The best way to explore the remarkable little country of Montenegro is to get out and about in nature. Here are the best options for doing exactly that.
One of Montenegro’s prime natural wonders is the Tara Canyon, a deep cleft carved by the Tara River through the mountains of Durmitor National Park in the far north of the country. At its most powerful, the river passes between forest-clad walls of rock that are more than 4,250 feet high. It is exceedingly difficult to get a good view of the scale of the canyon from above, making rafting the best option to experience it in all its grandeur.
The rafting season runs from around April to October, with the fastest flows coinciding with the spring melts in April. A 51-mile section of river is navigable, and a classic two-day trip starts near the Tara Bridge and will take you through the deepest parts of the canyon. Most day trips only traverse the last 11 miles of canyon, which is still a beautiful stretch including most of the modest rapids.
Climbing & canyoneering
The Durmitor mountain range also offers a vast array of more daring pursuits. At Pirlitor, two rock faces have been prepared for climbing, but you will need your own ropes – or to enlist the services of a specialist adventure agency.
Just south of the national park is one the country’s prime canyoneering sites, the extraordinary Nevidio Canyon enclosing a 1.7-mile-long section of the Komarnica River. Nevidio translates to ‘invisible’ which is a reference to its narrowness; at some points it is mere yards wide.
Canyoneering (or canyoning as it’s known outside of the USA) involves sliding along gorges, scrambling over rocks, abseiling down waterfalls and swimming through river basins. It is great fun but inherently dangerous, especially in a narrow gorge such as Nevidio, so it should only be attempted in the driest months (July and August) and only under the direction of experienced guides.
Other canyoneering options include the Sopot Canyon (near Herceg Novi), the Skurda canyon (above Kotor), the Rikavac and Medjurecje canyons (both near Bar), and the Grlja Canyon (in Prokletije National Park).
With so many accessible mountains with sheer drops, there are plenty of opportunities for daredevils to fly like the double-headed eagle on the Montenegrin flag and soak up spectacular scenery.
One particularly excellent launch site is in the mountains high above the Budva Riviera, where you can glide down to a landing on the beach. Or how about an eagle’s eye view over the Bay of Kotor on a descent from Dizdarica on Mt Orjen? Many swear flights from the peaks of Durmitor National Park are the best of the lot.
There is an awful lot of history on show in this compact nation and not all of it is above ground. A millennia’s-worth of shipwrecks – from Greek and Roman times to World War II – provide a backdrop to interesting underwater flora and fauna in waters that average around 49 feet of visibility but can stretch to 82 feet. The best time to dive in is from May to September, when the surface water is at its warmest – although you will still need a neoprene wetsuit.
All along the coast there are drop offs, underwater caves, springs and reefs. You might spot the odd sea turtle and lobster, along with schools of dentex and gilthead bream. Keep an eye out for conger eels, scorpionfish, octopuses, sea snails, red coral, colorful sponges, red gorgonian fans and the rare giant mussel. Off Ulcinj, as well as the wrecks created over the centuries by the town’s notorious pirates, there are the remains of a submerged town to explore.
While Montenegro might not have bush of the classic kind found in Australia, New Zealand or Africa, it does have plenty of real wilderness to explore. In recent years Montenegrin versions of Bear Grylls have started leading guided expeditions into remote areas, imparting basic survivalist skills along the way. Expect to learn how to start a fire without matches, how to forage for edible plants, how to build a shelter, how to purify water and how to navigate using just natural cues. Think of it as Scouting for adults with a yearning for adventure.
Quite apart from the wild camping offered by the bushcraft enthusiasts, there are commercial campsites scattered all over Montenegro. Some of them are quite basic (squat toilets are not uncommon) but spectacular locations are pretty much a given, no matter where in the country you happen to be. There are even a few glamping sites, where pre-pitched tents are rented – complete with proper made-up beds.
Campgrounds cater to all proclivities, including an excellent clothing-optional site in a remote spot near the Croatian border and a complex on the Bay of Kotor where guests can keep their beer cool in a chilly spring-feed stream. Also worth considering are the eko and etno villages of the mountainous areas, where accommodation is provided in rustic wooden cabins reminiscent of traditional shepherd dwellings.