Zadar is truly the center of activity for northern Dalmatia and also a point of departure for many other destinations. The medieval city of Nin is just a short drive north of Zadar. It is a town with funky charisma, the smallest cathedral in the world, and entrancing spirit legends. Zadar is also a ferry port for the decidedly undeveloped northern Dalmatian islands of Silba, Ugljan, Pasman, and Dugi Otok. Sometimes known as "the islands of the Zadar Archipelago," Ugljan, Pasman, and Dugi Otok are the three most visited of the offshore islands, but none are overrun by tourists. From Zadar, it's an easy drive to Paklenica National Park, a challenging environment for hikers, rock climbers, and spelunkers. And Zadar is also a major departure point for tours to the Kornati National Park, which is really a portion of the southern islands of the Zadar Archipelago. South of Zadar on the way to Sibenik, you'll hit Biograd, once a medieval metropolis and now a crowded package resort. Each of these locations has its own charms, and each is a reasonable distance from Zadar -- accessible either by private or public transport.
Kornati National Park
Kornati National Park is part of a group of nearly 150 mostly uninhabited islands south of Pašman and Dugi Otok. The park’s 89 islands, islets, and reefs are scattered across an area of about 78 sq. km (30 sq. miles) of land and 207 sq. km (80 sq. miles) of sea. Kornati’s unusual landscape of mostly barren, irregular karst terrain is actually a submerged mountain range; the visible parts are ancient mountaintops and valleys that are now islands and channels. Less than a quarter of the Kornati area is land and the park’s underwater landscape is perhaps its most fascinating feature. Kornati is renowned as a diver’s paradise, with unusual rock formations where many species of fish and plant life thrive. Both scuba divers and snorkelers will enjoy Kornati, although scuba enthusiasts must be part of a group approved by the National Park if they want to explore any of the seven zones set aside for diving visits.
If you’d rather explore land, don’t miss the Kornati “crowns,” steep island cliffs that face the sea, a result of a rift caused by a continental collision millions of years ago.
Kornat is the largest of the park’s islands and the site of the 6th-century fortress of Toreta, an excellent example of Byzantine architecture. The precise history of Toreta is not known, but it’s probably safe to assume that the fortress was built to protect navigation on the Adriatic. Near the fortress, you also can see the remains of an early Christian three-nave church from the same period.
The islands were sold in the 19th century by Zadar aristocrats to the people of Murter. Today the inhabitants of Murter own 90 percent of the land, and use it to raise sheep or to grow olives and other crops suited to its rocky soil.
There are no permanent residents on the Kornati islands, but some people do have houses that they use when tending sheep or taking care of their crops. It is possible to stay on Kornati with one of the families who have cottages there. To room with a Kornati family, make arrangements with any tourist agency in Murter. Kornati also has 16 bays with mooring areas designated for boaters who want to drop anchor overnight.
Visitor Information -- For information on visiting Kornati National Park, contact the park office (www.kornati.hr; tel. 022/435-750) at Butina 2, Murter. The office can direct you to approved dive escorts, and to private agencies approved to run individual tours and accommodations on Kornati.
Getting There -- There is no ferry service between the Kornati islands and the mainland, and the only way to get there is by boat. You can book one-day excursions to the islands from Zadar or Šibenik, or you can arrange private boat tours and accommodations at the travel agencies on Murter. You’ll have more flexibility if you charter your own boat, but you can’t dive unless you are with an approved dive group.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.