Though it’s the largest island off the coast of Zadar and easy to reach by ferry or catamaran, not too many people venture over to Dugi Otok. Named for its characteristic shape, Dugi Otok is 45 kilometers long and just 5 kilometers wide. An island of hidden coves, sheer cliffs, ancient ruins, and gorgeous white pebble beaches, it’s the perfect destination for travelers seeking unforgettable scenery and historical sites without the crowds.
Jadrolinija operates a car ferry (trajekt) and a passenger boat (katamaran) between Dugi Otok and Zadar. The ferry arrives in the port town of Brbinj. There are two catamaran lines: one heads to Sali, the largest settlement on Dugi Otok, and the other docks in nearby Zaglav. Schedules are available online, but you’ll have to buy your ticket at the ticket office in the port of Zadar.
Keep in mind that public transportation is limited on Dugi Otok, so if you plan to travel there without a vehicle, you’ll want to consider renting a bicycle, scooter, or car once you arrive.
Dugi Otok’s largest town, Sali, is an odd place, in the very best sense of the word. Its imaginative citizens continually find inspiration in not having a whole lot to do. A local artist creates installations from stray objects he finds on the beach – his decorative strands of flip flops and sandals hang like banners above a painted slab of concrete appointed specifically for sitting around and people watching. Another Sali citizen took it upon himself to open a library where the locals read, play computer games, and gather together to watch football on an outdoor television screen.
Though winter in Sali can be interesting, the best time to visit is during Saljske Uzance, a celebration that takes place the first weekend in August – so start planning for next summer. For three days, locals and visitors alike enjoy seafood (like fish stew and mussels) freshly cooked in the town’s small port, concerts, and “donkey music,” performed by the young men of the town, who march through the port, banging drums, blowing horns, and lighting flares. On the last day of the festival, the town gathers together for donkey races. The fastest donkey wins a healthy hunk of prsut, while the slowest donkey is awarded a certificate celebrating its laziness.
Telascica Nature Park
Located on the southeastern part of the island near Sali, Telascica Nature Park covers some 70 square kilometers of sparkling blue water, small islands, and picturesque, hidden coves.
If you’re driving to the park from Sali, stop at Grpascak, an old Austrian fort, for breathtaking views of Stene, the steep cliffs that fall vertically into the sea from a height of 200 meters. From here, you’ll also be treated to a stunning panorama of Telascica Bay. One of the largest and calmest bays on the Adriatic, it’s the perfect spot to drop anchor and go for a swim.
Beaches on Sali are, for the most part, pleasantly calm, lacking the crowds of Croatia’s top beaches. You’ll find several pristine, quiet spots, like Lojisce Beach, in Telascica Nature Park.
At the other end of the island, a small beach on Veli Rat offers great views of Dugi Otok’s lighthouse. Standing 42 meters high, the lighthouse at Veli Rat is the tallest in the Adriatic. It was built in 1849, when, according to legend, 100,000 egg yolks were used to give the facade its unique yellow color. Today, the lighthouse provides accommodation for visitors seeking a romantic getaway.
Sakarun is the island’s most well known – and most crowded – beach. A sandy bottom and shallow waters make this calm cove popular among families, while a couple of beach bars cater to the younger crowd. Though beautiful, fast food stands and loud music make Sakarun feel a bit carnivalesque.
Ruins and caves
Driving through the island, you’ll have the opportunity to visit a number of archeological sites. At Vlakno Cave, a 11,000 year-old skeleton was found practically undisturbed, lying next to a fire site. Organized excavations have not been carried out at nearby Strasna Pec, but small weapons have been found there. The cave is now open to visitors who can walk a path that winds through its impressive stalagmites and stalactites.
South of Sali, towards photogenic Cuscica Bay, sits an ancient Illyrian grave dating to the 8th – 5th century B.C. The grave site is so modest you might miss it – from the road, it looks like a wide, flat, pile of rocks near a small stone shelter. At the center of the rocks is the tomb – a tiny, rectangular pit formed by thick stone slabs. The surrounding area is full of similar grave mounds.
A number of early Christian churches, dating as early as the 4th century, dot the island. Though most are now merely ruins, their resilient walls provide a sense of their original appearance.