Cruising along the coastside will give you nice, two-lane roads and steep rock cliffs heading into the Adriatic Sea, but the roads get more and more narrow once you make your way to the national parks. Most parks require you to drive through a series of hairpin turns and you might have to drive on one-lane gravel roads, sharing the narrow space with oncoming traffic (even trucks or mobile homes).
All in all, driving in Montenegro is an unforgettable experience. The country doesn’t have motorways, but well-maintained highways between big cities and enchanting B-roads between towns, all fairly narrow with pretty significant canyons on the side. It’s scary, but that’s the beauty of it. Nature is all around you and due to Montenegro’s slow traffic limits, you’ll have plenty of time to suck it all in. A few tips to have a safe road trip:
1. Get car insurance
Pay a bit extra for full cover insurance at the time of your booking or pay for an annual insurance, that covers all of your bookings in a certain period of time. You will indubitably get scratches or even seriously damage your car. The rental companies charge their costumers for any bump or scratch larger than 2 centimeters.
2. Respect traffic limits
Not everybody’s keen on Montenegro’s slow speed limits, with the absolute maximum (in the whole country!) beign just 80 kilometers per hour. You’ll often meet two types of drivers – those who stick rigidly to the limits and those who want to speed past them. Beware for reckless moves from other drivers, including overtaking on bends and even randomly driving on the wrong side of the road.
Whenever there’s houses around you – even if it’s just a few road restaurants – speed limits will drop until 40 or 50. Driving out of populated areas, this goes up to 60, 70 or the odd 80, depending on the amount of difficult bends. Speeding up to 10km/h over the existing limit outside populated communities will get you a fine of 30 to 80 euros. The higher the infraction, the higher the fine.
3. Drive slow and defensively
Especially the back roads can be extremely challenging on both your nerves and your car. Some mountain roads had a limit of 60 or even 80 km per hour, yet I never passed 35 going up or 50 going down. Local people will drive a lot faster, though. And more aggressively. So get ready to brake, change gear or slip into the tiniest space to get away from the madness. Stay away from back roads when you have a history of cardiac arrest, strokes or road rage.
4. Use your clutch. Often
Going up- and downhill all the town can be a real struggle for your car. Remember to change gear a lot so you don’t overheat the gear box.
5. Turn on your lights
In Montenegro, it’s required by law to drive with your low beams on at all times, turning on your main beam at night or in the various tunnels. It makes you more visible for oncoming traffic when navigating mountain roads. The non-use of your headlamps will get you a fine of 30 to 80 euros. Other drivers will surely flicker their lights at you as a warning when you forget.
6. Look in front of you
Sound logical, right? But driving in Montenegro means finding a balance between looking what’s right in front of you – in order to avoid potholes and fallen rocks or animals on the roads – and looking far enough ahead to spot oncoming traffic from behind the next turn.
7. Park (more or less) anywhere
Cities and tourist towns in Montenegro have paid parking areas, with low prices of around a half euro per hour. In all other areas, people will park their cars just very closely to the sidewalk, the houses or the cliff edge, making sure there’s enough space for other traffic to pass. When driving up to a tourist hotspot – such as the entrance of Durmitor National Park or the mausoleum in Luvcén National Park – start looking for parking from the moment you spot others parked at the side of the road. Further down, it gets crowded – sometimes even too crowded to turn and go back. Walking a few more steps definitely beats having to turn between two row of parked cars on a hillside.
8. Beware of police checks
At the time of writing, there were no speed cameras in Montenegro. However, I’ve never seen so many police performing manual speed checks as in the two hours drive between Podgorica en Mojkovac. I was even pulled over once while blindly following the pace of the car in front of me. Luckily for me, the nice officer let me go once our language barrier became obvious. The Montenegrin police is friendly, especially to tourists, but not very keen on small talk. Be polite and calm while answering questions and show sincere regret. Any display of aggression or snobbishness will probably do more harm than good. Racial profiling hasn’t been reported as a big problem in the country.
If you get fined, they will ask you to produce a driver’s license (‘vozačka dozvola’), vehicle registration documents (the blue plastic card) and the rental agreement. The officer informs you of the violation and asks you to follow into the police car. There the officer writes a ticket for your violation. For locals, the papers of traffic offenders are held in custody until your hearing at the local court and the payment of the fine. İf you are a foreigner, you have to pay right there, not later. They have mobile payment machines for credit cards in the police car. Or you have to pay immediately to a bank or a post office and leave your documents with the police until you get back with a proof of payment.
9. Bring all your documents
European drivers can rent a car with their national European drivers license and national ID – no international license needed! – though it is unclear what the situation will be for the UK after the Brexit. If you’re driving your own car or van, bring your DVLA log book document with you or you might get turned away from the border. If you hire a car in a neighbouring country, make sure you have the right insurance (green card) too. Just ask the hire company for this. You have to pay extra but you’ll be turned away at the border and refused entry in to the country if you can’t show the right documents.
10. Download your maps
When on holidays, I download a map of the whole country on both Google Maps and on Maps.me. While Maps.me gives me more details and perks during outdoor activities, it often doesn’t differentiate between well-maintained roads and dirt roads that could only be done with a solid 4×4 jeep. Make sure you download some maps or have an offline satnav so you won’t be charged international data charges. (Montenegro falls outside of the EU and therefore is not included in the free roaming of your national provider)
11. Double your estimated driving time
Don’t mind the estimated time calculated by your GPS or app. In my case, it always took much, much, much longer than that. So make sure you start your drive early – driving these mountain passes at night is nerve wrecking if you’re a first-timer in the country.
12. Check the weather
The weather in Montenegro can change in a heartbeat, especially in mountainous areas. A hail storm caught me off guard in the midst of August in Durmitor National Park. I was completely unable to proceed my way down the mountain. I probably should have checked the weather forecast!
13. Don’t drink and drive
The legal drinking limit is very low at .03%, much lower than in most European countries. My advice? Just don’t drink and drive in Montenegro.
14. Wear a helmet
Riding a motorcycle or scooter without a helmet will get you fines up to 150 euros. There is no law for bicycles or e-bikes, but the risk of accidents is very real. Just wear the stupid helmet. And a hi vis vest won’t hurt, either.