Where did I go: Day Trip from Dubrovnik to Montenegro
When did I go: October 2019
This is a detailed post is about a day trip to Montenegro during my recent visit to Dubrovnik. I booked the trip through Viator. The trip was advertised as covering Kotor, Budva and Perast, and starting at 0800 and finishing at 1800. Two days before, I received joining instructions via email, requesting us to be outside Dubrovnik’s famous Pile Gate 0640. Although this start time was much earlier than advertised, it wasn’t a total surprise as most of the reviews on the Viator trip page had commented on this. The rest of this post is a detailed account of our day, where we went and what we did.
0640: At Dubrovnik’s Pile Gate. About 20 people here, waiting for the tour to start.
0645: The coach turns up with Lydia, our guide for the day. Smiling and upbeat, she introduces herself to everyone individually, collects our passports and welcomes us on the coach. The coach is a standard 50 seater, with plenty of leg room.
The coach proceeds to the greater Dubrovnik area where we pick up more passengers. This gives us the chance to see the Dubrovnik Marina, early in the morning.
0730: Waiting in greater Dubrovnik for the mini-van to bring a few more passengers from hotels further afield.
0800: After a half an hour wait, the last passengers arrive, the coach is full, and we are on the way, heading South from Dubrovnik, on a road hugging the coastline. Gorgeous views of Dubrovnik and Lokrum island all the way.
Lydia told us a bit about the villages we were passing through; Mlini – a very expensive and exclusive area, Kupari – The once-exclusive holiday resort that saw thousands of Yugoslav officers and their families in its heyday. In the early 1990s, during the Croatian War of Independence, the Yugoslav Army destroyed the former beach paradises. The hotels were looted and burnt, and now remain overgrown with trees, and the effects of war are still visible to those who frequent the beautiful beaches of Croatia.
0825: Few more passengers picked up from the local bus stop South of Dubrovnik.
0845: Arrive at the Croatian border. The border is organised like a toll booth. The coach pulls up, and the immigration officer boards the bus. Lydia had instructed us to open the passport to the photo page and hand it to the officer, who takes a quick look at the page and your face. Then he steps off the bus, with the stack of passports.
0900: 15 minutes later, we are all done, and we the leave Croatia border. The process is very efficient, streamlined and designed to cause minimum fuss. Accordingly to Lydia today was a best case scenario. There were no queues at the border at all. At busy times, the wait at the border could be up to 2 hours.
0905: 5 minutes later, we arrive at the Montenegro border. It is a much simpler process here, and Lydia simply hands over a piece of paper with all the passenger details and after a quick check we are cleared to enter Montenegro.
0915: Comfort break at the local shopping centre.
0935: On the way again. As the coach drives along the road hugging the coastline of Kotor Bay, Lydia gives us an introduction to Montenegro. “Montenegro” means “the land of black mountains”. It was easy to see why this name came about, as the Montenegro we see is a mountainous country, and the cedar trees covering the mountains turn black in the summer – hence the name Montenegro.
Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia all used to be part of Yugoslavia. The country was prosperous under President Tito, who treated all ethnic groups equally. However, things changed after President Tito, and the former Yugoslavian Republic countries sought independence, resulting in many years of war and hardship. Montenegro voted for independence from Serbia in 2006. At present, Montenegro’s main industries are fishing and tourism. Much of the fish is exported to the far east. Capital of Montenegro is Podgorica, but Lydia tell us that it is the most boring capital in the World, and “no one goes there”.
1015: Since we are heading to Budva first, it is quicker to cross the Kotor bay at Kamenari by the car ferry (which saves about 45 minutes). This is also the narrowest point in the Kotor bay, and divides the large bay into an inner and outer bay.
The crossing gives us a chance to get off the coach and stretch our legs. After a few minutes wait, the ferry departs and the scenery is very pretty.
1030: The crossing itself only takes 5 minutes. Back on the coach, and on our way to Budva.
On the way, we passed Porto Montenegro; exclusive and expensive parking lot for the Yachts of the rich and famous. A new port, Porto Novici is also being built, with a lot of Middle Eastern investment.
On the way to Budva, the traffic is unexpectedly busy. Roads are not one of the best things about Montenegro. The road to Budva is a major road, but still only single track.
1100: Arrive at Budva.
We get 2 hours of free time in Budva. Lydia walks us to the promenade on Greco beach (the largest in Budva) and gives us an overview of the town and suggestions on where to go and what to do.
History of Budva dates back 2500 years. The old town has a lot of Venetian architecture and dates back 400 years.
We spent a bit of time walking around the old town of Budva. It is similar to many other old towns in this part of the World – small castle with battlements, several churches and narrow streets. Budva is a lot smaller that other similar towns we’ve been to, and quieter.
Today, Budva is becoming increasingly popular as beach destination. As a result, a lot of new development is happening, and the old town is in danger of losing itself among the new sky scrapers.
We also had time to quickly explore a couple of Budva’s beaches – unlike the pebbly beaches of Croatia, the beaches here are more gravelly.
Verdict on Budva (after 2 hours): The old town was small but charming, the water was crystal clear, and there was plenty of places to eat and drink, but I felt that Budva lacked something. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it’s because it had neither the thriving energy of Dubrovnik or the complete peace and quiet of Lewis and Harris; it was somewhere in the middle.
1315: Back on the bus and drive to Kotor.
As we head towards Kotor, the first views of Kotor and the bay are spectacular. Kotor Bay is about 28 km long, but has a jagged shape, so has a coast line over 100 km. There are many small towns and villages along the coast; Kotor, Perast, Herceg Novi, Tivat – all becoming very popular holiday destinations. The bay is hemmed in by mountains, which makes it almost look like a fjord. In fact, Kotor Bay is claimed to be the Southern most fjord in Europe.
1400: Arrival at Kotor. We have 2 hours of free time here.
The day trip also included a half an hour guided tour of Kotor. Kotor old town is like a smaller version of Dubrovnik. Like Dubrovnik, it is nestled at the foot of a large mountain, with the sea in front and the mountain behind. Kotor also has a city wall, but unlike Dubrovnik, the wall extends all the way to the top of the mountain behind the town.
Although Kotor is smaller in size, it is a lot busier than Dubrovnik. One reason for this is the sheer number of tourists from cruise ships. There are 6 to 7 cruise ships per day in the bay of Kotor and the ships anchor right outside the walls of the city. This is in contrast to Dubrovnik, who has limited the number of cruise ships to 2 per day, and ships at Dubrovnik are anchored further away from the city. According to Lydia, Dubrovnik limiting the number of ships has led to an increase in the ships arriving in Kotor.
Kotor is also home to the only Cat Museum in Europe. During the plague, many countries in Europe (including England) thought that the cats were the cause of the plague and killed the cats. This of course increased the rat population, who only spread the plague further. Kotor however, recognised that the cat was an ally to beat the plague, and were thankful to them. To this day, the city is very friendly to their feline population. In fact, we saw more stray cats in Kotor than anywhere else.
The Cat Museum is pretty small, and spread over few rooms and run by bit of an eccentric guy (the Kotor tour-guide’s words, not mine). It displays many cat related memorabilia, ranging from books, painting, adverts, stamps and so on. Visitors who expect to find lots of cats would be disappointed, as there are only one or two cats here. You can also enter your own cat into the Kotor Cat Club. All it takes is 2 Euros and a picture of your feline friend.
We explored Kotor Old Town, which didn’t take long as it was very small. You can also walk the city walls, but this takes several hours (especially if you want to follow it all the way to the top of the mountain).
We also had time to have a quick break in the main square and enjoy a slice of “Moscow Cake” – a fruit and cream filled pastry very popular in Montenegro.
Outside the old town, there are many small speed boats moored along the jetty. Boat trips to various part of Kotor bay are advertised, ranging from a one-hour trip to a half-a-day trip, covering attraction such as Our Lady of the Rocks island, Perast, Blue Cave, and several former Yugoslavian submarine bases.
1600: Leave Kotor and head to our last destination of the day, “Our Lady of the Rocks” in Perast.
Our Lady of the Rocks is the smallest islet in Kotor bay; and the only man made island in the Adriatic. According to legend, local traders built this island as a way of giving thanks for the safe return from sea journeys. The build started in 1452 and took 200 years. Every year on the 22nd of July, the locals repeat the tradition by sailing to the island and throwing rocks into the water around it, growing the island further.
The island is home to a small church and a museum.
1630: Boat trip to our lady of the rocks. Boat costs 9 Euros per person and takes about 10 minutes.
We have half an hour to explore the island, which is plenty as it is really small. Entry to the Church costs 2 Euros. The church has a number of beautiful murals and historical artefacts.
There is a another island (Sveti Juraj Island) nearby, which, unlike Our Lady of the Rocks, is a naturally made island. This is a retreat for orthodox monks, and visitors are by invitation only.
1715: Sail back to the shore and board the coach to start our return journey.
1800: At Montenegro border. Similar to this morning, crossing the border is very simple and takes only a few minutes.
1808: Arrive at Croatian border. We are less lucky this time, and there is a 20 minute queue. The same process as this morning is repeated, and we are on our way again in half an hour.
1930: Back in central Dubrovnik.
Although it was a very long day, I really enjoyed the trip as we got to see and do so much. It was a great preview to see what Montenegro has to offer, and marked it as a location I’d definitely want to come back to.
Thinking of taking this trip? Here are some things to remember:
Tips and Things to Remember
- Be prepared for a long day; especially if you are being picked up from Central Dubrovnik, as your start time will be the earliest. Our trip started at 0645 and ended at 1930, so nearly 13 hours, and this is the best case scenario. It could be longer by several hours if there are queues at the border.
- There is a lot of sitting down in the coach. Of our 13 hour day, we spent a total of 4.5 hours visiting Budva, Kotor and Perast. The rest of it (8.5 hours) was sitting in the coach. However, the scenery is beautiful, coach comfortable and there is no sitting in traffic, so it is not as bad as it sounds.
- Where to sit on the coach: Sit on the right hand side of the coach (i.e. not behind the driver) for the best views of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic, and Kotor Bay as you head to Budva. Sit behind the driver for the best views as you head to Kotor and Perast.
- Take the guide’s advice on suggestions on where to go or what to do. There is little time at each destination, so its best to rely on an expert.
- Make use of the local guide at Kotor. Again this is the most efficient way to figure out how best to spend your two hours here.
- Don’t be late. Return to the coach at the stated time. You risk making everyone late and lateness would not be looked on kindly. In fact, be a few minutes early, as in Kotor the coach can only stop for 3 minutes to load passengers (due to traffic rules), so it will not wait for you.
- Bring food to eat on the go. There are no specific lunch or refreshment stops planned, so you have to eat at Kotor or Budva. However, in my view, it is a shame to spend 1.5 hours of your 2 hour stop for lunch when you can be sight-seeing. Instead bring a packed lunch and eat on the coach.
- Bring some Euros, as this is the currency in Montenegro.
- If going in the summer, wear sandals. This is great for exploring the beaches of Budva and dipping you toe in the water at Kotor.
- Best time to go: Shoulder seasons of March/April/May or September/October. During the summer, the Kotor is really busy, so it is less enjoyable. It is quieter in the winter, but as the days will be shorter, you will have less time to sight-see.
- If this day is too long for you, try another similar trip including Kotor and Perast only. Whilst I am happy to have visited all three, if returning, I would choose Kotor and Perast over Budva.
Have you been to Kotor, Budva or Perast? Or would you like to go? Leave a comment below and let me know!