Croatia Travel Guide To Kornati National Park
If island hopping and lots of seaside activities is your idea of a perfect summer vacation, then Kornati National Park is the perfect destination for you in Croatia.
There is no doubt that the country is rich in natural beauty and that is evident in Croatia’s 8 stunning national parks. But the best park that will really make your trip worth the while would depend of the type of activities you like doing.
If you want to see a combination of beaches, archeological sites, and learn about the country’s history, Kornati National Park is a great choice.
Most visitors would like to see all 8 parks but of course, that is not always possible given your time and budget constraints. So if you have to choose a few, this guide will help you decide if Kornati National Park should be on the top of your list.
Kornati National Park’s beauty is undeniably photogenic. You can take a boat tour to imprint the natural scenery in your mind but make sure to also take some photographs.
Stop by the shores along the way and hike on the hills and when you get to the main park, you can dive, snorkel, and swim to make your Kornati islands tour one of the best summers of your life.
A visit to these islands would be unique from the rest of Croatia’s national parks because of the type of sights you will see. Unlike Dubrovnik which features really popular spots like the Game of Thrones filming locations, Kornati National Park offers a more subdued experience but nevertheless still captivating.
Location of Kornati islands
Instead of majestic castles and giant walls, you will be in the middle of uninhabited lands and just try to marvel at the civilization that used to thrive there.
The Adriatic Sea is also rich in marine life so diving and snorkeling in its waters will be quite the underwater summer adventure of a lifetime.
Kornati National Park is located in the Kornati islands which comprises of roughly 140 to 150 islands, islets, and reefs.
Kornati archipelago is the largest and densest in the Adriatic.
These islands are quite an interesting sight because of the natural caves, grottoes, and cliffs that have been formed over the ages due to the karstic terrain.
They are also mostly uninhabited due to the lack of fresh water source.
There had been a long history of deforestation in the islands but fortunately, it had contributed to the formation of beautiful rock formations.
Today, you can see the rocks’ stark white peaks against the deep blue hues in the Adriatic waters, creating an eerie but magnificent sight.
Two groups of these islands are close to the mainland, known as Gornji Kornat to the locals. 89 among of the islands have gained national park status and are protected. The park is in between Zadar and Sibenik, toward north of Dalmatia.
However, do not expect to find a lot of glamorous places to hang out because Kornati National Park is mostly rock formations and clear blue sea.
The Big Picture: Kornati National Park
The Kornati islands have an interesting landscape and just like the other main parks in Croatia, if truly displays the country’s natural beauty.
According to the writer George Bernard Shaw, God crowned his work by creating the Kornati islands out of tears, stars, and breath on the last day of creation.
This description is quite evident in the park’s timeless beauty and those who have been here do not need any convincing that his words hold true.
There are plenty of ways for you to enjoy the scenic views in the islands and one of the best ways to see the best of Kornati National Park is by sailing through the placid blue waters in between.
As you sail around the park, you will not be able to ignore the pertinent high cliffs in the surrounding land areas. Some of the most breathtaking cliffs stretch as high as 60 to 80 meters.
This place is also considered as a diver’s paradise because of the rich underwater life. The waters are especially protected so you can expect only the best quality water, clean, fresh, and refreshing.
You don’t have to be an experienced diver to enjoy this activity because you will be guided and well-equipped for the underwater tour.
After a dip in the azure waters, you can then climb up toward the islands’ captivating peaks. From there, you can get a unique picturesque view of the beautiful archipelago.
But whether you are sailing down the sea or hiking up the cliffs, you will not miss the park’s dry stone walls.
Drywalls of Kornati Islands
These walls also have a rich history going back to the ancient times. They have been built by hand with the purpose of marking the boundaries between the lands in the area.
They go all the way from the peaks to the shores so it is quite a magnificent view. The length of these walls combined come up to about 70km.
Since the islands are now mostly deserted, what you will see during your visit are the traces of the life that used to thrive there.
Old structures still stand such as the Byzantine fortress Tureta which was built during the 6th century and the Church of Gospe from the 16th century.
You can also watch the boat procession which is a religious ceremony held on the 1st Sunday of July so if you are visiting during the summer, you might want to aim your tour of the islands on that day.
People from Murter island join this ceremony with the boat sailing all the way to the early Christian church.
You can visit Kornati National Park by boat or arrange a guided excursion or you can also include it in your guided tour from other nearby cities.
Accommodation is also available in the nearby areas so another idea is to spend the night before taking a tour of the park.
The flora and fauna in Kornati National Park is specially interesting since vegetation in this part of Dalmatia is quite rare.
There are not many animals but you will find lots of seagulls as well as lizards and snakes.
Perhaps, the prettiest sight you will see among the animals are the butterflies of over 69 varieties.
Kornati National Park’s marine fauna is teeming with turtles, crustaceans, and about 160 species of fish.
But the most special thing to behold under its waters is the Pinna nobilis which translates to “noble pen shell”. It is practically an oversized mussel and is strictly protected by wildlife authorities.
Though the vegetation is poor, Mediterranean plants have thrived along with other medicinal herbs. 80 percent of the cultivated areas are composed of olive trees.
There are also figs and fruit bearing trees. The marine flora in the islands is similar to other isles in the Adriatic, with seaweeds and sea sponges.
Despite the arid scenery in the islands, you will also spot some eagles and hawks that settle there during spring and autumn in their migration.
Dolphins are often spotted in the sea.
Exploring the Kornati archipelago
Here are the many things you can do inside Kornati National Park. Despite the islands being remote and undeveloped compared to other Croatia destinations, there are many activities that nature and sea lovers will quite enjoy.
You can take a boat tour to Kornati National Park coming from nearby cities such as Zadar. These boat tours usually take you to the islands’ highlights like the Fort Tureta, the bays and the lakes.
You can arrange for a private tour for a small or larger group. The excursions are usually in a small yacht or speedboat.
If you somehow manage to sail the waters on your own, you would need to purchase a paid ticket to sail through the park.
Snorkeling in waters of Kornati islands
Whether you arrived at the Kornati National Park via an organized boat tour or you have sailed there with your own group, there are no extra fees for snorkeling in the waters.
Your entrance fee to the main park would allow you to snorkel as much as you like. Even just from the surface, you will see lots of memorable things in these waters.
Diving expeditions are also very popular in Kornati National Park. If you want to dive with autonomous diving equipment, you must do it in approved organized groups which you have to arrange with the park authorities in advance.
Diving in Kornati islands is allowed in 9 particular zones. You can dive in Kornat, also known as Opat – Tanka Prisliga, Samograd, Okljuc, Mala Panitula, Vela Panitula, Rasip, Kasela, Mana, and Borovnik.
The waters and the parks in Croatia and particularly in this archipelago are protected so there are some guidelines that you have to follow.
Croatians are committed to preserving their park’s beauty so visitors are expected to respect this.
Divers are not allowed to touch anything or take anything out of the sea. You cannot intentionally disturb the sea organisms.
There is also a limit in diving during the night so the area is closed to divers from 7pm to 7am for safety reasons. You are not permitted to carry any weapon or tools except for a diving knife.
Aside from the private guidelines, divers are also expected to abide by all the laws and regulations for underwater activities that have been implemented by the Republic of Croatia.
The limit to the depth allowed for divers in Kornati National Park is 40 meters.
Swimming in Kornati National Park
Some simply enjoy taking a dip into the waters and swimming freely. So if you are not up for either a dive or snorkeling, you can just put on your swimsuit and take a swim in the sea.
The great thing about swimming in the park is that it is not like the usual beaches in Croatia that often get awfully crowded.
You have more privacy here even in the peak seasons and you can enjoy a relaxing swim while taking in the views around you.
It makes for a rejuvenating vacation whether alone or with your loved ones.
Hiking trails on Kornati National Park
Hiking in the Kornati National Park is a fun and moderately easy activity. You do not have to be an experienced hiker to go up its hills but you can expect some of them to be steep.
If you want to tackle the higher cliffs, make sure you are with someone who have hiked before.
If you are visiting the park during the summer which is the peak season, take note that it can get very hot up in the peaks which can be unbearable to some. So, try to assess your tolerance of heat before engaging in hiking activities in Kornati National Park.
Be equipped with the proper gear like hats, sun shades, and other sun protection such as sunscreen to protect your skin because there is not a lot of shade in those areas.
Another interesting activity you can engage in inside the Kornati National Park is recreational fishing. But it is only allowed for visitors who have secured a recreational fishing permit.
Fishing in the waters of Kornati National Park could be interesting especially since there are over 160 species of fish found in these parts of the sea. You may be able to catch some of the rarer ones.
Wild Bird and Animal Watching
Of course, part of nature’s magnificence are its settlers and that includes the islands’ wild birds and wild animals.
Despite the arid landscape, you can still spot many fascinating creatures in the park. You will find lots of seagulls, lizards and snakes. And it will be a really pretty sight to see the butterflies of over 69 varieties.
Other birds you can expect to see are eagles and hawks that settle there during spring and autumn in their migration.
Dry Stone Walls of Kornati
Whether you are swimming in the ocean or hiking up the cliffs of the Kornati islands, the sight of the dry stone walls will captivate you. Of all the handmade artifacts in Kornati, these walls are the most impressive and also the most historically significant.
The most immediate thing that you will observe when you look at the dry stone walls is its orientation. Since the Kornati islands are elongated, notice that the walls go all the way from the shore up to the peaks.
These walls were built to prevent trespassing of other settlers to someone’s private pastures. As we’ve mentioned, the islands are mostly uninhabited so this is just one of the things that tell stories about how the people from the past lived in these areas.
The walls are not too tall and they are just high enough so that other people will not be able to jump through. It is not too wide but just wide enough to prevent the force of wind to destroy it.
The length of these walls combined come up to about 70km.
Visit Fortress Tureta
While the Kornati islands is no Dubrovnik with its majestic castles and cathedrals, it does have its own defensive structures that go back to the ancient times like the Fortress Tureta.
It is the most significant fortress in the islands which had stood there since the Byzantine period.
Like many defensive structures in Croatia and in the Dalmatian area, the fortress was built for military purposes. The people used it to protect the lands and to control navigation or marine traffic in this part of the Adriatic sea.
To get to the fortress, it would take some 10-minute climb from the foot of the hills. Its design is probably the closest one that you will see in the island to the archeological sites in Dubrovnik or Zagreb.
Rocky patches line the steps up to the fortress so be careful when climbing up.
There is not much to see inside its walls but being in that location gives you a great view of the fields and the sea down below.
Our Lady of Tarac Church
Among the many cultural sights inside the Kornati National Park is the Church of Our Lady of Tarac.
It is one of the buildings that date back to the middle ages. It’s a small structure but it has quite an impressive design and going inside is a pleasant short trip.
The church is a modest one-nave building built in the 17th century. It is very likely that it was built from the remains of the previous basilica that used to stand near it. The church has been dedicated to the Visitation of Mary.
If you are interested, you can attend the masses being held especially during the festival held on the first Sunday of July. This is also where the boat procession ends which is a religious ceremony celebrated on that same day.
Traces of other buildings are evident in the surrounding area which tells us that there used to be a community around this religious structure, even if the place is now deserted.
Events in Kornati National Park
Depending on which time of the year you go to the Kornati National Park, you may be able to catch a few of the special cultural events.
The religious people of the Kornati islands hold the Festivity on Tarcu on the first Sunday of July.
This day is a special holiday for the Catholics in celebration of the feast of the Madonna of Tarca on Kornat islands. In this festival, the townsfolk also do the boat procession.
This procession is a religious ceremony that may be quite interesting even if you’re not religious so you might want to time your tour of the islands on that day.
People from Murter island join this ceremony with the boat sailing all the way to the early Christian church, the Church of Gospe from the 16th century.
Another exciting event is the Kornati Cup which is a regatta of traditional sailboats. This cup happens just before the peak season in Kornati National Park, held every April of each year.
Excursions on Kornati islands
You can join or arrange for an organized excursion of the islands. If you are visiting alone, you can choose to be part of another group.
Some boat excursions sail from the Borik Marina which is the closest sailing spot to Zadar going to Kornati National Park.
The day trip is a total of 10 hours including the travel time going to the islands. Most of the time, the fee for the tour already includes the entrance ticket to the islands. Some touring agencies also include meals and drinks.
Some day tours sail from the town of Murter which is the closest harbor to the Kornati islands.
It is about 17 kilometers away from Kornati National Park. Make sure to check the schedules of the boats particular to the month you are visiting because they could vary.
Visiting Kornati National Park: How to Prepare
It’s best to be prepared and take note of the things you need to know before you go th Kornati National Park.
One of the most important things to consider is your time. The the Kornati islands and the park itself are a big area so it’s best to dedicate one full day for your visit.
In any case, it will not be like other national parks in Croatia which you can include in a day trip from the major cities.
It is more complicated to reach the park so you will really have to prepare to spend a full day or maybe even a night in a town nearby.
This is evident in some of the day tours being offered around the islands which takes 10 hours most of the time including the sailing time from the port to the the Kornati islands.
Remember that there are limited visitor facilities. Unlike other national parks, there are fewer restaurants so think about bringing your own snacks and drinks.
It is especially important to carry a bottle of water with you most of all if you plan to go on hikes and climb the islands’ steep hills.
Wear comfortable shoes and keep in mind that the general landscape in the park is rocky.
It is not advisable to wear sandals. The best thing to wear are hiking shoes or a durable and comfortable pair of walking shoes that can withstand rough terrain.
Most of Kornati National Park’s main activities involve swimming down the waters so if you don’t want to miss these underwater adventures, do not forget to pack your swimwear.
There are snorkeling gear that you can rent but if you have your own, feel free to bring them on your trip.
Lastly, if you are visiting in the peak season or in the summer, make sure to bring sun protection because the sun can get really tough during those times.
Apply sunscreen a few minutes before you step into the park or even before you take the boat ride to the entrance. Wearing shades and hats will also help and add protection from the heat of the sun.
How to Get to Kornati National Park
You can take a day tour on a boat or a yacht and sail through the islands’ waters to explore the sights then stop over to partake in some of the popular activities.
What other people do, which is not highly recommended if you are not experienced in this type of activity, is to tour the island in “Robinson Crusoe” style.
That means, going to the islands on your own or rented boat and staying in a house with no electricity or tap water.
Not many people are able to do this so do it only if you are really trying to get away from it all and want to experience a completely different life than what you’re used to for a day or two.
What’s good about most of the day tours to the islands is that you will also be able to explore the areas around the archipelago.
You will see the contrast between the tranquil inner part of the Kornati National Park and the world in the open sea.
Getting to the islands is a bit more complicated compared to the other national parks. But you can try to follow the signs form the motorway exit going to Murter where the nearest port to the park is located. You can drive along this way and leave your car in the town to take the boat tour.
If you want, you can enter the Kornati National Park on your own boat or a rented boat but you would have to pay the entrance fee which allows you to sail in the waters.
Entrance tickets vary but they range from 250kn to 1,500kn per boat depending on the season.
If Zadar is one of the cities you are visiting in your Croatian trip, you can actually take a ferry ride from Zadar to the Kornati islands but this is offered only as part of day tours from touring agencies.
There will be a meeting point, usually at the Borik Marina which is part of the tourist area in Zadar.
Just make sure to double check that the excursion is headed to Kornati National Park.
The fees you will pay to access the park depend on how you are going inside. If you are accessing the park with your own boat, you have to pay a ticket to sail in. Some day tours already include the entrance fee to the park.
This does not usually include fees to go diving but snorkeling is free most of the time.
The ticket prices also vary depending if you will buy them inside the park versus if you buy them outside the park.
Here are the fees to sail inside the islands if you are bringing your own boat or sea vessel.
Boats up to 10.99m require an entrance fee of 240kn which is the price of the ticket outside the park and 300kn if you buy the ticket inside the park.
Boats from 11 up to 17.99m require an entrance fee of 430kn which is the price of the ticket outside the park and 540kn if you buy the ticket inside the park.
Boats from 18 up to 24.99m require an entrance fee of 580kn which is the price of the ticket outside the park and 720kn if you buy the ticket inside the park.
Boats from 25 up to 49.99m require an entrance fee of 960kn which is the price of the ticket outside the park and 1,200kn if you buy the ticket inside the park.
Boats from 50 up to 74.99m require an entrance fee of 2,000kn which is the price of the ticket outside the park and 2,500kn if you buy the ticket inside the park.
Boats from 80m and above require an entrance fee of 4,000kn which is the price of the ticket outside the park and 5,000kn if you buy the ticket inside the park.
As mentioned, there is no fee if you are snorkeling on your own or even diving on your own.
But if you want to use autonomous diving gear, you would have to organize a group diving expedition which requires a diving license with a fee of 100kn per person in the group per day.
The permit or diving license also goes higher if not bought in advance so plan your trip and buy your tickets and permits before your tour.
Restaurants and Shops
Since the Kornati islands are mostly deserted, you will not find a lot of dining places and shops around, especially not glamorous ones.
You can buy food and drinks from nearby ports or towns like Murter and Sali. But during the peak season or in the summer, some food items and other essential supplies are available from boats that frequent the area.
These boats go inside the park so if you forgot to pack something or need an extra bottle of water, you can buy from them in local currency.
Despite the fact, you will still find a few restaurants inside the Kornati National Park. These are usually taverns but they are only open during the summer.
If you really want a proper restaurant, you can go to nearby places like Mala Proversa, Mir, and Magrovica Bays.
When it is not the peak season, you will not be able to buy food within the park.
Best Time to Visit Kornati
Even though summer is the peak season which is also the time that you can expect more crowds, more boats, and more divers and hikers in the islands, it is still the best time to visit Kornati National Park.
The park is open all year round but summer is the most popular time to visit.
A lot of places like the small restaurants inside the park are not open during the off season. During the winter season, you will also not be able to do some of the activities like diving.
Another important factor to consider is the availability of supplies and food items inside the park when it is not the peak season.
You can bring your own food and drinks but if anything happens and you need an extra bottle of water, it will be very difficult to obtain one outside the summer season.
Just be prepared for the summer heat and equip yourself with the right clothes, gear, and shoes when you visit Kornati National Park.