Backpacking Montenegro on a budget
Traveling around Montenegro for one week: In May 2015, I started my budget backpacking trip as a solo female traveler around Montenegro by bus. From Kotor to the Lovćen National Park, Ceintije, Budva and Ulcinj, the scenery is just stunning. The mountains at the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea offer breathtaking views.
Montenegro offers great hiking and sightseeing
Before starting my backpacking trip, I haven’t heart a lot about traveling around Montenegro and had underestimated its beauty. I had a great time backpacking around Montenegro. It’s a great country to go on a backpacking trip as a solo female traveler without a car. Many travelers stop in Montenegro on the route from Croatia to Albania. It’s definitely worth staying there for a few days – for example before going on by bus from Ulcinj to Albania. It offers great opportunities for hiking, swimming and enjoying nature’s beauty. Even if you don’t have a lot of time on your backpacking trip, you can easily visit Kotor,the Lovćen National Park, Ceintije, Budva, the capital Podgorica and Ulcinj in a few days.
Travelers will feel the contrast between poor and rich
But inside the beautiful scenery, you also find Roma people in extreme poverty. You find contrasts between poor and rich. You find yourself wondering about the number of millionaires’ yachts and Roma kids begging in front of the harbor.
Montenegro is still relatively cheap compared to other European countries. You will get a bed in a hostel dorm for around 10 Euros. I met especially a lot of long-term traveling Americans on a trip around the Balkan states. Many chose to travel around the Balkan states, because they had to get off the Schengen Area for a while for visa reasons and to lengthen their stay in Europe outside the European Union. If you are still looking for a budget holiday destination for 2017 or plan to travel the Balkan states anyway, don’t miss out on Montenegro.
Do I need a visa to travel to Montenegro?
Arrival by bus at Kotor Bay by bus:
Breathtaking views and sounds from the Doors
I arrived in Kotor in Montenegro by bus from Dubrovnik in Croatia early in the afternoon. At the bus station, they were playing the Doors’ song “Light my fire”. Nice. I felt welcome at Kotor immediately. Already when I had caught the first glimpse of Kotor Bay from the bus window, I wasn’t able to stop smiling. I had one week to discover Montenegro backpacking around the country on a budget. Enough time to see a few amazing places.
The blue water of the Mediterranean Sea, the mountains in the back – you could fill lot’s of postcards with these pictures. The view was just breathtaking. On the bus trip from Dubrovnik in Croatia to Kotor, I made sure to have a seat on the right side to be able to fully enjoy the wonderful sea view. The price for the trip was around 18 Euros. The ride along the coastline was really cool. I seriously didn’t want the bus to stop to be able to enjoy the view forever.
As a solo female traveler in Montenegro
On my backpacking trip around Montenegro, I was on the road by myself as a solo female traveler. Traveling alone is not a problem at all in Montenegro. Also getting around by public transport was easy. Communication in English with a bit of flexibility to use gestures in certain situations was no problem. Although not being a member of the European Union, the local currency of Montenegro is the Euro.
At first, I didn’t even plan to visit Montenegro on my trip from Croatia to Albania and Sicily. But the more, I read about the country in my guidebook, the more curious I got. And I needed to cross Montenegro by bus anyway to reach Albania. So, that is why I decided to stop in Kotor Bay, probably the most well-known tourist destination of Montenegro. Big cruise ships stop there as soon as the season starts. But in spring, the tourist crowds were still bearable and vanished again in the evenings. And the beginning of May was just the perfect time for a sightseeing trip. Not too hot to suffer, but sunny enough to get sunburned or to have a good time.
Find information about public transport in Montenegro
- BalkanViator is a provider of information on bus timetables, bus tickets, taxi services and ride-sharing
- Autubusni Kolodvor offers information about bus lines, ports and shipping terminals, routes and timetables
- There are regular buses from Croatia to Montenegro.
Old Town Hostel in Kotor: Great stay and common meals
The bus station in Kotor was just a short walk from the old town (Stari Grad), where I wanted to stay in the Old Town Hostel, a very popular choice for independent travelers on a low budget. It’s in easy walking distance from the Sea Gate, the main entrance to the old Kotor. But there are also directions on the hostel’s website. It’s situated right in the center in an ancient building.
When I got there, the Old Town Hostel was not busy, so I just had to pay 10 Euros for a bed in a dorm. The staff invited me immediately to take part in the common hostel dinner. Traditional Montenegrin food for 4 Euros a plate. Maybe, it’s not the best meal deal in town, but a good opportunity to meet other travelers and a way to avoid going for dinner alone. If you want company, this is the place to be.
Old Town Hostel: Tours and pub crawls for travelers
The Old Town Hostel also offer a lot of activities like tours around Montenegro or pub crawls. Sometimes, I got the impression, that the staff was overworked and slightly under pressure to sell activities, but nonetheless, the guys have always been extremely helpful to answer every question and give useful advice about sightseeing in Kotor – and I had some interesting chats with people from around the world in the hostel.
I met mostly Americans, who were on longer trips around Europe, who filled a gab year with traveling or quit their jobs to see the other part of the world. Most of them had visas allowing them to spend 90 days in the Schengen Area. To extend a trip around Europe, some also traveled the Balkans and even Turkey.
Up to the fortress of Kotor: Great views!
When you arrive in Kotor, you already see from a distance the more than 4 kilometers long old city walls, and the fortress of Saint Ivan set up in the mountains. Yes, you can walk up there. There are some stairs leading from the old town directly to the fortress. At the entry points in towns, they charge 2 Euros to ascend the more than 1000 steps to the fortress. It’s worth the money.
It took me half an hour and one liter of drinking water to get up, while the spring’s sun was burning me. But the view from the fortress of Kotor was breathtaking and made me feeling happy. There was a small chapel half the way up. And from the top, you can see all of the Bay of Kotor and maybe also some cruise ships to head into or leave the harbor. It’s just picturesque. Some people were waiting upstairs to watch the sunset.
The fortress itself isn’t extremely exiting, but still gives you an impression of how it must have looked originally. And I would definitely recommend wearing at least hiking sandals or some trainers when walking up there, although some women on high heels also managed the trip somehow.
Cruise ship tourism in Kotor
I felt great exploring more of Kotor with all its small lanes, squares, souvenir shops and restaurants. There were cruise ships stopping there almost every day. Whenever one of these ships stopped there, hundreds or even thousands of people suddenly came to visit the town center, often in small groups with a guide. Within minutes, the sleepy town changed into a vibrant tourist hub. As soon as the people left the town in the evening or early afternoon to have dinner on their cruise ships, Kotor went back to sleep. I loved walking around the nearly empty streets in the evenings. I noticed colorful balconies with clothes hanging there to dry in the sun.
Roma kids begging at Motor harbor for food
At lunchtime, when I got hungry, I went to try the pizza takeaway place. With my slice, I wanted to sit down at a bench right at the water front just out of the wall of the old town. It was close to the cruise ship harbor. It could have been a great day, but reality was disturbing me. Suddenly, there were some Roma kids coming up to me asking for money.
They must have appeared from nowhere really. There were lot’s of them around, some older women behind carrying babies. They were surrounding me asking for money. More and more aggressively. I panicked a little. I was confused, stood up and wanted to walk away. Then they started to come after me and ask for “pizza, pizza”. I had already eaten a piece of it. I wanted to go away as there were just to many of them. I gave them my pizza and they were sharing and eating it like hungry dogs. They were seriously hungry. There was a reason for their begging.
It was horrible to see these obviously poor people, I wasn’t sure, what to do as I felt at the same time a little robbed and started to get afraid of them. I didn’t dare and didn’t want to open my purse and give away some cash at this moment, although they obviously needed it. They needed much more than just a few coins.
There is something bigger going completely wrong. It hurt me to see the poverty next to the cruise ships tourism, but the aggressiveness of the kids put me off. It seemed as if they had no respect at all. I didn’t know a lot about the situation of Roma people in Montenegro before. At that point, I experienced the whole difficult situation within seconds.
- Read more about the situation of Roma in Montenegro “Montenegro Urged to Close Rundown Refugee Camp.”
- Read more about “Displaced Kosovo Roma in Montenegro.”
Hiking in the Lovćen National Park:
“The Great Montenegro Tour”
I was disappointed, when I realized, that there was no public transport to the Lovćen National Park. I really wanted to go there to see Mount Lovćen, the black mountain that gave Crna Gora Montenegro its name. Some travelers shared rental cars to drive around Montenegro and into the park, but during my short stay in Kotor, I haven’t met anyone willing to share a car. Driving there by myself didn’t sound like fun to me. That is why I decided to go on a tour. Usually, I hate tours, but sometimes, it does make sense. I chose the “The Great Montenegro Tour” offered by the Old town hostel for 35 Euros per person plus a few Euros entry fees of the National Park. And I thought, it was definitely worth the money.
We were a few young people waiting in the morning, mostly Americans, an Argentinian guy and two people from London. We were all clever enough to buy some water and bread rolls in the village for breakfast, before the guide was taking us to his car.
To the snowy peak of Mount Lovćen on a guided tour
On “The Great Montenegro Tour” organized by the Old Town Hostel in Kotor, we started with driving on the Old Road, that connects Kotor and Cetinje, the old royal Capital of Montenegro. The special thing: The road has 25 curves and is used in the Montenegrin car racing championship every year. We stopped to see a few historical relics and a cave, where some bats were flying and shitting around. It was still chilly outside, when we went up there. It was basically chilly all day long. Some girls were jealously looking at my fleece, long trousers and raincoat, that I had taken with me.
Well, the plan was to get to the second highest peak of Mount Lovćen, where the Montenegrin ruler and poet Petar II Petrovic Njegos is buried in a Mausoleum 1675 meters above sea level. I wanted to be prepared. There was still snow on top of the mountain, that some girls finally walked up in short trousers and without a jacket. At least, it wasn’t raining, so that we really enjoyed the breathtaking view. The guide mentioned, that we were at that point able to see the frontiers of six countries.
He slowly started to warm up and to relax, making really funny jokes. In the morning, he hasn’t even introduced himself. Well, he was doing tours every day. I imagine it to be a tough business, but he knew a lot about history and made sure, that every question got answered and that we found a toilet whenever necessary.
Cetinje: Traveling back in time – bizarre and exiting
On “The Great Montenegro Tour” organized by the Old Town Hostel in Kotor, we stopped for lunch in a typical Montenegrin restaurant in Cetinje. Most travelers were on a tight budget and just ordered a coffee. I was starving, but just took a salad and some fries. The city center of the former Montenegrin capital was bizarre and exiting at the same time. It has been the capital till 1918, until the government moved to Podgorica. And yes, it probably had seen better times. There were not many people on the street. It is obviously not the main tourist hub of Montenegro, but a great authentic place to visit – free from any hassle. You could see the architectural remnants of prosperous times, former foreign embassies, the beautiful palazzos with sometimes gray facades and flaking colors, that created a special atmosphere, a feeling of desolation and room for creativity at the same time.
The remains of St. Peter of Cetinje in the monastery
In Cetinje, there were wide open spaces, gardens, a church, a shopping street and of course the monastery. On “The Great Montenegro Tour” organized by the Old Town Hostel in Kotor, we visited the monks in there. They offered colorful Sarongs for the girls and guys in short trousers. Everyone had to cover up his or her legs, before we were allowed to see the remains of St. Peter of Cetinje, the right hand of John the Baptist, Particles of the True Cross and also the Icon of the Philermos Mother of God. Never heart of St. Peter? Me neither. But the whole place seemed to be very special to most of the visitors. No pictures allowed. But we were impressed to find things like that in a very small monastery in Montenegro without any queues or entrance fees.
River view at Rijeka Crnojevica
The next stop was the River or Rijeka Crnojevica, that gave the small town on the ancient trading route through the country its name: also Rijeka Crnojevica. We stopped there for an hour. We had the chance to get on a little cruise to the beginning of the Lake Skadar. The lake in the Lake Skadar National Park is the Balkan’s largest lake. But there was an extra fee for the boat ride, so that none or the tour group members wanted to go there. I can imagine, that we missed out on seeing great scenery. Instead, we watched some abandoned buildings and some picturesque stone houses at the river. We crossed the bridge and had some difficult traditional Montenegrin cake.
Budva: Sandy beaches, nightlife and tourists
Sandy beaches, hotels, a vibrant nightlife and a lot of souvenir shops in the old town: Budva definitely attracts a lot of tourists. It might get a little crowded during the summer months, when the main beach is filled with sun beds, umbrellas and the sound of loud music. The whole beach was gated with a fence, when we got there. Our guide told us: As soon as the main tourist season starts, they start to charge an entrance fee. Beach lovers have to pay quite a few Euros to get behind the fence. That is why many locals choose to swim at the beaches out of the town center. We were still allowed to feel the sand and waves for free. It wasn’t warm enough for swimming anyway.
The old town was beautifully renovated and welcomed tourists to eat and drink in the many restaurants there. The great thing: There are a lot of shops, that offer pizza to take away, a slice for one or two Euros. Not everywhere, we got good quality food, but were able to fill up our stomachs, while we were walking around.
Impressive yachts, casinos, hotels and Jaz Beach
At he harbor of Budva, we saw impressive yachts and expensive hotels. A relaxed place to go for a walk, have a coffee and enjoy a holiday atmosphere. Clearly not a place to look for silence, secret spots or cheap restaurants, but still a place to discover architecture, take part in cultural events, visit galleries, listen to some music or even see some open air theater performances and to go with the tourist flow. Budva is also a place for gambling tourists. Many hotels have casinos attached. Some hotel facades had been shown in the 2006 James Bond movie “Casino Royale”. And on the way back to Kotor, we caught a glimpse of Sveti Stefan, the beautiful island, that attracts the rich and famous for holidays in a secluded upper-class-environment.
We also saw the legendary Jaz Beach, well-known for hosting many music events. Madonna,, the Rolling Stones and Lenny Kravitz have already performed there. Now, the Sea Dance Festival is taking place there every year. Read more about Budva’s beaches on www.rivijera.net and www.budva.com
On the boat to the Islands at the coast of Perast
I was curious to discover the two little Islands, that I had seen just before my arrival at Kotor. To get there, I took the local bus from Kotor to Perast first. There was a bus stop at the main road just outside the town walls, where buses are stopping a few times per hour. Also the long distance buses, that leave from the bus station can drop you off at Perast. The ticket price for the 11 kilometers long ride was around 1,50 Euros.
Before, I bought some ready-made bread rolls for 1 Euro each at the supermarket to be prepared for the day. The ride just took me a few minutes. I had company by a guy and his Mum from London, that had been with me on the “Great Montenegro Tour” the day before. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. Perfect weather to discover Perast, a small village with more than a dozen churches and some cafés at the waterfront catering for tourists. It’s a lovely relaxed place, where you can go for a short walk at the waterfront, but there have been also a few tour buses stopping there. So I imagine it to get more busy in summertime.
By taxi boat to Our-Lady-of-the Rock-Island
Me and my travel mates took a small taxi boat in Perast to go to the artificial Our-Lady-of-the Rock-Island. The return ticket was 3 Euros. Boats were constantly running as soon as enough people were on board. You don’t need a lot of time to walk around the small island. I visited the church, sat down, had my breadroll and chilled in the sun. There is also a museum attached to the church as well as a souvenir shop.
It’s funny to go over to that little place, but the island looked more interesting from the distance to me, than it actually was. I could see the Saint George Benedictine monastery on the second island called St. George, but there was no possibility to get to the other island at the time, I was there.
Back in Kotor, I went for a short walk to the shopping mall, got an ice cream and followed the path right at the waterfront back into the direction of Perast. Travelers, tourists, families and people with their dogs enjoyed the stroll at the walkway. I followed it for a few kilometers having different views on the Bay, passing some more restaurants and houses. Quite a romantic setting.
Ulcinj: Great stopover on the way to Albania by bus
Time to travel on to Albania. I really enjoyed my stay in the very touristy part of Montenegro, but Albania was waiting. At the bus station in Kotor, they were playing the Deep Purple song “Smoke on the water”, when I left. I’ve never been before at a bus station before, where the music made me seriously smile. So thanks Kotor bus station!
There was no direct bus to Albania. To get there, I first had to travel to Ulcinj in Montenegro. My bus left Kotor around at 12.15 pm and arrived in Ulcinj around 2.45 pm. This way, I was able to get the connecting bus to Shkoder leaving at Ulcinj at 4.30 pm for 6,50 Euros. No problems at all. I know, that many online services don’t list this minibus connection at 4.30 pm. I was also unsure about the possibilities to travel on to Albania, when I arrived in Ulcinj, but it was possible. And I still had time to visit the very unique town Ulcinj.
Ulcinj: Authentic city full of churches and mosques
When I asked at the bus station for the way to the city center, the guys working there stopped a man in his car and told him to give me a ride to the center. I felt very welcome. It was so funny. I would never ever have experienced things like that at home. The random guy, who gave me a lift, was almost proud to show me his city. He had worked for 20 years in the US and spoke perfect English, which made the communication very easy. At the center, I could feel, that Ulcinj was different from the other Montenegrin towns. There were multilane streets, traffic, some slightly rough-looking buildings and people staring at me as a solo female traveler. There were mosques, churches, cheesy souvenir shops, cafés, bars, restaurants just next to each other. I saw Muslim men taking selfies at the beach. The fast food kebab restaurants were serving locals.
The town was charming and not as set up for tourists as for example Budva or Kotor. It felt more authentic and real. I felt like leaving the safe set up tourist world, that I had been living in the last days in Kotor. There are many Albanians living in Ulcinj. And in summertime, a lot of Kosovar holidaymakers are showing up in that little town and at its many nearby beaches.
A walk to the ancient old town of Ulcinj
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great, when I was there. It was raining a bit and quite windy. Otherwise, I would have probably thought about staying a bit longer – just for the atmosphere. This way, I just had two hours till my bus was leaving. And I was looking forward to getting back into a bus while I was walking up the way to the ancient old town on the hill. It’s small and full of restaurants. But it also offers a few nice viewpoints. It took me around 20 minutes to walk back from the beach to the bus station. But I was seriously happy, that I had seen the town. Ulcinj gave me a taste of Albania, but of course, I didn’t know that at this point. And Albania would top all my expectations. The next part of the adventure just started a few hours later.