, a gourmet restaurant, a spa and sweeping views over Dugi Otok’s coastline.
  • Villa Mezano is an amazing place to stay if you’re travelling as a group. The luxurious villa sleeps 10 people in 3 ensuite bedrooms. In addition, it boasts a fully-equipped kitchen, large terrasse and a heated outdoor pool. Sounds like an awesome spot for a holiday with friends or family, huh?

Luka

Zman’s “neighbor” Luka is another quaint fishing village. A handful of houses are huddled around a beautiful, protected bay. The tables at Luka’s only restaurant are lined up along the harbour, and a small super market provides the main essentials.

  • Picić Guesthouse and Pansion Alan are two small guesthouses in Luka. Both are located right by the water and are excellent choices if you want to be comfortable without having to splurge too much on accommodation.

Northern Dugi Otok

While I’d recommend staying in the southern part of Dugi Otok to be as close as possible to Telascica National Park and the Kornati Islands, staying in the northern half of the island means that you will be closer to Veli Rat lighthouses, and beaches like Veli Zal and Sakarun.

  • Hotel Maxim in Bozava is a great choice if you’re staying in the northern part of Dugi Otok. The hotel overlooks the harbour in Bozava, and the pool deck is a great spot for sundowners with a stunning view. The hotel also offers half-board with a dinner-buffet option. 
You can find great places to stay on Dugi Otok on Booking.com!
 
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Table in front of a restaurant in Dugi Otok

Where to eat & drink on Dugi Otok

Spending your days exploring beaches and sea caves will undoubtedly leave you hungry. Luckily, the Dalmatian cuisine is absolutely divine, featuring delicious cheeses, freshly caught seafood, grilled meat, and rich wines. Here are some of my favourite restaurants on Dugi Otok:

Konoba Marinov Magazin

For a delicious meal and amazing atmosphere head to Konoba Marinov Magazin in Sali. The restaurant is located right by the harbour, and the menu includes meat, seafood and other local specialities.

Konoba Martina

Konoba Martina was a bit of an unexpected find. The restaurant is located in Zaglav, near the only petrol station in Dugi Otok. That’s how we ended up in the village, eating the most delicious seafood pasta. Konoba Martina Zaglav is absolutely worth a detour to Zaglav, even if you don’t need to fuel up your car.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Konoba Regula

Konoba Regula is one of two restaurants in Zman. Konoba is the Croatian word for tavern, and as the name suggests, Konoba Regula serves local delicacies,  including grilled meat and fish. The tavern gets bonus points for its superb terrace right by the water.

Bistro Propela

Bistro Propela is a small bistro and cocktail bar in Bozava. The menu includes breakfast, loaded burgers, and tasty snacks. Located right by the harbour, the bistro is a great spot for some people-watching, ideally with a coffee or cocktail in hand.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

How to get around on Dugi Otok

You’ll need wheels to make the most of your time on Dugi Otok. I’d recommend bringing or renting a small car. This will allow you to explore all the epic spots on the island, including navigating steep narrow roads. You can find the perfect rental car for your trip on rentalcars.com!

If you’re not bringing your car to Dugi Otok on the ferry, you can hire one from Maras Tours or Adamo Travel in Sali. Just be prepared to drive stick shift, since they don’t have any automatic cars.

Alternatively, you can also hire a scooter or even a bicycle from Adamo Travel, and I’m sure cruising Dugi Otok on two wheels would be a lot of fun too. Just keep in mind that, being one of Croatia’s largest islands, the distances can sometimes be a lot bigger than you might think!

All places mentioned in this Dugi Otok Guide

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2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

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Hi, I’m Sara, a twenty-something Swiss on a mission to become a full-time travel writer and digital nomad.