Drive through the Balkans: Montenegro

Switchbacking, hiking, swimming, and sunset watching in Montenegro

Our itinerary

You can drive across the ENTIREty of Montenegro in less time than it takes to drive Toronto -> Ottawa, but man, there's a lot to experience.

Here is a snapshot of our week in Montenegro.

  • Day 1: Drove from Dubrovnik to Kotor, and explored Kotor's old town
  • Day 2: Hiked the Ladder of Kotor and caught the sunset from Lovcen Park
  • Day 3: Enjoyed a beach day in Petrovac, and a sunset dinner in Tivat
  • Day 4: Working day in Kotor
  • Day 5: Drove from Kotor to Durmitor National Park
  • Day 6: Planned to hike Bobotov Kuk, but instead watched the rain and sleet from our window in Zabljak
  • Day 7: Drove through a harrowing canyon on our way to Bosnia

In Montenegro we loved the contrast of mountains and beaches, in addition to the small switchback roads and slow sunsets. Without further ado, here are our Top Five from Montenegro.

#1 Having our own set of wheels

Driving from Dubrovnik to Kotor, it felt like we were sixteen...again! Nothing like a set of wheels to feel young and free! All of a sudden, transit days became (an enjoyable) part of the adventure - we could take detours, stop at beautiful viewpoints, and sing our hearts out with the windows down. (Psssst...thanks Tim for making me feel like a pop star despite my off-key moments!)

road tripping in Montenegro

#2 Hiking the ladder of Kotor

The ladder of Kotor is a trail of 60+ switchbacks. The reward is a bird’s eye view of the old town below, the Bay of Kotor, and the surrounding mountain ridges.

We started our hike by walking up the steps of the Kotor wall, which climb 200 metres above sea level to the San Giovanni castle.

kotor wall

view from san giovanni castle

From the San Giovanni castle, we looked East away from the bay, and could see the switchbacks of the ladder of Kotor climbing up the mountain. But, ALAS! There was a valley in between us and the trail! A favourite childhood song started looping on repeat in my head: “We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it!” SO, back down the path we went.

A few hundred metres later, we spotted an opening in the wall. We poked our heads through to see if we could get any hints at where the trail might be. Low and behold, it turned out it went through the hole in the wall!

hole in wall

hole in wall

It was a whole new world through the wall (cue the music again!). SUDDENly, the noises from the town below disappeared and the only sounds we heard were the birds and our own footsteps. I again had a childhood flashback imagining we were Lucy stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia.

We walked...










Sixty some switchbacks and 570 metres above sea level later, with the sun still beating down at full strength and our water long gone, we happily called it a day and zigzagged our way back down, clocking in at 14km.

descending ladder of kotor

#3 Driving crazy switchbacks to catch the sunset

We had driven some switchbacks on a small detour from Dubrovnik to Kotor, but they didn’t do much to prepare us for the switchbacks leading to Lovcen National Park. The route up the mountain was a two-way, one-lane road, with a cliff dropping down one side. When two cars encountered each other, one would often pull off the road to let the other pass.

As if this wasn't enough of an adrenaline rush, the road was the only road connecting many of the nearby towns, and so local traffic drove with utmost confidence and speed, including trucks.

We were grateful for our small car and exhaled a sigh of relief that someone was in front of us at this particular pass!

narrow road

It was totally worth risking it for the biscuit. The views were stunning!

tim driving

views driving to Lovcen National Park

As we drove further and further up the mountain, snow slowly built up around us. We had spent the last three months avoiding our Canadian winter, and now we were driving right into it! Despite the cold temperature, we enjoyed a picnic dinner just before the sun dropped behind the mountains.

sunset picnic

Nature continued to give us a show as we made our way back home.

montenegro sunset

#4 Spending the day by the water

Our third day in Montenegro we put our swimsuits to use and made a day trip to the beach. We drove an hour South from Kotor to the small town of Petrovac. We picked Petrovac as our destination because I had read about a nature trail along the coast, as well as a smaller, more isolated beach just south of the town that I thought would make for a nice swimming spot. Neither disappointed.

The nature trail started at the north end of Petrovac’s beach, the entrance tucked away behind one of the restaurants. The path meandered for a little more than a kilometre and was easy walking. Or so I thought. Until... it continued right into the cliff!

oceanside trail

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of tunnels, especially ones that...

  1. are so long you can’t see the end (the longest tunnel was 500m!)
  2. are in remote places

But, the words played again in my head..."We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it!" SO, through it we went.

pedestrian tunnel

Surviving our tunnel walk, we walked south of Petrovac to Lucice, a small quiet beach where we treated ourselves to a rewarding quick dip in the Adriatic Sea.

swimming at Lucice beach

#5 A harrowing canyon drive

The drive from Durmitor National Park in Montenegro to Sarajevo, Bosnia requires driving a 17km section through the Tara Canyon.

tara canyon

The road is carved on the steep banks of the canyon, with many tunnels and occasional views of the river far below. It was an amazing road to drive, but also a little nerveracking - none of the tunnels were lit, rocks were falling from the cliffs and the tunnel ceiling onto the road, and fellow drivers treated the pass as a one-way road!

narrow tunnel entrance

rocks on road

As much as we enjoyed the drive, we were even happier when we made it through alive and with no noticeable damage to White Lightning (our little Citroen).

The highlight we missed

While based in Zabljak we had planned to hike Bobotov Kuk mountain, the highest peak in Durmitor National Park. Unfortunately, we were too early in the season (beginning of April) as the mountain range was still completely snowed in. Although we are usually all for winter hiking, we weren't prepared with the right gear or with sufficient knowledge to make the attempt. If you ever make your way to Montenegro and are up for a hike, try Bobotov Kuk and let us know how it is!

What's next?

Our seven days in Montenegro is part of our larger one-month road trip through the Balkans. You can check out our 28-day itinerary here. Next up is Bosnia and Herzegovina, where we met the friendliest people, gorged on delicious 'fast-food', and witnessed a country making the uphill climb after a recent traumatic past.