Are you thinking to go backpacking in Montenegro? I would love to share a few tips based on that experience when I lived in the country.
The first time I visited Montenegro was 9 years ago (Mark has never visited before.) Back then I fell in love with this country so much that I made a promise to return. After all these years of impatient anticipation, I finally got an opportunity to come back. This time, together with Mark we came to Montenegro for a few months to rent an apartment, turn into locals (in some way) and explore around at our own pace.
Montenegro is so pretty. We are amazed at how diverse such a tiny country is. Full of mountains, beaches, canyons, lakes, rivers, fjords (additionally to old towns and lots of history) it offers a lot to each visitor. It’s difficult to stay inside and keep working on our laptops when so much beauty awaits out there.
Montenegro is a great choice for backpackers, visitors who come on vacation and expats planning to stay here long-term. Don’t skip this gem of the Balkans. You’ll fall in love with it as many other people do.
But before you start planning a trip, take a look at the list of things to know when traveling here. Either you are backpacking Montenegro, traveling in style or buying a tour, this list is for you.
BACKPACKING MONTENEGRO: HOW TO GET AROUND
1. The public transport system in Montenegro is not even close to what it is in most of Europe.
Between the larger cities buses run regularly, but between the smaller towns and in the cities, public transportation is poor enough. On the schedule it says that buses run every 20-30 minutes but, oh Lord, on so many occasions we have been waiting for almost an hour, eventually giving up and taking a cab.
All the cities are so tiny in this country, perhaps Montenegrins prefer walking or driving. But for a visitor, it may become a bit challenging. Especially if you’d like to see nature or smaller towns.
We are currently living in Budva and only walk here. On days when we want to explore around, we usually rent a car (for a day or two), cover as much as possible and then come back for the rest of the week to work, go to a local beach and hang out in Old Town. If you are on vacation, commuting between the cities may steal a lot of your time. So perhaps it would be better to take a tour, go by boat or rent a car. Speaking of the car…
2. Renting a car here during the summer is expensive.
Just a few days ago we learned that during high season renting a car in Montenegro is as expensive as in some prime European destinations (what? how is it possible?) A minimum price is around 30 euros per day for an old automobile from the last century. We ended up securing a cheaper one (like 2007 old Fiat Panda for 25 euros) but didn’t save a lot, especially taking into consideration the fact that this tiny car couldn’t take us to the mountains. Read our guide on how to rent a car in Montenegro, if you plan to do so.
The cheapest automobiles are in Podgorica but if you don’t fly into this city and don’t plan on visiting, renting out there just doesn’t make sense. In Budva, Tivat, Kotor, Bar, Novyi Herzog the rental car shops are all over the city, and getting one is not a problem.
If you are backpacking Montenegro by yourself then renting a vehicle there may be pricey. But in the case of travels with friends or family, an automobile is the best choice. When my parents came to visit for almost two weeks we made a decision to rent a car for a few days here and there, in this way saving lots of money (it would have cost us more to pay for public buses between cities) and time. We drove the entire coast from Croatia to Albania, made a bunch of stops and even returned to our favorite spots.
If you are in Budva during the summertime, we recommend renting a car from MyRentaCar. They are the cheapest. During all other months, especially if visiting Montenegro in winter, it is better to book with bigger companies like Discover Cars located right in Tivat and Podgorica airport. In October prices drop to around $8 for a class mini or economy.
3. Driving in Montenegro is not the same as in the U.S., Canada or even Western Europe.
If you end up renting a car, keep in mind that drivers in Montenegro are aggressive and sometimes even reckless. Anywhere in the country, you should be alert on the roads as a pedestrian and as a driver.
A lot of drivers are impatient, over speed and tailgate often. Many non-coastal roads are incredibly twisty while locals love flying on them not driving. If you decide to go to the mountains, be extra cautious (and get ready to stress out a bit.) With time though you really get used to it.
Green light and pedestrian crossings, unfortunately, are not important in this country. Drivers here tend to go on the red light, drive very fast within city limits and do not stop at the crossings if you are modestly standing and waiting for them to do so. You should carefully show your intention to cross (I know, it doesn’t make sense.) Once a driver sees you on the crossing he will slow down.
I guess this is part of the culture in Montenegro (as well as in some other non-EU countries in Europe) when a driver thinks and acts like he is more important than a pedestrian. Almost every time Mark and I are crossing a road on the green light there is a car trying to bypass us or impertinently go in front of us not allowing to cross a road safely. Be careful and watch out. Every. Single. Time.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT MONTENEGRO CULTURE
4. Locals seem to be grumpy at first blush, but it doesn’t go against you personally.
When you meet a local at the store, gas station, restaurant, at the beach or anywhere else in Montenegro, you’ll see that he or she is not really smiling, waving at you or showing interest. Immediately you’ll make a conclusion that people here are not friendly, welcoming or caring (just like in some other countries, for instance, in Eastern Europe.)
Yet, in reality, that’s not completely true. Not “completely” because a percentage of people who don’t care is small (see the next clause). For the most part, people are nice. Encountering at first sight unpleasant attitude is directed towards everyone else, not only you in particular. And, it’s really part of their culture not to put up smiles on faces and keep a distance from you. However, once locals get to know you they are far more helpful and involved.
If I had to say that in one sentence, I would put it this way: do not expect an outstanding service (because you won’t get any unless you are staying in a 5-star hotel), do not get offended by lack of enthusiasm from locals and do not take anything personally, it is just who they are.
5. There are no fixed prices for groceries at the markets and vendors sometimes cheat.
I am not sure if that’s related to the country’s past or is part of local culture but prices at the markets for tourists are always higher than for locals (it reminds me so much of Southeast Asia) and sellers often resort to trickery when it comes to giving you a final product.
So imagine you are coming to the market (or passing by a street vendor) to buy some veggies and fruits. Whatever you see on the display looks fresh and yummy. A vendor seems to be kind and offering you a piece of fruit. Be careful though and ready not to get what you sampled a minute ago.
It is very common for vendors to palm off a spoiled or older product. They kind of turn around and start filling your bag with veggies from another box, or become very talkative to distract your attention or, if you are buying something packaged, skillfully switch a package under the shelf. If you prefer cooking at home and wish to save on food, just don’t shop at the markets. A supermarket is your best bet. Plus the prices there are lower anyway.
ABOUT THE FOOD IN MONTENEGRO
6. Vegetarians and vegans may find it difficult to eat out and stay in Montenegro long term.
Even though I am not a big fan of local food, I don’t have anything against it. Still, I believe that the traditional cuisine of Montenegro is not for everyone.
It’s loaded with meat, dairy, and overall the food is heavy and a bit greasy. Also, the selection is rather small. Lots of pizzas, bureks (thin, flaky dough pastry, the most popular ones are filled with meat, cheese, spinach,) meat rolls, various types of bread are around each corner. All bakeries (called Pekara) look alike and offer pretty much the same assortment.
We wish we could see more places selling freshly squeezed juices, smoothies, and veggie-based dishes. But there is just too much gluten everywhere. It feels like bread, cheese and meat are the main components of Montenegrin cuisine. I can say the same about other countries of the Balkans. When spending a weekend in Sarajevo, for instance, we also couldn’t find vegan and vegetarian places.
Some dishes on the menu at the restaurants remind more of Greek and Italian origin (like pasta, risotto, hummus, gnocchi, polenta.) But exclusively Montenegrin traditional dishes have a meat (or fish) base. Psst! The fish salads are yummy though and must try!
7. Tap water is safe for drinking.
Yes, it is safe anywhere in the country. It’s not recommended to drink tap water in Herceg Novy in May when local services clean the water pipes. Other than that it’s safe enough.
GENERAL INFORMATION ON BACKPACKING MONTENEGRO
8. Budva and Kotor are the most expensive cities.
I am not sure why Budva has the status of the most resort-like city, which in turn makes it more pricey for everyone. The advantage is a central location and that lots of restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes are scattered throughout the streets.
At the same time, the beaches see too many people and accommodation prices are higher. Also, there are too many tourists, mainly from nearby countries and Eastern Europe, who love vacationing and staying long-term.
In our opinion, Budva gets too much attention. It’s worth paying a visit but choosing it as the main destination or a base city is not for everyone (especially during the summer.)
Kotor is overly expensive too. Also, you don’t even get to enjoy the beach. Some people swim in local waters but we wouldn’t recommend doing it. The water around Kotor city is dirty (even if it doesn’t seem so.) To help you understand better where to stay in Montenegro and which city to choose as your base, read my guide.
Just a few days ago, without too much excitement, we visited Tivat. After the first a few minutes on the main street, we started to question ourselves why we didn’t rent an apartment here instead of Budva. It would be cheaper, quieter, cleaner (so clean city!) and less touristy. The airport is close, Kotor Bay is right at the next turn, Budva is also near if you ever want to visit. Undeservedly Tivat (and Bar) is underestimated, albeit it is a small pretty town.
9. Herceg Novy is the cheapest beach destination.
If you are in search of a beach vacation in Montenegro only and traveling on a budget, look at Herceg Novy. The location of the third-largest city in Montenegro is great (in case you are pondering going to Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina,) has lots of history and well-maintained beaches.
10. The best time to visit Montenegro is in fall and spring.
Some people may disagree on this one, but seriously, if you are considering backpacking Montenegro (and not only backpacking,) come in fall or spring. In the fall the number of tourists significantly drops, the heat subsides and with each day prices go down too. In summer, during the day the temperatures get so high that you only want to be near the water. Going on hikes or excursions can lead to dehydration and even fainting. The temperature gets extremely high sometimes. Especially in the bay.
I have written a few different posts on hiking in Montenegro including hiking in Durmitor National Park. Once you are visiting this country, make sure to go on at least one hike!
RELATED POST: BEST HIKES IN MONTENEGRO THAT WILL LEAVE YOU SPEECHLESS
11. If you love shopping, there are quite a few stores along the coast selling high-quality Italian brand clothing, jewelry, and make-up for very reasonable prices.
However, most of them are concentrated in a port city Bar or a resort city of Herceg Novi. Budva and Kotor are expensive. Plus in Budva, the chance is higher to find Chinese and Turkish produce, not really Italian.
12. English is not widely spoken.
Staff at the restaurants, hotels, and tourist centers speak some basic English but I wouldn’t expect profound conversations. Bus drivers, vendors, grocery store workers barely understand basic words. We speak a few Slavic languages, that’s why for the most part can understand Serbian and communicate with locals.
Relying only on English in this country may be a bit challenging. If you learn a few basic words in Serbian, locals will love you, I promise.
13. You have to pay a tourist tax in Montenegro.
Only if privately renting an apartment and not staying at the officially registered properties. The official website of Montenegro clearly says that each visitor has to pay tourist tax for each day of his stay if staying with friends, camping or renting private accommodation. In Budva, for instance, a fee is 1 euro per day.
Some people don’t register and claim that border patrol doesn’t bother asking any questions. While others say they get a fine when exiting the country. We personally paid to have peace of mind.
We would love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve been to Montenegro as an independent traveler and haven’t registered your stay. How did it go on the border?
14. Montenegro reminds Norway in miniature.
Not everywhere of course, but some places (like Kotor Bay) remind about fjords in the Bergen area. In August we returned from our trip to Norway. Now, comparing Norway to Montenegro both of us can acknowledge the similarity, albeit on a smaller scale.
Montenegro has its own fjord and bay, mountains and crystal clear waters. If you haven’t visited Norway or haven’t seen fjords yet, come to Montenegro. Contemplating a very similar nature will cost you way less.
15. Montenegro is absolutely safe to visit!
Even with crazy driving and a bit of vendor cheating the entire country is very safe and peaceful. Everybody is relaxed and taking it easy. We feel very comfortable no matter where we go at any time of the day and know a lot of tourists and expats do too.
Come to check it out yourself before the rest of the world discovers this gem!
We are working on more content on Montenegro, so many more tips and recommendations are soon to come. Sign up for our newsletter to get informed when we post the next article and stay tuned for further updates.
Have you been to Montenegro? Any plans on visiting soon? Share with us in the comments what your favorite things were (if visited) and/or if there is anything you could add to this list!
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