If you're a sailor, you've probably heard of Kornati National Park, or maybe even sailed through it. Even if you've been there many times, this pearl nestled in central Croatia is so vast you'll always find something new to discover. What makes this belt of uninhabited islands so special? Which islands should you visit on your voyage? How much does it cost to get in? Where can you anchor? And what's strictly prohibited? Our guide to this breathtaking sailing labyrinth has the answers to all these questions and more.
What are the Kornati Islands and where are they located?
Kornati National Park covers a relatively large area (about 220 km²) and comprises of 89 stunning islands, islets and reefs in the southern part of northern Dalmatia between the islands of Žirje and Dugi Otok. This archipelago skirts the coast between Zadar and Šibenik with the open sea washing in from the west and its name likely derives from the Italian word 'corona' because of the shape of the rock formations and caves that rise out of the sea.
Desert island getaway
Overall, the islands are not very hospitable due to the harsh conditions created by the sea and wind and are mostly made up of limestone formations, with little vegetation beyond shrubs, wild sage and other herbs. In some places, the rocky landscape has given way to more fertile soil, allowing for the growth of olive trees and other crops, but the lack of fresh water makes it a difficult region for agriculture.
Although the landscape is inhospitable, the locals graze their sheep
Although people have been trying to live on Kornati since the times of the ancient Romans, none of the islands are permanently inhabited today. This is due to the lack of a stable source of drinking water, which must either be imported or collected from rainwater. As a result, the only settlements on the islands are temporary ones, occupied by people who grow olives, keep sheep or run restaurants. Despite this, it is the wildness and remoteness that attracts not only the tourists in search of a desert island, but the sailors who have discovered what an unforgettable experience sailing and exploring this karst labyrinth is. In many parts, the only sign of human presence is the flocks of sheep brought to the islands each year by their owners to graze.
Why sail in the Kornati National Park?
Known for barren slopes with no harbours or towns, what draws tourists and sailors to Kornati in the first place?
- Natural phenomenon
Whether you appreciate the place or not, Kornati is a natural phenomenon. The view from up high is absolutely breathtaking, the sea is crystal-clear and you'll truly feel like you're in another world.
- Azure water
Since there is no permanent population on the islands, the sea is clear and perfect for swimming. The waters are often said to be among the bluest in the world and can even be seen from space.
- Divine tranquillity
Kornati is far from the hectic towns, bars, discos and tourist trails. Here, you'll experience a tranquillity you won't find anywhere else — at night, the sky is filled with stars and the only sound you'll hear is the gentle splash of the sea. There's none of the hustle and bustle or stress of the big city, or any of the associated litter and water pollution. Here, you can truly escape the distractions of modern civilisation and enjoy the tranquility of nature.
3 sailing routes in the Kornati archipelago — for beginners to advanced sailors
Not sure where to head in the Kornati National Park? Take some inspiration from one of our three routes of varying difficulty. Of course, they can also be freely combined, depending on exactly what you want to see or what the weather conditions are.
When planning your route, we recommend using Navionics or other maps to plot your course.
1. Beginner route: Biograd na Moru — Žut — Kornat — Lavsa — Opat — Biograd na Moru
- Set sail from Biograd na Moru.
- If you have time, we recommend visiting the island of Vrgada, where you'll find buoy fields. Picking up a buoy and mooring there is pure relaxation.
- Continue on to ACI marina Žut, where you can not only refill your water tank, but also take a morning hike up the hill to get a bird's eye view of Kornati. There's also an excellent (albeit more expensive) restaurant there called Fešta.
- While you're in Kornati, don't forget to check out the largest of the islands — Kornat. It offers several beautiful bays such as Uvala Spinata, Kravljacica or Uvala Striznja. The local restaurants have smaller jetties where you can spend the night but we do recommend booking in advance.
- Continue to the island of Lavsa, a gorgeous swimming spot where you can moor at a buoy. We recommend the bay of Uvala Opat, where there is a popular restaurant with a bar. However, in high season, again, you have to book well ahead, otherwise you won't find a free place.
- And back to Biograd na Moru for check-out.
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2. Intermediate route: Murter — Ravni Žakan — Levrnak — Mir — Žut — Murter
- Set sail from Murter, either from Marina Jezera, Hramina or Betina.
- Head directly to Kornati, to the bay of Ravni Žakan, where you can moor at the jetty of the local restaurant or at anchor opposite the smaller island of Kameni Žakan.
- Set course for Levrnak. You'll need to book a spot at the pier in advance during peak season.
- Visit the lake at Mir Bay, a saltwater lake that is well worth the hike. You'll find mooring buoys in the bay.
- The next day, spend the night at ACI marina Žut, where you can visit the excellent restaurant Fešta.
- On the final day, take the leisurely return journey back to Murter.
3. Advanced route: Zadar — Sali — NP Telaščica — Levrnaka — Piškera — Žut — Zadar
- Set sail from the popular Marina Dalmacija (Zadar) or from another marina in the area. If you have a smaller yacht, continue under the Pašman-Ugljan bridge — the bridge is only 16.5 metres above the water's surface, so it is only suitable for boats of up to around 45 feet in length. Ask the charter company at check-in if your boat will be able to pass under the bridge. For those with taller boats, we recommend going around the island of Ugljan from the north and take the pleasant sail from Zadar to Sali (approx. 25 NM).
- Visit Sali. This is a lovely place to meet the locals and you'll find a pier here to moor at.
- Continue on the channel between the islands of Katina and Kornat. This is marked by special stones (something you don't often come across) which you need to be aware of and watch out for. The shallowest spot is only 2.5 metres deep. Spend the night on the buoys in Mir Bay. On your second day here, you can take a trip to the Mir salt lake or venture even deeper through the Telascica National Park. Beware, however, that there is a fee to enter this national park.
- Levrnaka bay is beautiful, but we recommend booking a place on the pier.
- Piškera bay is a very popular location. Although it's very shallow in places, it offers incredibly clear azure waters. You'll discover an excellent restaurant here.
- Continue then to the island of Zut.
- From here it's "just" across the sea back to the home marina of Zadar.
What is the admission fee to Kornati National Park?
There is a charge for entry to Kornati National Park and all recreational boats must pay to sail through the area. We've put together a list of the current prices and tips on how to make significant savings.
If you buy your ticket outside the national park boundaries, you'll pay the following prices depending on the size of your boat (2022):
Vessel length / Length of stay
For 1 day
For 3 days
Up to 23 feet
If you buy your ticket directly at the national park, you will be subject to these higher prices (2022):
Vessel length / Length of stay
For 1 day
Up to 23 feet
YACHTING.COM TIP: Check out Admission fees to Croatian national parks: Kornati, Mljet and Telašćica for links to current prices, as well as tips on saving costs.
Cheaper options for entry to the national park. What are they?
If you stay overnight at ACI Marina Piskera, you automatically get free entry to the national park for the next day and, of course, all the mooring and marina facilities. Ask about this option at the marina reception.
Another option is to get a bargain multipass, which entitles you to enter more than one national park. These include Kornati NP, Telašcica NP, Mljet NP and Lastovsko Otočje NP. One park admission works out to be a fraction of what it would usually cost.
To avoid high prices consider sailing outside of the peak season when admission prices are significantly lower — October to May. As well as saving on entrance fees and marinas, you'll also have more privacy as it tends to get quite busy in high season.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Sailing in autumn and early spring has its own specifics. Take a look at our article on what to pack for an autumn voyage, so you won't be caught off guard.
The most beautiful places in Kornati: 9 must-see places
Kornati is simply stunning. Choosing any of the islands to visit and you can't really go wrong (except those that are off-limits). Here we bring you our favourites that you shouldn't miss when cruising here.
1. Levrnaka Island
Here you'll find the excellent Konoba Levrnaka restaurant, which also has its own jetty. We recommend ordering the traditional Croatian specialty "peka" the day before you arrive. It is heavenly! They also have a great selection of local wines.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Croatia is definitely not just about pljeskavica (large meat patty) or ćevapi (mincemeat roll) washed down with Karlovačko beer. Brimming with colour and flavour, the fine local cuisine ensures that even foodies among you will find something to delight their taste buds. Individual dishes only vary slightly from region to region but along the way, there are plenty of local specialties waiting to be discovered during your voyage, especially on the islands. For example, the celebrated travarica (herbal brandy) that’s infused with myrtle on the island of Hvar. Discover what you should sample on your Croatian adventure — Croatian cuisine: dishes and drinks you have to try.
On the other side of the island of Lavrnaka, just a short and pleasant 15-minute walk away, you will discover a bay with a sandy beach. Yes, with real white sand like in the Caribbean! This is really unusual in Croatia, which is why we wholeheartedly recommend this short trip. Many catamarans anchor here overnight.
Pier at the restaurant in Levrnaka bay
2. Marian pilgrimage on Kornat
If you like local customs and traditions, head here on the first Sunday in July, when there is the annual Marian pilgrimage by boat to the Church of Our Lady of Tarac, Queen of the Sea (Gospe od Tarca) on the largest of the islands — Kornat. Pilgrims coming to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary still wear folk costumes and it is regarded as being the most spectacular event of its kind in Croatia.
3. Picturesque Lavsa
Supposedly the safest harbour in Kornati is located on the island of Lavsa, sheltered from all local winds except the Bora. However, if the forecast is poor, you'll need a reservation. The island of Lavsa itself is very picturesque.
YACHTING.COM TIP: When it comes to wind, each location along the coast has its own unique characteristics. Discover what winds you can expect in Croatia, what the locals call them, and how to deal with them during your sailing trip in our guide — Winds of the Adriatic: a guide to the most common. In general, it is essential to check the weather regularly on your Adriatic voyage. To find out which sources to monitor, and get the information in time to shelter from a storm, check out How to get the most accurate weather forecast in Croatia?
4. Uvala Opat on Kornat
On the main island of Kornat, there is the very popular Opat tavern, where the food is excellent. But we like this place for another reason, and that is the hike up Opat hill. The hike is a bit more challenging than just a relaxing stroll, and especially in summer, we recommend it early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat. From the top, there is a beautiful view of the whole Kornati region.
In high season, be sure to reserve a spot on the jetty at Opat, otherwise, they won't have space for you. This is a very popular stop for recreational yachts.
Rocky island with a lighthouse on Vela Sestrica
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you set sail for the beauty of the Kornati archipelago, it would be a mistake to miss the Tajer lighthouse on the island of Vela Sestrica. Built in 1876, it is the only iron lighthouse in Croatia. Those more romantic souls can even stay overnight in this secluded spot. To learn more about the most interesting lighthouses in the European seas, read our article on the 15 most beautiful lighthouses you must visit.
5. Ravni Žakan
There is a very nice restaurant on this island where you will be treated like a VIP and they have their own pier, which, again, you should book in advance. This bay is a fantastic place for snorkelling, which we really recommend as it is teeming with some amazing fish. At another bay a short distance from here there are buoys where you can moor. There's an outdoor gym where you can workout, you can get the key from the restaurant staff.
6. Marina Piškera on the island of Vela Panitula
We really like this marina on Vela Panitula Island (just off Piškera Island). It has beautiful clear waters and you can swim right next to the boat. Be careful of the depths or shallows here though — in some places, the depth gauge will read 0, but don't let that scare you off.
Marina Piskera has all the facilities you need — showers, toilets and a good restaurant. We especially recommend having fresh fish here which is absolutely delicious. In the morning, a popular activity for sailors is to swim to the opposite shore (about 50 metres) and stroll up the hill. From there you can see the whole Kornati belt and the marina itself as if it were in the palm of your hand. Or stay on the same shore and just take a walk along the surrounding cliffs and look out to sea.
ACI Marina Piskera
7. Ruins on Mana
On the islet of Mana, the ruins are very popular with both tourists and sailors. Although, in reality, these ruins are just the remnant of an old German movie set, it still attracts many visitors. For sailors, this landmark is easily accessible — you can anchor in Mana Bay and a path leads directly there.
8. Klobučar cliffs
The island of Klobučar is a separate nature reserve within the Kornati National Park. It is particularly interesting because of its massive 80-metre high cliffs. It is from these cliffs (or "crown") that the whole archipelago got its name.
9. View of Kornati from Žut
If you don't want to sail all the way to the Kornati National Park, but would like to see it, we recommend going to the island of Žut. Apart from the fact that there is a nice ACI marina here, after climbing the highest peak, Tvrdomešnjak, you'll get a bird's eye view of Kornati. For more romance, go for a walk at sunset or just before sunrise. Žut is also known for its excellent olive oil.
What to watch out for when sailing in Kornati?
Anchor only in permitted places
You can't moor absolutely everywhere — you can find suitable spots for anchoring marked in the charts. The rest of the area is protected to preserve the seabed. There are significant fines and you don't want to unnecessarily destroy the underwater marine environment.
Some islands are very flat and their edges are slowly disappearing below sea level. This means that there are often shoals at the end of the island. So don't sail too close.
In the Kornati area, isolated hazards are frequent among the islands. Some are marked but usually just by a black stick protruding out of the water. Others are not marked at all. So keep a close eye on your depth gauge, charts and navigation.
Jagged rocks in Kornati
No fishing or campfires
Recreational fishing is prohibited in Kornati National Park. The same applies to collecting shells and stones. It is also prohibited to light an open fire in the area. The park rangers monitor these measures and if you violate them, you will face a hefty fine.
What to do in Kornati National Park?
When you arrive in Kornati and pay the entrance fee, you will definitely want to make the most of your time here. What activities can you do in Kornati?
If you're not a fan of just relaxing, sunbathing and swimming in the sea, you'll enjoy hiking. In the summer, we recommend that you start early in the morning or in the evening. There are no tall trees on Kornati to provide shade, and the hot midday sun in the open could give you a bad case of sunstroke.
There are several hiking opportunities, such as the highest point of the entire archipelago on the island of Kornat. Here you can climb to the dizzying heights of 237 metres above sea level to the Metlina lookout point. Another tourist attraction is the geological formation called Magazinova škrila or Vela Ploča (big slab) below the peak of Metlina. This plateau was formed by a landslide and resembles an icy inclined plane, although it is actually made of stone.
Diving and snorkelling in Kornati National Park
As it is a protected area, Kornati National Park has an abundance of underwater life. However, individual scuba diving is not allowed here. Divers can join one of the organised groups though, for example around the island of Rasip. In Kornati you can see red algae, gorgonia, sponges and, at greater depths, the rare red coral. Even the less adventurous sailors will enjoy snorkelling here.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Do you like exploring the underwater world? Check out our article on the most dangerous creatures of the Croatian seas and coastline or our advice on What to do if a jellyfish stings you?.
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