Never thought of visiting Montenegro? Well, you might be soon. In our “Breakout Role” series, we take a look at places that have seen huge increases in tourism in the last few years, and try to figure out what’s causing all the hype.
Montenegro’s beauty can be credited to the fact that its nature has largely been preserved. Located in Southeast Europe’s Western Balkan Peninsula, the country is only 5,333 square miles in total area—about the size of Connecticut—but its landscape is dominated by relatively unscathed scenery, including five national parks and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
“There are not many countries as beautiful as Montenegro,” says Mladen Lalatovic, founder and operator of M Tours, a private tour company based in Montenegro. “You could go rafting, and then drink the water from the river. It’s really untouched, well-preserved nature.”
Over the past decade, this natural purity has been challenged, as Montenegro’s number of yearly visitors more than tripled since 2006. The country saw 1,350,000 visitors in 2014 alone, which is twice as many tourists as there are permanent residents in the small Adriatic nation.
Photo: stalkERR, CC-BY
The beginnings of Montenegro’s tourism boom can be traced back to 2006, when the country voted to break off from Serbia, forming its own autonomous republic. The following year, the number of total yearly visitors skyrocketed, and has been rising steadily ever since.
The earliest tourists, according to Lalatovic, were beach-goers from Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European nations looking to enjoy the fair prices and sunshine of the Adriatic coast. While this trend seems to still hold true, in recent years direct flights from Western European cities have made Montenegro more accessible to travelers from around the world, many of whom come for national parks and adventure tourism, not beaches and warm weather.
“For the Western travelers, it would be way more interesting to do certain types of biking and hiking through Montenegro,” Lalatovic says.
Photo: Trish Hartmann, CC-BY
Lalatovic’s company is based out of Kotor, the medieval village that stands at the heart of Montenegro’s tourism industry. Rated by Lonely Planet as the top city to visit in 2016, the seaside town compares favorably to Dubrovnik, its Croatian counterpart that lies just a two-hour drive to the north.
For Lalatovic, the two locations differ in one major way—Dubrovnik has become overcrowded, losing much of the cultural flair still present in the smaller, less-visited Kotor. That being said, the changes that come with an ever-increasing tourism industry are slowly beginning to appear.
“The whole old town is more like Venice today, which is naturally good. But you’re slowly losing local spirit, which is a bad influence of tourism.” Lalatovic says. “If you’d been here four, five years ago you’d find three souvenir shops in the whole town. Now you have more than 30.”
Photo courtesy of Mladen Lalatovic
Beyond Kotor, Durmitor national park stands out as a major draw for international tourists, offering views of Europe’s deepest canyon—the 4,265-foot deep Tara gorge—as well as rafting on the Tara River. Lalatovic’s personal favorite place to conduct tours, however, is the area surrounding the small town of Rijeka Crnojevica, located in Skadar Lake National park.
“It looks like Asia more than Europe. It’s completely different,” he says.
As far as manmade attractions go, Cetinje is the nation’s historic and now-secondary capital, which features many museums that showcase Montenegro’s ability to maintain its cultural landmarks as well as its natural wonders.
Flight Rates: $844 – $1,376
Travel Concerns: No current safety threats
Currency Exchange: 1 USD = 0.89 Euros
More Info: The Montenegro Travel Service’s site offers information regarding accommodations, car rentals, the country’s top attractions and more.
Top photo: Ian, CC-BY
Dillon Thompson University of Georgia student and freelance writer with a love for travel and an addiction to coffee and hip-hop music.