Located off the coast of northern Dalmatia, west of Šibenik, the Kornati Islands, also known as the Kornati, are one of the most famous tourist attractions: 152 islands, islets, and large rocks in less than 70 square kilometres make up the largest archipelago in the Adriatic Sea. Characteristic of this Archipelago are the sheer cliffs called 'crowns' (hence the name) that are typical of the Lower Kornati.
These are islands of karstic origin. They, therefore, offer a rocky landscape (often deep white) of spectacular beauty, with cliffs full of caves and ravines.
They lie practically opposite Dalmatia, about fifteen nautical miles south of Zadar, and no fewer than 89 of them are part of a natural park, the Kornati National Park
The Kornati National Park
Since 1980, 89 of these islands have been part of a well-preserved nature park. Strict rules on the flow of tourist activities and the small number of buildings on the islands have turned the Kornati the ideal destination to visit, preferably by boat.
Sailing here will genuinely give you the full-on experience to appreciate the wild beauty of the unspoilt nature of these islands and the stretch of sea, which offers a fantastic wealth of animal and plant species.
To enter the marine park, you'll need a permit (something the Marina will issue for you). While you'll be allowed to sail throughout most of the park except for a few protected areas, anchoring and subsequent overnight stays are only allowed in about twenty bays.
There are a few areas/islands in the park that are under restricted protection and to which access is currently prohibited. Still, they are a few islets that are easy to remember: Purara, Klint, Volic, Mali Obrucan, Veli Obrucan, Mrtenjak and Klobuchar.
As well as sailing, you'll be able to enjoy swimming and snorkelling pretty much in the entire park except for a few protected areas. Diving requires a permit, but it is worth it. A true underwater paradise awaits you below the water level with a diversity of fish species with few equals in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Archipelago is divided into Upper and Lower Kornati. Its typical impressive cliffs can be found primarily in the Lower Kornati Islands and many of them rise to 60-80 metres and sink more than a hundred metres underwater.
Although there is no permanent population, some islands have private houses equipped with a generator and a cistern. Tourists tend to rent a good majority of them during the summer months, but you won't find any shops there, and you'll have to rely on a few boats which, during the high season, practically turn into travelling mini-markets between the main islands.
Due to the lack of buildings and the difficulty of staying overnight, the Kornati Islands are best enjoyed by those who visit by boat and can moor in the waters, spending the night onboard and then starting their exploration again the following day.
Kornati islands: the most beautiful bays to moor in
Saharun is just under a kilometre long on the southern side of Dugi Otok or Kunga Island and is a sandy beach. Here you will find a very shallow sea bed that never reaches more than 10 metres in depth. It is ideal for swimming, snorkelling and diving. The beach opens up to the south and partly to the open sea, making this perhaps one of the few destinations in the area ideal for windsurfing.
Opat is located on Kornat Island in the Kornati Archipelago and is home to a restaurant of the same name. At Konoba Opat Kornati, you can try some authentic Dalmatian dishes rich in rosemary, sage, capers and olives picked locally. Opat Bay offers mooring for around 20 boats. The only sore point is the orientation of this bay. Opat is partially exposed south-east to the open sea, and is often hit by the more southerly winds. This represents a sailing challenge primarily during autumn when those winds blow more frequently than during the rest of the year.
Telascica is a nature park located in the southeastern part of Dugi Otok or Dugi Otok. Just outside the bay is a saltwater lake where you can swim. Talescica is one of the few places in the world where you can find a lake on an island. Here the crystal clear sea and a good offer of restaurants will keep you busy: you can enjoy authentic seafood and famous Croatian wines as well as beautiful views from one of the verandas of the island's Konoba.
Telascica is well sheltered from the winds due to its location and is ideal if you want to moor in a quiet place or perhaps spend the night without too much movement.
Larnaka is the highest island in the Archipelago at 117 metres and offers the best view from the air.
On the island of Levrnaka, there is only one sandy beach in the whole of the Kornati Archipelago, and it is called "Lojena", located only 5 minutes walk from a famous tavern, Konoba Levrnaka. Levrnaka also offers a safe shelter from the weather. The bay of Anica faces west and is open to west/north-west winds.
Strunac is a beautiful bay in the heart of the Archipelago, on the uninhabited island of Zut. Here, just 25 km from Murter, you'll find an island of stone, olives, figs, vines and crystal clear sea. Great food, beautiful warm sea, breathtaking views everywhere you look, and good people! A reason why Strunac is an ideal place to visit. Get back to nature by having a quiet and relaxing holiday visiting Strunac Bay.
Kornati islands: what else to see
Although generally uninhabited, in the Kornati Islands you'll find all facilities you'll need as a tourist: Croatian taverns, first aid stations on Murter and Dugi Otok, and a small shop on the island of Vela Panitula.
While the coastline, sea, sun, and diving tend to attract primarily tourists here; you'll also find some points of interest.
Vela Placa is worth a visit as it is a vast and impressive slab of limestone over 9000 square metres in size on the bottom of Melina.
The large dry stone walls that were once used to mark out pastures and properties are worth mentioning and visiting.
The most significant architectural elements of the Archipelago are on Kornat, once the nerve centre of the Kornati islands. Here you can admire the church of Our Lady of Tarac and the Tureta Fortress from the 6th century.
The Tureta Fortress from the sea
If you are lucky enough to be sailing in these waters in early July, make sure not to miss the boat pilgrimage every first Sunday of July from Murter to Tarac Bay. Hundreds of boats will be parading before your eyes, an event that is both festive and impressive.
The islands of Zut, Mana and Klobučar
Along with Kornat, the largest island in the Archipelago, the other important island is Zut, rich in olive and fig trees, which is also home to a few fishermen's houses, usually inhabited only during the summer, and a marina with more than a hundred moorings and various services.
How you experience the Kornati islands will depend largely on the type of tour you take. Still, visitors to this Archipelago can expect a mix of land and sea activities, taking advantage of the unique limestone-karst terrain and underwater ecosystem.
A good first hike to try, thanks to its epic views across the Archipelago, is to the top of the Melina or Opat peaks on the main island of Kornat. The sparse terrain of the islands means there is very little shelter, so start early in the morning, bring hats, water and sunscreen and stop often to rest if it's hot. On Mana and Klobučar, you can skirt dramatic cliffs rising straight out of the ocean, admiring the rugged, sharp terrain that was formed millions of years ago. If you're particularly keen on geology, two easy educational trails on the islands of Trtusa and Panitula will tell you about the natural and human history of the region.
There is plenty of wildlife to see in the Kornati Archipelago, but much of it is difficult to spot. This includes reptiles (snakes and lizards) and birds (owls, buzzards, peregrine falcons, kestrels). But the real attraction here is what goes on underwater, where brightly coloured fish, moray eels and crustaceans move in and out of caves and caverns, among corals and sponges.
If you are a fan of snorkelling, you can grab a mask and snorkel and explore this beautiful part of the Adriatic from underwater. Most dive companies adhere to strict Croatian guidelines and are located on the island of Murter. Of course, snorkelling is much easier, as it can be done on your own with little equipment, straight from the boat, renting one directly in Croatia!