Montenegro is a small country in the Balkans oozing with natural beauty, from its sparkling Mediterranean Coastline to monstrous snow-capped peaks. Backpacking in Montenegro was a wild experience, although admittedly, riddled with a lot of roadblocks. As a country relatively new to the international tourism scene, it poses more of a challenge to travelers than the more-established Mediterranean countries. Sometimes the most challenging travel experiences are also the most rewarding. For me, that wasn’t the case in Montenegro. Maybe it’s because I also often felt a little unwelcome, for reasons unknown. I was told by my Montenegrin friend that the Montenegrin people may unintentionally come off as rude or disgruntled.
But I’m not one to write off a country based on my experiences alone! Objectively, Montenegro is a stunning country with some gorgeous destinations. From Kotor to Durmitor National Park, here’s all you need to know before traveling to Montenegro.
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How To Get To Montenegro
Montenegro does have a couple of airports, although they can be quite pricy to fly into. If you’re already in the Balkans, I recommend traveling by land. Renting a car is easy and affordable in Montenegro, especially if you have a few people to split the costs with. Otherwise, traveling by bus is the most common method to get into Montenegro. Before Montenegro, I was holed up in Shkoder, Albania. Two friends and I decided to split a taxi from there because it would only cost us about 10 euros each.
The main points of entry to Montenegro would either be Kotor, Podgorica, or Bar. Kotor is on the western side of the country. If you’re coming from Croatia or Bosnia, you’ll likely stop in Kotor first. Those buses are frequent and relatively reliable, if not always an hour or two late. That’s pretty reliable if we’re talking Balkan time, though. If you’re coming from Serbia, then Podgorica will likely be your first entry point, although you’ll probably want to skip over it. A popular way to travel from Belgrade is by taking the train from Serbia into Montenegro. While I didn’t take it myself, I’ve been told the ride is a beautiful one. If you are coming from Albania, Bar is the closest worthwhile city. You might want to make a stop in Skadar Lake National Park first, but Bar will ideally be your home base.
Things To Know Before Going to Montenegro
The currency of Montenegro is the Euro. Montenegro isn’t part of the European Union, but hey, you’ll come to find that the Balkans don’t really care about making sense. Neighboring Croatia is part of the E.U. and still uses the Kuna, for example. The official language of Montenegro is Montenegrin, although it bears a lot of similarities to the other languages in the area. You won’t find it on Google Translate, so just use Serbian or Croatian if you need to translate something. It’ll be your best bet. Despite it being the official language, only 25% of the population speaks Montenegrin. Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian are other commonly spoken languages.
Travel insurance is also something I’d recommend picking up before Montenegro. Between white water rafting in Tara Canyon and summiting peaks in Durmitor National Park, it’s just a good idea to have with you. I use SafetyWing to keep me (affordably) covered throughout all my adventures anywhere in the world. Plans start at $40 a month, and Montenegro is included in their pretty much global coverage.
How To Get Around Montenegro
Montenegro might be the only place that I desperately wished that I had a car. Traveling by bus was so annoying. For example, taking a bus from Kotor to Niksic required us going through Budva, Bar, and Podgorica before finally making it to Niksic. Basically, the buses take super roundabout routes that add hours of travel time. It can get frustrating. If you have the means to rent a car, do it.
Hitchhiking in Montenegro
Hitchhiking is usually my other go-to when traveling. However, Montenegro was brutal when it came to picking up hitchhikers. I even had to look it up online because I’d never had such a hard time getting a ride before. Turns out, Montenegro isn’t very fond of hitchhikers. Most people who shared their hitchhiking experiences in Montenegro were picked up by Albanians. Makes sense, considering that Albania was where I met some of the friendliest people and had the easiest time hitchhiking.
Bus Travel in Montenegro
Basically, if you don’t have a car, then you are confined to bus travel. The buses aren’t particularly comfortable, either. Most times, they’re just cramped shuttle buses with no air conditioning. It can be brutal during the summer. In short, rent a car in Montenegro if you can.
The Best Places to Visit in Montenegro
I’m not really selling Montenegro right now, am I? Thankfully, Montenegro has some bucket list destinations that are worth ripping your hair out for.
If you only go to one place in Montenegro, it should be Kotor. This is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Between the historic Old Town and the Bay of Kotor, natural beauty and human creation blend to put together a truly breathtaking masterpiece. Hike up to the fort for sunrise and you’ll understand what I mean.
Zabljak and Durmitor National Park
As a lover of the mountains and all things outdoors, Durmitor National Park was one of the biggest highlights of Montenegro for me. Summiting Bobotov Kuk was one hell of an adventure. If you’re up for the challenge, it should be at the top of your Montenegro bucket list. The town of Zabljak is a great home base for exploring Durmitor National Park and the surrounding natural attractions.
One of the tallest peaks in Montenegro is the intimidating Bobotov Kuk. I underestimated this peak because at about 2,500 meters, the summit really wasn’t all that tall. However, put together punishing winds and some challenging scrambles near the top, and you’ve got yourself a challenge. Don’t underestimate Bobotov Kuk. The trek took longer and was more difficult than I ever imagined, but dang, were the views rewarding all throughout.
Rafting through Tara Gorge is one of the top bucket list things to do in Montenegro. The turquoise waters roaring amidst a lush, green forest and flanked by towering canyon walls are a sight to behold. There’s no better way to experience this breathtaking natural scenery than white water rafting through it.
The Alps by the Albanian Border
Along the border of Albania, you’ll find some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe. Trekking through the Albanian Alps was a huge highlight of my time in the Balkans. I didn’t get to do any hiking on the Montenegrin side, but during my hikes in Albania, I could often peek into Montenegro. And from what I saw, dang. If you have the chance and the gear to take on Montenegro’s mountains, do it.
Skadar Lake National Park
Although this lake is shared with Albania, Montenegro undoubtedly got the better end of the bargain. Montenegro’s Skadar Lake National Park is undeniably more scenic than anything you’ll see on the Albanian side.
Close to the border of Albania is the coastal city of Bar. It’s a big tourist hub, and if you’re coming from Albania, it’ll likely be your first stop. It’s a historic city dating as far back as the 6th century. It’s got a great balance of natural scenery and cultural significance, a recurring theme as you travel along the Balkan coastline.
For the next two destinations, I had pretty bad experiences in but I’m going to include them anyway because maybe you’ll have a better time than me.
This historic town by the beach is objectively beautiful. However, it is incredibly crowded, and I wouldn’t recommend backpackers to stick around for more than a day. If you’re looking for a party, Budva might be for you. However, if you want a historic old town and beaches cramped with tourists, you might as well go to Dubrovnik. By no means would I ever consider Budva as a passable “hidden gem” alternative to the more iconic destinations of the Dalmatian Coast.
Niksic doesn’t have much to do, but as one of the larger cities in Montenegro, it is often unavoidable. Without your own car, you are at the mercy of public transportation in Montenegro, which is often unreliable and infrequent. I had to connect through Niksic a couple of times. While it is cute on the outside, the vibe here was just off. I was traveling with another Asian-American friend at the time, and the amount of glares we got made me feel unlike anywhere else in the world. I’m used to being met with curiosity when I’m visiting off-the-beaten-path destinations, but nowhere in my travels have I felt the animosity that I felt in the town of Niksic.
Weird, huh? Maybe it was just my experience, but after Budva and Niksic, I was beyond ready to leave Montenegro. Thankfully, I stuck around for Bobotov Kuk and Durmitor National Park.
Best Hostels in Montenegro
While hostels do exist in Montenegro, I did find that they were often just cheap places to stay, rather than a home for backpackers. However, there were a few that stood out above the rest.
I could have spent a week in Kotor and Old Town Hostel. This hostel always makes sure that you’ve got something to do. The hostel itself is incredible, but where it truly shines is with the activities it provides for the guests. Montenegro is a pretty small country, and pretty much anything you could want to do in Montenegro, they can take care of for you. Along with the big bucket list things to do, they also organize social events like sunset barbecues, booze cruises, and parties. Stay here while you’re in Kotor. You won’t regret it.
This hostel had all the cozy cabin vibes that I could have asked for. It was a great home base in between treks through Durmitor National Park. It had its own common kitchen, too, meaning that you could save money on food since dining in the tourist hub of Zabljak was often pricy. Hostel Highlander was very reasonably priced, and I’d definitely stay there again if I were passing through Zabljak.
I’ve heard high praise for this hostel, although I skipped the city of Bar altogether. Even just having a look through their website tells me that this hostel knows what they’re doing. This might be one of the most beautiful properties in all of the Balkans.
As an affiliate of Hostelworld, I may receive a portion of your booking fee at no extra cost to you.
Final Thoughts on Montenegro
I won’t sugarcoat my experiences. Montenegro is objectively beautiful, but my time there wasn’t the best. It wasn’t particularly memorable to me, but maybe that’s because I’d prefer to push out the negative experiences from my brain to make room for all the good ones that travel should give you. The hostel from hell in Budva that offered no help while my friend lay unconscious from a heatstroke in their bathroom, the endless xenophobic glares from the people in Niksic, the unnecessarily angry waiters that I have no doubt probably spit in my food… I don’t know, maybe I was the problem? But I carry a smile and an open mind everywhere I go, and it has never failed me anywhere besides Montenegro.
Again, I’m going to overuse the word objectively here. Because objectively, Montenegro has some bucket list destinations. I love the mountains, and for a small country, Montenegro had no shortage of them. The historic medieval towns of Budva and Kotor? Very dreamy to walk through, and could give anywhere on the Dalmatian Coast a run for their money. The turquoise waters of the Mediterranean are stunning. But I travel for the people, and Montenegro remains forgettable to me because I didn’t have any positive, meaningful experiences with anyone there.
Do not base your decision solely on my account of Montenegro. Maybe I didn’t meet the right people. Maybe I went to the wrong places. There are a lot of variables when it comes to traveling, and your experience could be vastly different from mine. Regardless, Montenegro has some stunning destinations worthy of a trip there, and I hope that your experience will be better than mine.
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If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.