A Guide to Roadtripping Montenegro
With Montenegro’s tiny size, I knew I wanted to attack it one way: The Roadtrip. With only 5,000 square miles and over a week, I could see all the sights in a snap. Easy!
Easy… until I was white-knuckling up a zigging and zagging mountain road. A road that was two-way, despite only having enough space for one-and-a-half cars. Every time a car approached from the opposite direction, my teeth would clench and I had to fight the urge to close my eyes as I edged closer to the sheer drop below me.
Once I had summitted the mountain, I pulled off to calm my racing heart. My reward for the pulse-pounding ride? A stunning view of the Bay of Kotor. Maybe this roadtrip thing hadn’t been such a terrible idea after all.
Planning The Roadtrip
I had originally considered extending my roadtrip from Croatia all the way to Montenegro. However, my research told me that getting a vehicle across the border one-way (as I wasn’t going back to Croatia) was a near-impossibility. Plus, it would have been murder on my relatively small long-term traveling budget. So I planned the Croatian leg of my journey by public transit (which was probably the best idea, considering all the islands I visited). When I crossed over to Montenegro, I decided to hire a car in Kotor.
Enter: Marija the Mercedes
I did a fair bit of Googling to get an idea of daily costs for cars, but I ultimately hired a car on the recommendation of the managers of my hostel. I was able to shave a few dollars per day from the daily cost, and negotiated a good rate to leave the car in Ulcinj instead of driving all the way back up to Kotor. Since the owner of the car rental agency travel from Kotor to Ulcinj by bus in under 2 hours, I didn’t feel I was putting anyone out too much for €20.
The day to leave Kotor came, and a friendly gentleman named Nikola brought a 5-door automatic Mercedes to the hostel so I could set off. After our harrowing experience zig-zagging up the mountains, I decided she needed a name, and thus she was dubbed Marija.
Driving in Montenegro
Despite reports of poor road conditions and road rules that are more suggestions than hard-and-fast requirements, I found driving in Montenegro to be a relatively easy experience. Of course, I’m a pretty experienced driver, having obtained my skills on the mean freeways of Southern California. For inexperienced drivers it might be a more harrowing experience, but not enough that I wouldn’t recommend driving the country.
Things to be aware of?
- Roads (especially in the countryside) can be narrow and twisty. For a country called “Black Mountains,” you’re going to get your fair share of windy roads and changes in elevation. On some of these roads, fitting two cars on the same lane is a tight squeeze. Be prepared to stop and give way to the person traveling down a hill if necessary.
- Gas stations can be few and far between. I discovered this the hard way when I got to Lovcen and realized I was dangerously low on gas. Turns out a full tank isn’t a given when you rent a car in Montenegro. I had to book it to Centinje on neutral all the way down the mountain just to gas up, and it was a nail-biter!
- In some towns, parking will be a b*tch. In Budva, for example, I had to scout the one narrow block where there was free overnight parking. Then I had to walk about ten minutes into the Old Town to get to my hostel. Not ideal conditions, but a reality of driving!
- You’ll have the ultimate freedom. No getting shuttled along with a giant bus tour group for you! You get to decide when you go from Point A to Point B, you don’t have to worry about walking everywhere, and you get to see more small towns and countryside than you would on a bus.
Plan Your Own Montenegro Roadtrip
Set Your Budget
Expect to pay anywhere from $25 – $38 USD per day, not including gas or insurance. Your travel insurance probably has better coverage than anything a rental agency could offer you, so I advise not to add to the daily expense. Gas is relatively expensive: It costs more per gallon than the US, but less per-liter than Western European countries. I drove all over the country and filled up three times for a whopping total of $160 USD. In most places, you will be able to find free parking.
Plan Your Route
I chose to start in Kotor and work my way South, with a detour East to Durmitor National Park. Of course, you may be coming from Albania or points south, where it may make more sense to rent in Ulcinj and work your way north. The most important thing? Try to avoid doubling back too much. I drove as far south as Bar before I went north and east to Zablak/Durmitor, and I probably should have just gone straight to Durmitor from Kotor. Of course, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t do that, since I loved Durmitor so much I might have just stayed there and never left!
You could stick to the coastal route and ignore the interior, but you’d be doing yourself a major disservice if you skipped over the national parks inland. Below is a suggested route from North to South. Anything in bold is a place you should plan to stay for a night or two:
Kotor > Zablak/Durmitor National Park (With Pit Stop at Ostrog Monastery) > Zablak to Lovcen National Park > Lovcen to Budva > Budva to Petrovac > Petrovac to Skadar Lake> Skadar Lake to Bar > Bar to Ulcinj
This gets all the top highlights of the country into one trip! You’ll want to spend the most time in Kotor and Durmitor National Park, most likely, so plan accordingly.
Enjoy Your Trip!
The only other thing to do is kick back and enjoy yourself! I adored Montenegro, from the wonderful locals to the gorgeous scenery and ancient architecture. Having the freedom to stop whenever I wanted, to explore dirt roads and work my way out of some harrowing situations brought a whole new aspect to traveling that I hadn’t experienced before.
Would you attempt to drive in a foreign country? Do you have an funny roadtrip stories? Tell me in the comments!